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Exploring the Maze, Canyonlands National Park, Oct. 11-19

Sat, 2014-10-11
Bill Priedhorsky

Aerial photo of the Maze, from WikiCommons
Update Feb. 27: Room is still available on this trip.
In all my years of exploring the canyons of southeastern Utah, I've never made it to the Maze country. It's time to go! The Maze and surrounding canyons are the western section of Canyonlands National Park. This is extremely remote country, with only rough four wheel drive roads, no ranger stations, no permanent water, but some of the wildest and most interesting terrain to be found anywhere. A nice photo report of the trip to this country can be found here.
The easiest way to access this country is by jeeping into the upper plateau, establishing a camp, and day hiking down into the canyons. The jeep ride isn't my favorite, but it is the only way to put in a comfortable camp to explore this region. The available primitive hiking sites are in the Doll House and Land of Standing Rocks, about 45 minutes apart by jeep, and each offering access to an interesting part of the terrain. We can stay 3 days in each campsite, so will move camp in the middle of the trip.
Unless someone really wants to take their jeep, I would recommend renting jeeps for about $150-200 per person. We would reimburse a jeep volunteer with a sum comparable to what we would have to pay for a rental. The formidable part of the trip is around the head of Teapot Canyon, where the primitive road is full of ledges, outcrops, and boulders. If you don't enjoy riding in a bouncy jeep, you can get out and walk in, at about the same speed.
The exact plan for the trip will depend on whether we rent jeeps in Farmington, Moab, or elsewhere. My preferred route is to come in via the dirt road from Hite, which means getting jeeps somewhere between here and there. If we rented jeeps in Moab, we would need to circle north to the freeway and come in via Hans Flat ranger station.
The schedule for the trip is as follows:
Saturday, October 11, leave Los Alamos and drive to an overnight motel, perhaps Bluff
Sunday,  pick up jeep rentals and head into the Maze (Doll's House or Land of Standing Rocks), establish a camp
Monday & Tuesday, day hikes into the canyons and across the plateau
Wednesday, move camp to the other site (Land of Standing Rocks or Doll's House)
Thursday and Friday, additional day hikes 
Saturday, break camp and drive out to an overnight motel
Sunday, October 19, drive back to Los Alamos
I’d prefer to go in with two jeeps and a party of 8-10. To hold a spot on the trip, please pay a $50 deposit to trip leader Bill Priedhorsky at 380 Rim Road, Los Alamos 87544, or by bank transfer.


One of the most famous destinations in the Canyon Country, the mass of canyons and slickrock that makes up southeastern Utah, is the Maze. It was site of the final chase and Hayduke’s disappearance in the Monkey Wrench Gang. However, despite its fame, we had not come any close than a 1988 trip to Water Canyon. Access to the Maze requires heavy-duty jeeping, which was not my thing. However, the destination finally overcame the means of getting there, and we organized a week-long Mountaineers outing in October 2014.
Getting there requires real jeeps, not just an SUV. Brave souls can do otherwise – we met a couple of women at our last campsite who had reached there with a Honda Pilot. However, we did not want to risk our cars, so went jeep shopping. We found them in Moab, and reserved 3 4-door jeeps for a week from Farabee’s jeep rental. This cost us about $4500, including collision damage waiver of $50 per day for 2 of the jeeps, plus almost $400 of gas for the trip from Moab via Green River and Hans Flat into the Maze. They performed magnificently, not even feeling obstacles that would have blocked progress for lesser vehicles. Since we were not only driving to the Maze, but also crossing from Standing Rocks to the Maze Overlook, we were nervous about gas. Even after filling up in Green River, we carried 30 gallons of gas in the Sarracinos’ SUV, and topped off at Hans Flat coming and going. By so doing, we did not need to stop in Green River on the way back, but made it comfortably back to Moab.

