This is a record of my sixth annual guys hiking trip to Canyonlands National Park in Utah. (The other five weren’t all to Utah – one was though).
Utah has the most national parks of any state, it’s mostly desert and therefore rain-free, and hiking in it is appealing because there are no end of places you can go and you can count on good weather. The only major concern of hiking in Utah is heat and water supply. There are also lots of rattlesnakes, but this is a lesser concern and we didn’t see any on this trip.
My hiking partners, AKA John and Derek, drove down and I met them (they picked me up at the airport in Salt Lake City. I arrived late so we stayed in a motel that night, then hit the road to Canyonlands (about 4-5 hours south) the next morning.
This picture is from where we left the highway to turn onto a dirt road. Canyonlands is divided into two major areas; the regular touristy part, and the undeveloped backcountry part, aka ‘The Maze’. This name is indicative of the mazelike canyons throughout the area, which see. Our destination was The Maze which lay several (more!) hours up this dirt road.
This picture is very Utahish; scrubby desert and wide-open blue skies all over, with lots of puffy clouds. It is not Utahish though in that there are no canyons or impressive rock formations.
This is a closeup of the sign in the last picture; 80 miles doesn’t seem like a lot, and the road at this point was actually not bad, but it still took us what seemed like forever.
We saw this sign partway down the dirt road. It refers to the movie ‘127 Hours’ which is about a guy who went hiking just off this dirt road, in an area called ‘Blue John Canyon’ (just outside the park). The guy ended up getting stuck under a boulder and, after 127 hours, hacked his own arm off. An impressive survival story but a mediocre movie. This did not happen to us!
I like taking pictures of the park entrance signs! Glen Canyon is an awesome area that includes Lake Powell, where we (the family and I) spent a very happy day on the water back in 2006 or so. It didn’t seem possible that that lake could be anywhere connected to here (we got there via Vegas), but I guess it was!
The Hans Flat Ranger Station was our last glimpse of civilization for a few days. It was staffed by a jovial Park Ranger named Gary Cox and, on our return, by a volunteer. It seems like they have a huge number of people working there considering how few people we saw there, in June, presumably a busy time for them. Apparently they get a TON of snow in winter and snowmobiling is a major activity.
After Hans Flat, the road got EXTREMELY rough, and it would have been absolutely impossible without (a) a jeep, and (b) the driving skills of my friend Derek. This picture does not do it justice. Suffice it to say the road down the side of the valley, I spent the whole time in the valley worrying a bit about how we would get back up and seriously contemplating hiking up and letting Derek drive it alone (I did not do that though).
Our destination was the ‘Maze Overlook’ and it took several EXTREMELY bumpy hours to get there! That was a very long 12 miles.
It has become a bit of a tradition for me to get a picture of John giving me the finger, so here is this years. John is actually an extremely nice and sensitive guy, I hope these pictures don’t leave the wrong impression 😉
Our jeep … well Derek’s actually. Extremely full of stuff. The back seat, with John and I alternated using, was kind of a torture chamber as the victim was REALLY cramped in there and could almost literally not move a muscle.
This is me at the top of Horseshoe Canyon, near our final destination. All of the canyons in this area are connected together in a seemingly endless labyrinth. To put this in perspective, they are all miniscule compared to, say, the Grand Canyon; but similar in size to the canyons of, say, Zion or other major parks.
Here is our camp at the top of the Maze Overlook. There is the maze in the background, looking very mazey, complete with impressive Utah rock formations of vertical development!
We camped here the first night and aside from moderate mosquitoes it was glorious. Since the Ranger Station we saw exactly one other group of people all day and this campsite was deserted. This was a designated campsite but it had no services whatsoever. We had brought lots of water in containers in the jeep, but water supply is always a concern.
A look down into the Maze. We spent the next three days down there, though we had originally planned to spend all week. It is very cool looking, no?
The hike down into the maze, eg. the canyon floor, was mostly fine but a bit of a scramble in a few spots. It took maybe an hour to get down and once at the bottom, it was mostly dead flat…
Once at the bottom the first order of business was to get the packs off and have a little nap to celebrate a solid hour of gravity-assisted activity! Those packs were relatively light by West Coast Trail standards (eg., we had minimal rain gear and so forth). We were carrying some extra water but also counting on finding more in the canyon (we had maps and assurance from the rangers that there was water to be found. And where to find it).
Since I have a goofy picture of John, here is the Derek equivalent. I went to high school with Derek and have known him forever. John I met thru work (husband of a former co-worker) and have only known for 6-7 years or so.
Both hiking buds. I think my timeline is screwed up here, this looks like it was taken on the way down into the canyon. Or maybe the way back up? Anyhow I like the color of the sun on the rocks at the top of this picture.
This is a good image of what the canyon(s) look like from the bottom. Very flat, and I suppose a dried-up river bed. Flash floods are a concern here, not really for us but if they are a possibility you are advised to be prepared to move to high ground (which would be quite difficult!) very quickly. I gather it can go from looking like this to being 3 feet deep of rushing water, in a matter of minutes.
I say again, we didn’t see a soul the whole time we were down there, and the whole area was entirely undeveloped. You are allowed to camp anywhere you deem appropriate and there are very few designated sites and no services.
Now THIS is a cool picture, I took it from the canyon floor!
Here is John topping up his water supply. This was a spring and much more putrid in real life than it looks here. It even had a rainbow colored oily slick on top. We used our water filters, which we have done confidently on every trip, and nobody had any issues. However, at the Ranger Station on the way out, I did spot a sign warning you to boil and not rely on filters! Oh well. As I said, water supply is the #1 concern in this area, and we were just glad to find some!
Here’s our campsite at the bottom of the canyon. We look very messy here but trust me, it was pristine when we left. We did a lot of reading at this one as we were very tired and hot one day!
A picture on the way back up. We used ropes to get our packs up one or two spots. Truthfully, we were being a bit wimpy in this respect, we could easily have kept them on our backs… but I included this picture so people would be impressed by our rope skills…
Here is John and I back at the top! We actually hiked out quite a bit sooner than expected, we only spent 3 nights in this area vs. the originally planned 6 or 7. We decided it would be fun to do some more touristy, motel-based activities, and I’ll post about those next!