"I Would Walk 500 Miles ..." - A Utah Adventure - April 2022 - Part 2

TrailScot

Member
Joined
Dec 2, 2019
Messages
78
I was unsure whether to spend another day in Fable Valley to look for archaeological sites, but decided it was worth staying on a bit longer, if only to dry out my still wet clothes from the previous day. I hiked almost to the end of the canyon, which was a beautiful walk, but I didn't find any significant new sites. I had left the best until last though, and I re-visited a fascinating ruined pueblo on the floor of the valley. The walls are almost all crumbled, but the outline and individual room-blocks are obvious. It is a large site, with an estimated 20 rooms, and possible large kivas. I spent over an hour wandering here, imagining the building in all its former glory, and listening for distant echoes of the dozens of inhabitants who once called this incredible place home.
(Day 6 11.8 miles, Total 75.7)

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I started early the next day, and left Fable Valley via a side-canyon. The drainage follows a narrow wash for a couple of miles before a high pour-off is encountered. The route up and round this obstacle is steep, slippery, narrow, and pretty exhausting. However once at the top, the valley widens somewhat, and the remainder of the route involves clambering up and round several more straightforward dry-falls. After climbing 700 feet in total, the dirt road of the Dark Canyon Plateau comes as something of a relief.

I had been undecided about whether to take the conventional Hayduke Trail route to Dark Canyon via Youngs Canyon from here, or to take another known route through Lean-To Canyon. Due to the shorter road-walk and the opportunity to see more of Dark Canyon, I decided on the Youngs Canyon option. There is a useful old jeep road that helps to reach the main drainage via Horse Pasture. I was pleasantly surprised to stumble across several archaeological sites on this pasture, with many pottery shards strewn in the vicinity.

I honestly didn't enjoy the hike through Youngs Canyon. The drainage is rough and rock-strewn, and I found myself staring at the ground for the most part, in order to avoid tripping, rather than enjoying the surrounding scenery. Part way down, in order to avoid a huge pour-off, it is necessary to literally hike back several hundred feet to the canyon rim, and then later descend back down again into the canyon. Neither ascent nor descent are any fun at all. Soon after the main descent, another steep, slippery descent is required to reach the valley floor. By the time I set up my tent for the evening, I swore I'd never be back here again. A slight over-reaction, based on aching feet, I'm sure.
(Day 7 12 miles, Total 87.7)

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The next day involves another slippery ascent, and a notorious steep descent to proceed through this long canyon. Jamal Green, of AcrossUtah fame, mentions an alternative descent a little further down canyon, which I decided to try. It turned out be a great decision, and the route back down into the drainage was relatively straightforward. The lower part of the canyon quickly becomes thick with vegetation, due to the nearby spring, and there is a little bushwhacking required to make good progress. I was mightily relieved to make the final short, steep descent to join Dark Canyon, especially as there is a stunning hanging garden and waterfall at the very bottom of Youngs Canyon. It is a magnificent sight.

I arrived in Dark Canyon on a murky, cloudy afternoon. The enormous sheer surrounding cliffs rose up like dark grey skyscrapers piercing a heavy leaden sky. The views were mightily impressive, of course, but the lack of good light and sunshine, lent the canyon a somewhat oppressive atmosphere. A light rain started to fall, as I set up my tent for the night.

I fell asleep dwelling negatively on my upcoming journey, more specifically a seldom traversed short section of the route, which I had light-heartedly termed 'Miracle-Mile', that I hoped to reach in a couple of weeks time. This evening, under literal and metaphorical dark skies, it felt more like 'Fool-hardy Mile' and I was seriously doubting my sanity for even considering it.
(Day 8 11.2 miles, Total 98.9)

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My goodness, what a difference the light of the sun makes. The next morning was bright and glorious, and the high walls and buttes of Dark Canyon looked alive and magnificent, as the sun highlighted their peaks. And, thankfully, my dark mood of the previous evening had all but evaporated. It was a wonderful walk along the sparkling stream, finding a route, either beside the flowing water, or on a bench several feet higher. As I proceeded, I would meet more and more hiking groups, who had descended from the Sundance Trailhead to hike for a few days in the surrounding canyons. The valley widens considerably as one approaches the mouths of Lost Canyon, and Lean-To Canyon. This junction area is particularly beautiful, with many large groves of cottonwood trees hugging the edge of the stream. It is a wonderful spot.

One thing that intrigued me in this area was the lack of invasive vegetation, such as Russian Olive and Tamarisk. These bushes are voracious and blight many a drainage in the South-west. Effectively, any canyon that has even a hint of water in this region, will almost certainly have these species prevalent. I wonder if the BLM have made concerted efforts to remove them from this area in Dark Canyon, or perhaps these species somehow haven't found their way here (yet !).

I had arrived here by early afternoon, so it was a little late in the day to try to ascend the steep rocky slope up to Dry Mesa and the Sundance Trailhead; I would save that for the next morning, so I set up camp on a plateau above the canyon. I had been told several years ago about a great day-hike, that follows Dark Canyon all the way to the Colorado River. It most definitely did not disappoint.

