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Monday, October 11, 2010

Jeeping Into The Maze

I just returned from a fun trip exploring part of The Maze area of Canyonlands National Park. Our goal was to jeep through the Land of Standing Rocks to the Doll House, but we never made it. Still, we had a great time and saw some amazing country.

The Maze includes most of the area of Canyonlands that lies west of the Colorado River. It is remote and incredibly rugged. It is a great place to get away from civilization into a unique landscape seen by very few of the people who visit the park.

I have never explored that area but I figured I had a pretty good idea of the challenges we would face. After all, I've spend my entire life exploring remote parts of southern Utah. I figured we could blast in, take some photos and then get out in one afternoon. Wrong! I underestimated distances and travel time. You don't go very fast when you are in 4-low.

We were in a Jeep Rubicon, stock, and found the Doll House road challenging. We thought twice before going down some obstacles. We were a little cautious because we were alone. Single vehicles are not recommended in The Maze. The area is so rugged, even experienced drivers with tough 4X4 s occasionally get in trouble and so it is wise to have a second vehicle in your party to help, or go for help.

You need a permit to stay overnight in the Canyonlands backcountry. We did not have a permit and so we gave ourselves plenty of time to get out. We did not want to go back up those obstacles in the dark.

We came in from the bottom, from Highway 95 near Hite on Lake Powell. The highway crosses two bridges, one over the Colorado and one over the Dirty Devil River, and the access road starts about half-way between those bridges.

We camped at Hite and did some fishing while in the area. That caused part of our troubles. I wanted to enjoy the early morning fishing before starting the jeep trip. But the fishing was better than expected, we caught a lot of striped bass, and it took longer than expected to fillet them. So, we were late getting started.

I used the Trails Illustrated Canyonlands Map as my main navigation tool. It is a good topo map that shows roads and features. But it does not extend west from the park to Hwy 95. I also had a Lake Powell map that shows the highway, and the turnoff, but it doesn't extend east to the park boundary. I figured there was just a short gap between the two maps. Wrong! The straight-line distance wasn't too far, but the road had to sweep north to skirt the top of two canyons and so the driving distance was far greater than I expected. It took us a good 2 hours to travel from Hwy 95 to the area where the Canyonlands map picks up.

If you are looking for a serious 4X4 challenge in a scenic area, The Maze is a great destination. I just hope you learn from my mistakes and go prepared. It is big country – bigger than many people can even imagine.

But it is fun, even if you don't reach a particular destination. Just go as far as you can, safely.

No I'm anxious to go back.

- Dave Webb


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