Queen of the Walkabout
Joined: 15 Jan 2004
| Posted: 7/25/2004, 8:16 pm
|This trip took place in 1998. This little trip had a bit of everything. Some adventuresome driving, route finding hiking, visiting a glorious canyon reminescent of Antelope Canyon, but without the fees or the people---not any people. An incredible campsite on the edge of forever, walking somewhere where no footsteps preceded yours, realizing if there was a rockfall you were left with no way out, lifting a metal door fabricated many years ago and seeing the magic of water.
This is my trip to Poison Springs and Happy Canyons, in the Dirty Devil River region, in of course, southern utah.
Poison Springs Canyon has a rough road down it to the Dirty Devil River. It is the only vehicle crossing of that river, en route to the Frenchmans spring and flat area near Hans Flat ranger station at Lands End; near the gateway to the Maze. The road is unmarked off Hwy 95 out of Hanksville on your way to Hite.
It starts out benignly, just another red sandy, rocky road through low hills and slowly drops into the developing canyon. It doesn't look like anything interesting from Hwy 95. As you drive it the canyon walls predictably rise and form domes and ledges. Some vegetation shows up in cactii and mesquite. A wide campsite like place shows some petroglyphs in the dark stone walls. As I drive at a very sandy area I pull off. There is a cave up this short side canyon. As I walk up the brushy narrows, I perform a little cliff climb to get up to the cave about a quarter mile up the canyon. Its an unassuming little cave; but on the back wall is an absolutely huge and fading anthromorphic form----it looks Fremont but could be older. Not archaic, which is one of the oldest styles, such as in Horseshoe Canyon and Snake Gulch.
Continuing my drive, a spring now wets the canyon floor and the road is in the stream.
I stop at the Wall spring, an absolutely magical place. Its warm but my feet in the Tevas are cold in the water as I step out of my Jeep. I walk through the marshy grass to the rockwall in which is placed a metal hinged door about 1ft by 2ft. It looks to be in good shape. There is so much water here I feel I am in a swamp.
I bend and lift the door, at eye level is beautiful clear cold water, as far back as I can see in an alcove in the rocky alcove. I almost can see my reflection in the pool. I wonder how deep it is. I am loathe to contaminate the water but reach in as far as I can, I am almost up to my upper arm and do not touch anything, but revel in the cold wetness.
I step back, not 15 feet away the canyon is dry and harsh. What a contrast is the desert, at times. I wonder if this is the "poison" springs. I have only drunk unfiltered water 3 times in my adventures. I cannot resist a small cup. The water is cold and has a wonderful taste.
I drive on to the Dirty Devil River crossing. My destination this trip is some miles back on an old mining road. I drive down to see the river crossing. The next time I go to the Maze I think I'll take this route.
I drive back up to the old mining road, it takes off up a shelf route at the base of massive Wingate cliffs, this area is LKA the "black jump". At this juncture the main canyon of Poison Springs is big and deep. The floor of the canyon has fallen abruptly about 200 feet in some massive seismic event a zillion years ago. The main road switchbacks down a talus slope. I'll be that was some rocker and roller when it occurred. Its like a giant step down.
The old mining road is a driving adventure. I spoke with a waitress at Blondies in Hanksville after this trip, who was a local, and she said "why, honey, I'll bet no one's been on that road, in except a dirt bike here and there, in 20 years". The old road showed no sign of recent use, and was more suited to a quad or a dirt bike than a Jeep. It was downright scary. Big ruts but what was more nerve racking in places the road is melting away with holes the size of basketballs, you could look through them to nothing---it fell straight through and down the canyon wall. Also along portions of this old shelf road were huge Wingate boulders that had rolled down. One rockslide and my vehicle would be stranded up here. Only way out---a heavy duty helicopter transport.
I am determined to drive it, really should have backpacked it. If I go back there that is what I think I will do. The road is about 10 miles long-- this portion off the Poison Springs canyon. It took about 2.5 hours to drive. I reach the road end--an exposed area with a great view of the Dirty Devil River basin about 2000 feet below in great meanders. I retreat and locate a vehicle campsite off the road in some Wingate boulders.
The dirt up here is curiously spongy but dry. I left deep footprints. I put up my tent by the Jeep but I end up sleeping under the stars near the rim overlooking the Dirty Devil. Its a clear sky, no storms in the offing and in the dusk it seems I can see forever. I allow my night vision to develop and take a stroll up and down the old road. It is so clear and quiet. I am excited to explore the next day, sleep well, but start my coffee as the sun is rising. Its so decadent, I sitting up in my sleeping bag against a small rock sipping java and watching the world wake up, the sun creep over the massive towers, flaming them a vivid firey red. The deeply esconced river is a ribbon of silver, then gray, then a blue green. This is just the best.
I throw my daypack on and get organized, I hike down the old mining road. There is a rock slide, impassable to vehicles, no problem to hikers. There are no footprints before mine. I am impressed with the amount and size of petrified wood through this area. It's beautiful and very easy to count some of the rings. I hike along the road, checking my topo map and looking across the Dirty Devil river. I locate a huge long canyon coming in at an angle up canyon from me. It is Happy Canyon, my destination. The narrow here, right off the Dirty Devil, are said to rival Antelope canyon for sculpturing, but better lighting.
At a point I leave the road; I descend Kayenta ledges and route find to a small flat, then locate a cattle trail. It's a rough and rocky hike down, I contour around a small hill and come to the Dirty Devil river. It's narrow, fast, and about knee deep here. I put on my Tevas, sling boots over my shoulder and cross carefully, lean a bit into the current. I leave my Tevas to dry out on a rock and hike into the mouth of Happy Canyon. At first its broad and sandy, then canyon walls change in texture and narrow. As I round the first bend I draw in my breath. Two walls curve as if they could fit into one another, and are lit a soft gold. Wow.
Its a corridor filled with boulders so the hiking is slow, but that's ok, because you want to take in the lovely light. I hesitate to compare this to Antelope canyon because it is so different. To me no less beautiful. I hike slowly about 3 miles, to the end of the narrows, the canyon becoming shallow and less interesting.
I want to return and backpack, so to camp and stay longer to explore.
I return climbing up my route and take a bit rougher course near the top. That's what happens when you do not have a trail. I walk back to my jeep in sort of a daze. My photos can do no justice to this place (this is before digital for me and my film camera was not that high a quality). This area is so rich visually it is almost too much. It is certainly worth the trouble it took to get here. Here is a place you can hike, see spectacular sights without the hassles of permits or people, something some of us can appreciate.