Starting along the stream-side among a stunning grove of cottonwoods, the route ascends to a high bench above the now steep drainage, along a narrow path, with superb views straight down into the canyon below. Just when it appears that no further progress is possible, the use-trail drops dramatically down to the valley floor, where there are several beautiful pools, with the stream initially running gently and snake-like across the bedrock. This really is a stunning area. The route continues for a couple more miles to the Colorado River, with the final part of the canyon being messy, muddy, and rock-strewn as the water level of the river has ebbed and flowed across the drainage over time. To my mind, this out-and-back trail is undoubtedly one of the great day-hikes of the South-West (although reaching the start of the hike at the bottom of Dark Canyon is not exactly straight-forward, I guess).

After a wonderful afternoon's hiking, I returned to my camp spot, in the early evening, and the views from the plateau (or perhaps Sundance Meadows :) ) were quite magnificent. From this vantage point, it is possible to see the east and west valleys of Dark Canyon, Lost Canyon, and Lean-To Canyon, in addition to the cliffs, ridges and buttes rising high above each drainage. Bathed in sunset light, it was a stunning sight.
(Day 9 15.7 miles, Total 114.6)

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On the previous evening, I had met a couple of very nice guys from Ohio who had pack-rafted on the Colorado River, from Spanish Bottom in Needles, and ascended the Dark Canyon route I previously described. I met them again the next morning, as we started the ascent of the steep slope to the trailhead. At this point, their main cause for concern was whether their car would be waiting for them at the top, since they had paid someone to collect their vehicle in Needles and drop it at the Sundance Trailhead (their car was indeed there !)

The route from Dark Canyon to the Sundance Trailhead is notorious, since the hiker must climb over 1,000 ft in less than half a mile up a very steep and rocky slope, with no obvious trail. Although my progress was painfully slow, it wasn't too difficult an experience, overall. I'd rather hike this 10 times, than traverse Youngs Canyon again :)

So, now that the fun and games of Dark Canyon were over with, I could now start to seriously worry about the day ahead. To cut a long story short, I had left a food resupply package at Hite Outpost for collection today. Many Hayduke hikers use the Outpost for the same purpose. The problem was that during the period between me dropping off my parcel, and today, Hite Outpost had closed down, possibly permanently. I therefore had no idea whether my resupply would be waiting for me, and if so, where. I had been cutting down on my daily food intake, just in case the package wasn't there, so in addition to feeling nervous, I was getting a bit hungry. My options if the parcel wasn't there were to try to eke out my remaining food until I reached my next resupply point in 3 days time, or to hitch a ride north to Hanksville to buy additional food in the store there. Neither option was appealing, so I just had to cross my fingers and hope.

I had plenty of time to think about it, since it was a a 15 mile hike along a good dirt road to reach the Lake Powell area. Despite my nervousness, it was actually a really pleasant, quick walk among some wonderful red-rock scenery. Along the way, I had a rather bizarre encounter with 2 Hayduke hikers heading in the opposite direction, who seemed particularly disappointed that I didn't greet them with a trail-name (such nicknames are common among US thru-hikers). After their initial greeting of: "And you are ?", failed to illicit the required response, it seemed I wasn't worthy of their attention after that. Oh well. Oddly, it wasn't the last time that such an incident would occur on this hike.

Ok, so back to my resupply issues. I knew that a National Park Service employee lived in the otherwise now abandoned housing area at Hite Outpost, so my plan was to go straight to his house and hope that he might know where my food cache was. I got there about 6pm, and thankfully, Brad could not have been more helpful. He said he had seen some packages, wrapped in heavy bin liners at the closed Outpost building, but didn't know what they were. Thankfully, one of them was my box. I was very grateful to the previous owner for taking care of this for me. I was a very lucky boy. I could celebrate tonight with a full meal !
(Day 10 20.9 miles, Total 135.5)
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Barely discernible ruined pueblo in Fable Valley
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Climbing out of Fable Valley to the Dark Canyon Plateau
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Evidence of the Ancient Ones in Horse Pasture
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Youngs Canyon
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Youngs Canyon
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At the bottom of a horrible descent in Youngs Canyon
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Youngs Canyon
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Heading towards the bottom of Youngs Canyon, as it meets Dark Canyon
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Waterfall as Youngs Canyon meets Dark Canyon
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Dark Canyon petroglyphs
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Brooding Dark Canyon
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Lovely camp spot in Dark Canyon
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Dark Canyon
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Dark Canyon
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The route along Dark Canyon towards the Colorado River
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The route along Dark Canyon towards the Colorado River
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The route along Dark Canyon towards the Colorado River
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The Colorado River
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Dark Canyon
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Sundance Meadows evening view
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1,000 ft ascent in 1/2 mile up to the Sundance Trailhead on Dry Mesa
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Dark Canyon and Lean-To Canyon from Dry Mesa
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Dark Canyon and the steep ascent to Sundance Trailhead
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Distant view of the Henry Mountains
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Squaw and Papoose Rock along the road to Hite
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The road to Hite and Lake Powell with distant views of the Little Rockies and the Henry Mountains
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Red-rock formations along the road to Hite
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"I would walk 500 miles,
And I would walk 500 more,
Just to be the man who walked a thousand
miles to fall down at your door
" ... The Proclaimers
 

canadug

Member
Joined
Nov 26, 2015
Messages
93
Brings back great memories of our trip to Dark Canyon this past March.

Thanks for the excellent trip report.
 

RyanP

Formerly bob32
Joined
Mar 1, 2015
Messages
433
I guess the Youngs/Lean-To route is officially off my list... Thanks for the report!
 
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