Lower Dirty Devil


Mar 6, 2014
Here’s a fun 2-3 day trip we did on President’s Weekend. It is a good intro to combining backpacking and packrafting, featuring a stretch of the Dirty Devil that can be done with flows as low as 100 cfs with minimal dragging. The hiking part is unique and poses only mild challenges. Being a closed loop with parking 200’ from a major highway, the logistics couldn’t be simpler.

The only concern, in fact a recurring issue on most desert trips, is the lack of water. We were underway in constant rain showers, following pretty significant precipitation, so surface water was everywhere. This gave us the freedom to pick spectacular camps and otherwise leisurely stroll along without giving hydration a second thought. We casually sought for springs and other reliable sources for dry spells, but found little promise.

The entire hiking portion is part of the Hayduke trail. Park on US 95 between the bridges and start hiking out the Orange Cliffs road. After 30 minutes one can choose between two routes up on the Red Benches. The first, which we took, is an old mining road spectacularly cutting a shelf across some steep walls. The second choice is the much debated chimney at the head of Rock Canyon, several miles further. Due to the rain and soaked rock we opted out of this.

The Red Benches is a vast undulating plateau of somewhat complex yet gentle terrain with the occasional massive cairn left behind, allegedly, by Chinese travelers. Trudging across here could be an unpleasant, tedious experience in anything warmer than 75°, but for us with drizzle and the occasional squall racing down from the Block it was altogether pleasant.

Eventually one arrives at the rim of Fiddler Cove and must locate the route in. This was pretty easy with some prior homework, and the descent itself offered little challenge. To our surprise, given the relatively mild nature of the rain, we found Fiddler to be flash flooding.

A moment of worry crept in as we contemplated how the Dirty Devil would be if this flooding were also affecting the trio of massive tributaries upstream, namely Happy, Twin and Sam’s Mesa. Plus all the little ones. We had heard the lower river is entrenched and narrow, and pictured a roaring luge run instead of the riffle we had prepared for.

At the banks our concerns were put to rest. Fiddler appeared to be the only flood. Even neighboring Hatch was a dry gravelly wash. On the river portion, which is surprisingly long, there’s at least two interesting east bank diversions featuring athletic and very scenic slots. The first reaches an impasse while the second goes all the way to an impressive upper valley under towering Wingate. Both requires buddy assist and the occasional bold move. We got the dog thru easily, so that it wasn’t too bad. Find them yourself on Google Earth.

Take out at the first opportunity on river left after going under the bridge. A steep bank of leftover lake muck leads to a short bushwhack and an old service road. A short romp on US 95 closes the loop.

Image 3-5-17 at 07.40 by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
The Chinese cairns on the Red Benches route.

Image 3-5-17 at 07.42 by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
Unique geology in shallow canyons, Red Benches

Image 2-20-17 at 22.32 by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
Overhang camp in the rain

DSC06473 by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
Camp chores

Image 2-20-17 at 22.52 by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
Kid and dog snoozing

Image 3-5-17 at 07.43 by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
Edge of Fiddler Cove. The Block ready to discharge another squall.

Image 2-25-17 at 21.37 by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
And down in Fiddler. Water cold and swift, but not rising at any alarming rate.

Image 2-25-17 at 21.36 by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
Thick, red muddy water. No, not the DD! Still Fiddler.

Image 2-25-17 at 22.41 by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
The red flood water merging with the greasy brown sludge of the Dirty Devil.

Image 3-5-17 at 07.44 by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
Shallow, but not too shallow. Good boating for 15 miles or so on the lower DD.

Image 3-5-17 at 07.49 by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
Dicey spot in one of the canyons we explored.

Image 3-5-17 at 07.45 by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
Camp on expansive slick rock after finding an exit halfway up another slot.

Image 3-5-17 at 07.50 by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
Heading back to the boats in the morning. Thermarest wrapped around torso as makeshift life jacket.

Image 3-5-17 at 07.51 by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
Last stretch. Dog's ready to get done with this paddling crap.
Awesome. Looks like a great trip.

Heading down to Utah/Arizona next weekend....Really looking forward to a couple of weeks in the desert.
Nice Jan! A little bit chilly perhaps. Good adventure. Heading to the VRG end of the month for three days. If you want something tested PM me.
awesome, great to see the Hayduke getting some love. In good conditions, that chimney is no biggee, for the record.
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