The Maze:

The Maze district in Canyonlands National Park is one of the most remote backcountry destinations in the contiguous United States. It is only directly accessible by four-wheel drive roads, the nearest hiking trailheads are along two-wheel dirt roads, and the nearest paved road is miles away. Very few people venture into the Maze in general and one area, Jasper Canyon, is completely closed to human entry. It’s canyons are difficult to travel: there is no signage, only occasional cairns marking routes from mesa tops to canyon bottoms, pack-lowering is sometimes required, and knowledge of basic climbing maneuvers as well as competency with a map and compass are prerequisites to entry.

So, why are a handful of adventurers drawn to it year after year? Why did Edward Abbey, the “Thoreau of the American West”, use it not only as the background for the penultimate chapter of ¬†Desert Solitaire but also as the location of the final chase scene in The Monkeywrench Gang? Because its combination of remoteness, amazing geologic formations, traces of ancient human civilization, and challenging terrain showcase all the features that have become iconic of the Colorado Plateau in general.

My Trip:

In the spring of 2009, while most of my friends were heading off to destinations like Cabo San Lucas or Palm Springs for their spring breaks, I drove to a remote corner of Utah for a 4-day, ~65 mile solo backpacking trip through the Maze. It was my first solo trip but I didn’t realize just how self-reliant I was going to have to be until I reserved my wilderness permit at the Hans Flat Ranger Station. The issuing ranger told me something along the lines of “You’re here really early in the season. There’s nobody else down there that we know of and we aren’t even doing ranger patrols yet. You’ll be on your own out there.” and wished me good luck.

My Route:

My route through the Maze was a counter-clockwise ‘balloon loop’. I checked in at the Hans Flat Ranger Station and parked near the North Point campground before hiking into North Trail Canyon and following it down to Elaterite Basin where I met up with a jeep road. I followed the jeep road around Elaterite Butte to the Maze Overlook, dropped into the Maze proper, walked below the Chocolate Drops, and headed up South Fork Horse Canyon. After literally crawling out of South Fork near Lizard Rock, I met up with another jeep road and followed it through the Land of Standing Rocks to Chimney Rock. From Chimney Rock I took a “scenic detour” far enough into Shot Canyon to get a view of the Green River, doubled back to Chimney Rock, and then took Pete’s Mesa Route northwards. Dropping back down to the bottom of the Maze just before Pete’s Mesa, I took a sidetrail to see the Harvest Scene, a 2,000+ year old pictograph panel on a canyon wall, and then headed down South Fork Horse Canyon to where it meets North Fork Horse Canyon. Taking North Fork westwards, I climbed back up to Elaterite Basin and reunited with the first jeep road I’d followed and then retraced my steps back to my car.