Solo in The Maze

Back in November 2017, I entered the fabled Maze District of Canyonlands National Park.

The Maze district of Canyonlands National Park has a romantic allure to it – remote and hard to reach with scenery to match the reputation. Depictions in Abbey’s seminal works of Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang only adds to the overall appeal to this area for many.

Getting there requires rough 4WD travel, a float trip down the Colorado River, a jet boat shuttle, or hiking in and floating across via a packraft.

I first entered The Maza via my “poor person’s packraft” two years ago and only spent a short time in The Maze in the southern part known as Ernie’s Country. This part of The Maze includes a well-known, if not listed on the maps, cairned route with a spring. And traveling through Ernie’s Country made for a delightful way to experience The Maze for the first time.

Intex 200; November 2017.

But I wanted to explore something different this time — more tight canyons, red rock hoodoos, and views of the rivers that shape The Colorado Plateau.

Joan and I invested in some Alpacka Scouts this past year. Light, compact, and suitable for the flatwater jaunts we wish to do here in Moab. And perfect for crossing into The Maze via Spanish Bottom in reverse of how I last saw this remote corner of Canyonlands National Park.

Alas, Joan had a cold and could not join me. With her blessing, I went solo.

On Friday morning, I made the trip in the chill air to The Needles District of Canyonlands.

On a cold morning, I had the approach trails to Spanish Bottom mainly to myself.

I am looking across the canyon into The Doll House.

I could take different routes in the park and float further down the river. But that requires alternative permits and more equipment. More than I wanted to haul or deal with where I had a secondary goal of crossing the river and a primary goal of hiking more in the land ahead. A quick float vs. extended river travel with all its rules and regs suited my purposes more so for this time in The Maze.

Spanish Bottom

I blew up my raft and paddled over much more comfortable than I did two years ago. Better equipment, especially a paddle vs. the toy oars. It makes a difference!

I soon entered The Dollhouse and again enjoyed the hoodoos and multicolored formations soaking up the late autumn light.

Pushing a little further brought me up to an arch with exquisite camping and equally beautiful views.

Is there anything better than sleeping under the Utah night sky of autumn with the Milky Way above? And perhaps accompanied with some hot cider and a dollop of whiskey?

The following morning I explored a possible route for a future packrafting jaunt, enjoyed the canyon in its own right, and pleasantly surprised to see a spotted owl in a shaded part of the journey.

My route climbed in and out of gullies, on top of mesas, and featured views out into The Maze:

And down the Green River below:

I soon exited the canyon and enjoyed views back to where I explored most of the day.

I soon reached the Chimney Rock camps and trailhead. A famous pictograph panel beckoned in the canyon below. But I’ll save that route for when Joan can join me in the early part of 2020.

I walked back to The Dollhouse via jeep track to make a loop and again enjoyed more of that golden light.

I then took a side route that leads through a joint in the rock:

And some stunning, jaw-dropping views for both sunrise and sunsets.

Looking into Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River.

Spanish Bottom the following morning

An uneventful, if a cold, crossing of The Colorado River brought me back to The Needles District. Once I entered the sunlight again, I brewed up a welcome morning break of hot oatmeal and even hotter coffee.  Basking in the sun, warming up, and drinking hot coffee, I must say, it is one of life’s better pleasures!

I soon reached my waiting vehicle. But not before I had one last look into Utah’s canyon country.

My second time in The Maze did not disappoint. I explored the new to me, northern area with views to the Green and Colorado River below; hoodoos and ancient paths beckoned, and quiet canyons twisted and turned. And the Colorado Plateau sunsets and sunrises brought it all into sharp relief.

Two trips, three trips, or even four trips into The Maze will never be enough. I know I’ll return.

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Midwest Mike
Midwest Mike
4 years ago

Thanks for sharing. Amazing pix. Love the owl.

4 years ago

Thanks for another great write-up. Fantastic trip!

Do you mind sharing the location of your packraft put-in? Or simply confirm that you did a direct cross at Spanish Bottom?