Now before I get into the nitty-gritty, and I truly mean nitty-gritty, I must preface that I have been 4-wheel driving my whole life. I remember hanging onto the “Oh-shit” bar when I was a wee tyke in the back of my dad’s Izuzu Trooper. My young companions often comparing the bouncing and swaying to the Indiana Jones ride at Disney Land. My first vehicle was a lifted 1981 Toyota Truck. And yes, I did get it stuck and had to walk to class covered in mud a couple of times. Anyway, what I’m saying is I’m not faint-of-heart when it comes to “crushing rocks.”
**Please note: Never head into the backcountry unprepared. Whether I’m driving, overlanding or backpacking, I always have a first aid kit. I prefer MyMedic – they have everything you’d ever want!
So there I was, standing next to Dashiel trying to decide what our first campsite was going to be. We had just hastily bought a spare gas can, loaded up on snacks and filled my 7-gallon water container. I had driven down from Ogden Friday night with the intention of doing a dude weekend, so my truck was full of all the essentials already — elk steaks, bacon, some beer (later to find out, not enough!), etc. All we had to do was make sure we got to the Hans Flats Ranger Station by 4 p.m., which we had made with an hour to spare.
The drive from Moab isn’t one to shrug off. Yes, The Maze is part of Canyonlands. And Canyonlands is often associated with Moab, but this particular district is on the west side of the Colorado River. There are no bridges connecting the east side of the National Park with the west side, so getting from Moab to Hans Flats consists of driving north to Green River, down I-70 to Highway 24 and then rallying 48 miles of washboard-ridden dirt road. I highly recommend deflating your tires!
At this point, as we’re discussing where to camp, based on what hikes looked interesting, the lady ranger said, it’ll be about 7 hours to drive all the way to the Dollhouse (the end of the road). Now on the map, it doesn’t seem that far. But as I started to really look at the topography, I realized that the drop in elevation is significant. Some couple thousand feet! It had been recommended by my father that I camp at Tea Pot, but that was taken for the night. And ironically, it was the ONLY campsite taken for the night. We were to have the whole district to ourselves! Pretty rad!
We took the lady ranger’s advice and opted not to try to rally the whole road in one go, so we reserved The Wall for the first night and the Dollhouse 2 for the second.
The first several miles along the top are easy going before the road takes a hard left and plummets straight down! I don’t know how they built the road, but it has been blasted out of hundreds of feet of vertical sandstone. This is where 4-wheel low comes in handy. Oh, and be sure to stop at the top to make sure there’s no one coming up because you certainly don’t want to meet someone halfway down! Did I mention it’s only wide enough for one vehicle?!
Once the road is down off of Hans Flats it’s pretty mellow until you get to Tea Pot. At this point there’s a sign that denotes, “High Clearance Vehicles Only.” And it’s not lying, the road gets ROUGH. And I mean it. Two-foot ledges, supported by piles of stones, and sharp turns. There are also many slabs that must be negotiated and blind rises. I would say for the next 6 or so miles after the Tea Pot campground, it would almost be faster to walk. The kind ranger at Hans Flats was not lying. It really does take 7 hours to get to the end of the road.
Because we had gotten such a late start, we were racing against time. We both wanted to get to camp before sun down, if not to set-up camp, then to at least take in the views. After wearing out our core-muscles caused by the twisting and bobbing, bottoming out the truck, and realizing we probably didn’t have enough beer for the trip, we finally made camp. And just in time to see one of the most spectacular sunsets ever!
We quickly set-up camp and then wandered around. The light changed, from orange, to red, to pink, all before our eyes. It was quite the magical experience! We did end up getting a little rain, but nothing significant. The temperatures dropped and we both huddled around the stove as we made dinner (no campfires in National Parks).
The next day we headed into the actual Maze. The area to the north of the road. From above it doesn’t seem too intense, but of course, just like I had underestimated the road, I underestimated the hike. We had no problems really, I just didn’t really think that a place could actually live up to its name-sake.
We packed up camp and drove down the road a couple miles to Standing Rock campsite. We decided to to do a loop, dropping into the maze district at Chimney Rock and climbing out at the Wall. We figured Standing Rock was a great midway point. A little cross-country travel at the start and finish. Plus, a great marker in case we got lost.
Because the National Park limits the number of people going into the maze district, the trails are rather faint. They are marked with cairns, but the trails themselves are not well traveled. Especially in the canyons themselves. And just like the road, the trails zig-zag through the layers of rock, finding the easiest (probably only) ways in and out of the canyons.
Our trip took us roughly 5 hours and I would say we hiked about seven miles, with a couple detours along the way. Not super exerting, but I was surprised how drained I was once I reached the car. Probably because of the mind-trip the Maze tends to play. Dashiel and I bet our remaining beers as to where we actually were on the map at one major intersection. Goddamn that last beer tasted good!
The drive to The Dollhouse was a breeze, at least compared to the section between Tea Pot and The Wall. The road was getting a little deep though, so it’s become easier to get high-centered. Just be sure to keep those wheels on the highest points. There are a couple of ledges that I bottomed out on too, but they are pretty straight-forward moves. Just know that you are going to scrape.
When we got to camp we explored all three sites, which are all totally different. It was pretty windy and still a bit chilly from the passing storms, so we chose camp one. We had reserved two, but seeing as it was 6 p.m. and we were the only ones out there, we figured it’d be fine (hopefully the park doesn’t come find me!). Three was also ideal. A little more exposed, but definitely had the best views from camp.
After we set-up camp, we explored the dolls. We headed north, hoping to capture a good shot of Beehive Arch. Don’t waste your time on this arch, kind of lame in the grand scheme of things. But the area it’s in is as photogenic as it comes! I was in heaven!!
The next day was huge! For me more than Dashiel (he lives in Moab). 7-8 hours of driving off-road, plus 5 hours on pavement. I didn’t want to leave. How could I? The shapes, the surreal layers playing game in my minds eye. All I wanted to do was disappear, not show up for work, and live among the dolls forever.
We packed up quickly and headed south, bound for a granary that is marked on the map. It’s a short hike, maybe two miles. The best part is the crazy cracks the trail weaves through. The dolls, and the crazy features found in the area, are caused from a layer of salt below the surface that gets eaten away by the Colorado River. And when it does, parts of the region collapse, forming strange formations and basins. The dolls themselves are obviously worn away by erosion, but the valleys and basins are created by the “salt collapse,” such as Hidden Valley.
Our side trip to the granary only took an hour before we sauntered back to the truck. We stopped a couple times during the drive back to take in the view and made short trip to Cave Arch, which is only a half mile or so to the south of the road before the Mother and Child formation. Dash’s car was in Green River, so we had a burger and beer at Ray’s, tipped the glasses and parted ways.
Thanks for viewing!
Til next time,