Crossing Spanish Bottom from Needles to the Maze (and back)

JBPHXAZ

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Apr 2, 2018
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28
Full disclosure, this may be the dumbest question ever, so feel free to put me in my place if it is. I'm hoping to plan a backpacking trip in the Maze (Mar-Apr), and getting there by coming from Elephant Hill in the Needles. Rather than using a packraft to cross at Spanish Bottom, would one be able to "float/swim" across (maybe even using an air mattress for our packs)? I'm guessing that some years the water may be higher/rougher than others which would obviously impact this. Thanks, John
 

futurafree

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Apr 1, 2021
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39
I did this with the 2.75-lb Klymit Litewater Dinghy and a shortened plastic paddle during a low water year. The sand bar/beach extended halfway out into the channel and it wasn't too bad, but I wouldn't have wanted an air mattress with hand-paddling because even with low water the river is wide. There was a decent current and you wouldn't survive if you missed the exit. I had to launch upriver a good bit to make sure I didn't miss the main exit where the speedboats pick up customers, which is a terrible steep muddy mess. It might be worth walking a half-mile upriver for launch so you could exit at better (somewhat hidden) spots upriver. On the way back to the Needles, I walked all the way to the north end of Spanish Bottom to launch from a tiny sandy beach and had a relaxing 1/2-mile float.

I filled out a cache form that was approved by the NPS and left the Dinghy and paddle hidden in Spanish Bottom while exploring the Maze. I suggest you carry a Dinghy or at bare minimum a similar-weight $10 inner tube. The NPS uses careful wording on their website so that only boaters traveling "downriver" (not simply across) have to carry all the mandatory equipment. I didn't carry a life vest, though I was nervous a ranger might see me and give me grief.

As an alternative, you could beg the many boaters camping at Spanish Bottom to ferry you across in a proper canoe. I actually forgot my tiny air pump on the east side and someone was kind enough to ferry me back across against current in a canoe after I failed to fight the current in my Dinghy. Just make sure it's busy during your time of year, but this was the first week of October last year and there were probably 2-3 other groups there both nights I camped at the river.
 

JBPHXAZ

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Apr 2, 2018
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Thank you @futurafree , exactly the info I was looking for. Probably better look at a legit pack raft of some kind. And @regehr , yes I agree! HA!
Appreciate the insight and response.
 

James and Amy

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Jun 6, 2021
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We hitched a ride across the Colorado on our 2017 Across Utah walk: https://doingmiles.com/2017-04-across-utah/ It took us a bit of time but was certainly a lot safer than trying to swim across. A few things you might consider before you commit to swimming. First, if you are a couple of days into a trip when you actually reach the river, the water levels could have changed while you were out on the trail, so it would be difficult to plan on any specific conditions. In your March-April timeframe, the water is likely going to be cold and the air temperatures could be as well. If you swim and anything goes wrong, it is unlikely there will be anyone around to provide assistance. If you have trouble on the water, you may have to abandon your pack. When we were there, a lot of the south bank of the river was heavily vegetated and would be inaccessible from the water. Even with a packraft, you would have to be careful not to get punctured and sunk.

Have a great trip in a fabulous landscape, James and Amy
 

JBPHXAZ

Member
Joined
Apr 2, 2018
Messages
28
We hitched a ride across the Colorado on our 2017 Across Utah walk: https://doingmiles.com/2017-04-across-utah/ It took us a bit of time but was certainly a lot safer than trying to swim across. A few things you might consider before you commit to swimming. First, if you are a couple of days into a trip when you actually reach the river, the water levels could have changed while you were out on the trail, so it would be difficult to plan on any specific conditions. In your March-April timeframe, the water is likely going to be cold and the air temperatures could be as well. If you swim and anything goes wrong, it is unlikely there will be anyone around to provide assistance. If you have trouble on the water, you may have to abandon your pack. When we were there, a lot of the south bank of the river was heavily vegetated and would be inaccessible from the water. Even with a packraft, you would have to be careful not to get punctured and sunk.

Have a great trip in a fabulous landscape, James and Amy
Thanks for the detailed info. I appreciate it. Also, looking at your site, you have some amazing adventures! Very cool!
 

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