One of our jeeps on a tough spot between Teapot Rock and Standing Rock
Our party included eight –Karen Grace, John and Marcee Sarracino, Pat and Lorrie Colestock, Martin and Bev Cooper, and myself, trip leader Bill Priedhorsky. A ninth member had to drop out at the last minute, which was as well, because we could barely squeeze into the three jeeps with eight of us and our gear. A major component of our load was water. We took 15 6-gallon containers, but only needed eight for the six wilderness nights. There was no water to be found in the Maze except a few pools deep in the canyons, nowhere near the car camps.
We drove from Los Alamos to Moab on Saturday October 11th, overnighting in a condo and motels in Moab. We did the paperwork for the jeeps that evening, but did not pick them up until morning. By the time we packed and picked up lunch in Moab, it was perhaps 10:30 that we left town. This put a squeeze on the first day, bringing us to camp close to 7 PM, as it was getting dark. The exciting part of the trip is the drive down the Flint Trail, which is a one-way, steep narrow jeep road, where one can turn around only via 3-point turns at the corners. But before reaching that point, we travelled 90 miles on blacktop from Moab to the Hans Flat Road, 46 miles of good dirt road to Hans Flat Ranger Station, and 10 miles of rougher road to the top of the Flint Trail.

The Flint Trail. Once you have started down, don’t think about turning back.
Our choice of campsites was limited. Our choices were limited when I went online to reserve campsites 4 months before,  because there were a lot of reservations that had carried over from the government shutdown in the autumn of 2014. We had 2 nights each at 3 campsites; if the schedule had been more open, we could have spent the maximum of 3 days at 2 sites, and done less driving. Our first campsite, Teapot Rock, was scenic, but not in the heart of the Maze. Karen and I spent the next day, Monday, exploring the Teapot Canyon drainage downstream of camp, and the others walked the road.
The next day, Tuesday, we moved to the Standing Rock campsite, with a wonderful view north into the Maze. We left camp at 10 AM and spent 2 ½ hours driving the 12 ½ miles between camps. After lunch, four of us hiked NNW along a finger into the Maze, with big drops on both sides.

Karen and Bev above the Maze, on our hike along the finger NNE of Standing Rock.
On our layover day at Standing Rock, Pat, Lorrie, Karen, and I drove a little bit down the road, then set out from Chimney Rock parking lot down the trail into Shot Canyon, hoping to round the corner and return up Water Canyon. We ran out of time for the loop, but the day was adventure enough, marked by a descent down a rock staircase into an otherwise impassable bowl. The rest of the party drove to the Doll House and did some low-key hiking.

The way down into Shot Canyon.
On Thursday, we moved camp again, driving all the way around the Maze in a 4 ½ hour jaunt to the Maze Overlook. With the benefit of experience, we reached Teapot Rock in 2 hours, ½ hour faster than the outbound trip. The Maze Overlook is indeed an amazing spot, as the photo shows, but I’m not sure if it was worth that much driving. Our reason for going there was easy access to the Harvest Panel, which was indeed lovely, and our hiking target for the next day.

View of the Maze from Maze Overlook, with Standing Rock, our previous night’s camp, at the base of the leftmost pillar in the distance. It took 4 ½ hours of jeeping to cover 4 miles as the crow flies.
On our last full day, all but Marcee and Martin hiked down the Maze Overloop trail to the South Fork of Horse Canyon, and along the bottom to the Harvest Panel. The descent took at least two hours, and involved some significant scrambling and low-level rope work. Being a Park Service trail didn’t mean that it was a stroll.

On the way down the Maze Overlook trail.
The Harvest Panel was as good as promised, with intricate detail. We took the whole day for our outing, returning sometime around 5 PM.

Detail from the Harvest Panel – vegetation growing out of the hand of a figure.
We left camp for the return to civilization at about 10 AM, and arrived in Moab at about 4:00 PM, in time to gas up and return the jeeps to the rental agency. In retrospect, the collision damage waiver was perhaps unnecessary, as we felt very comfortable driving once we got the feel of the jeeps. I’m anxious to return, perhaps in 2015 or 2016, but would minimize the jeeping by going in from Utah 95 at Hite, avoiding the Flint Trail, and reserve two camps in the Standing Rock area for 3 nights apiece, taking advantage of the many trails into the Maze and surrounds that go out from that vicinity.

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