On this section we were mostly on an alternate to the Hayduke Trail to take in an area of very remote and intricate canyons called “The Maze” which we hadn’t seen before. In 2014 we took another alternate and what both have in common is that from Needles in Canyonlands National Park, we end up at the Colorado river at a place called Spanish Bottom, climb up again over remote plateau and end up in the well named Happy Canyon and then cross the even more appropriately named Dirty Devil river (a very muddy tributary of the Colorado). Credits for the route go to Jamal Green who describes it on his excellent Across Utah website.
The Needles area of Canyonlands is mostly known for spiky stripy rock formations but it also has a sunken valley known as a graben called Cyclone Canyon which we hiked along. This is not made by water erosion like most canyons but by a collapse of underground salt deposits.
We camped near the banks of the Colorado on the first night. Brian had arranged for a ferry operator to pick us up at 10:00 and take us across. They were taking hikers from Moab to the opposite northern shore. From there a trail leads steeply up 1000 ft to a place of rock spires called the Dolls House. It was made in the 19th century by shepherders to allow their flocks access to the river.
Inside The Maze we saw green cottonwood trees for the first time and the character of the landscape was less severe, more gentle. There was water! Not flowing but emerging in small clear dips in the sand.
We were not the only people to find the Maze hospitable. Pictographs lefts by people variously referred to as Fremont or Basketmaker people. This is near the famous Harvest Scene (another pictograph panel). More images here.
Fabulous camp on a rock fin in the Maze.
From the Maze we had a few miles on jeep trails over a plateau called Hans Flat, named after rancher Hans Andersen who ran cattle here. Then we descended North French Spring Fork of Happy Canyon. This was quite exciting as it involved route finding (no trail here). We came across three black donkeys who live happily down there in a green(ish) valley. They took one look at us and ran.
After the donkeys we got onto another 100 year old stock trail down down down until we hit Happy Canyon.
Happy Canyon had water! Yes, this is a delicious clear (once the tadpoles and mosquito larvae have been shoo-ed out of the way) first rate drinking water. Ignore the white rime. That’s just minerals deposited as the water evaporates…
The second best thing about Happy Canyon, after the water, is that it turns into a slot Canyon for the last mile and a bit. So so beautiful!
Happy Canyon stops very suddenly when it meets the Dirty Devil. This is a long river that goes through layers of rock that produce a lot of very fine silt…so it is muddy and its bottom is very silty. Not much fun to cross and even worse to drink.
We didn’t have to drink it. We hiked on to Poison Spring Canyon which, despite the name, had a clear spring.
Now we have come over 180 miles and there are some signs of wear! Brian has taken to wearing his socks upside down because the sand has eroded the soles! There are also some blisters and we are now in the tiny town of Hanksville, resting up and preparing for the next section over the Henry mountains to the town of Escalante…..
Needles visitor centre to Colorado River – We saw no water on the trail from Big Springs down Cyclone Canyon then Lower Red Lake. We took water from the Colorado.
Standard descent from west of Chimney rock to Pictograph canyon – small pothole on scramble descent and small potholes at canyon bottom about where marked by Kelsey as a spring.
Wash north of the Harvest Scene, on the west side of the canyon junction -small seep flow
Foot of the Maze Overlook trail – Good water in pools with a small flow.
North Trail canyon – small pothole just before steep zig zag exit. We didn’t notice any water between Maze Overlook and here.
Hans Flat Ranger Station- sells gallon jugs and open between 8 and 4.30.
North French springs fork – Medium pothole of water in wash above steep constructed trail descent. Well used by ferral donkeys though and we didn’t take.
North French springs fork- Constructed trail descends steep section round a nose to the boulder filled wash at bottom and then continues criss crossing wash to easier ground after boulder section. Makes for a relatively easy passage.
North French springs fork- Slickrock pothole area down wash was dry
Happy Canyon- small seep 1 mile below French fork junction. Good pools and seeps 3 miles below. We also saw these in April 2014. Happy narrows had some small potholes, maybe better than Dirty Devil…
Poison Springs- Good flow about 1 mile below and 2 miles above.