The original Hayduke Route goes south through the needles district of Canyonlands, follows some dirt roads, goes into dark canyon to Hite, then north to the dirty devil and West through poison spring on another dirt road.
Only dark canyon excited me in that section, as I’ve been to the Needles several times. There is an alternate out there, not sure who put it together originally, but I found it via Jamal on http://www.acrossutah.com; The Maze Alternate.
This alternate goes though the southern reaches of the maze district of Canyonlands, over Lands end, and down into happy canyon for 23 miles before crossing the dirty devil and climbing high above before following an old washed out mining road high above the canyon as it traverses south, eventually linking up with the original Hayduke half way through poison spring canyon.
I’ve never been to the Maze. It’s hard to reach, requiring high clearance vehicle and hours and hours of dirt two tracks to get there. So I chose to give this alternate a go.
From Spanish bottom, Grace and I hiked a few thousand feet out of the canyon away from the Colorado River and to the Doll House; a conglomerate of mishapen rocks shooting to the sky in bizarre patterns. Immediately Grace and I are taken to a completely different world than the river we are used to.
Rather than stay south in the maze district, I take us on an alternate to the alternate and we head several miles north to Chimney Rock, which marks the south end of the Maze formation that the area is named after. It’s windy and cold, and the blue skies we had at the doll house seem far away. To the west the sky is a dark grey, and we can see the rain coming down, with a few bolts of lightning.
We stay high on a rocky outcropping for several miles, straddling two deep canyons. The views east shoot out to the island in the sky and the La Sal Mountains.
We follow Cairns for several miles before dropping into the canyons of the maze. We find some water and camel up. I’m carrying 8 liters, plus several days of food on my back. It’s good. I need to get in shape.
We escape the strong winds and the storms, somehow. Not sure how they missed us, as at one point we were completely surrounded. Win.
We find our way to the maze overlook trail which will take us from the canyon floor to the maze overlook. I found it on my map, labeled as a trail, and wanted to see the overlook. As we climb, following cairns, we hit a few obstacles. Steep climbs with holes punched in the rock as a type of ladder. Then no holes in the rock, but still steep. Big ledges and tight squeezes. We traverse over and around this big rock, many times taking off the packs and passing everything up as we couldn’t do it in the big packs.
t was only a mile, but it was surely the most fun trail I’ve ever been on in a national park, and a real challenge for us! When we reach the top we’re greeted with aMAZEing views for the canyons and beyond. I take out the map, and realize there’s a description on the trail I didn’t happen to read prior.
‘do not attempt with large backpacks’, and ‘scrambling up to class 3 involved, with high consequence drops’
Well, I’m glad I didn’t read that, because it was so fun, and I may have said no had I read that prior!
We soaked in the maze, so happy we headed north and through it. Looking back at chimney Rock far beyond, we were stunned at how far we had come. We hiked the dirt road a bit too big water canyon, and hiked it to it’s southern point, eventually climbing a few thousand feet to Lands End.
At lands end, we followed an old mining track, well washed out down to the bottom of the South fork of Happy Canyon.
We followed the dry base of the canyon below high Navajo walls for a long ways, knowing we’re the only ones back here. It feels wild to have such a big canyon all to ourselves. We haven’t seen anyone since leaving Spanish bottom. No one in the maze. No one at lands end. No one in happy canyon.
At the outpour of Happy Canyon, the last two miles of the canyon twisted and turns into a beautiful slot canyon, Happy Canyon Slot. Two miles of changing light and weaving waves of rocks. We take our time. I take lots of pictures, as every turn shows a great new frame.
few hours later we arrive at the end of happy canyons flow into the Dirty Devil. A shallow, knee deep crossing gets us to the other side where we quickly climb a cairned route up to a white rim above the dirty devil, some 1500 feet above the river. What a convoluted river canyon! The views are amazing as we skirt the rim around the canyon several miles to poison springs canyon, reconnecting with the original Hayduke. A 10 mile walk on the road gets us to highway 95 where we take a few hours to hitch to Hanksville via two messy truck beds. One is full of mountain dew and Dr. Pepper. My people.