The Devil and a Flash Flood

Artemus

I walk
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Jun 25, 2012
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This TR documents a backpack down Poison Springs to the Dirty Devil and back out. Why Poison Springs given that it has a dirt road down it that even crosses the Devil and ascends out of the canyon on the other side to the east? I chose there because I had never been there and hoped that the road was obscure and untraveled (wrong) and because I had some new backpackers with me. The fact that the road was there was not all bad because there wasn't much traffic and it allowed us to drive part way down. This fact lured us into driving farther down the canyon when the weather turned rainy and that led to disaster. Fortunately the only thing that got hurt was my pride and my Tundra which was totaled. You'll see, keep reading.

I post this TR in the hopes of sharing the lessons I learned so you can keep from relearning them the same way.

So, the weather started pretty fine and we drove down a mile or two and parked in Poison Springs itself up on a little bench.

The first part of the canyon is not very deep but it is pretty. Hiking on a road is not my fave though...
poisinSprings_2.jpg


There is even a nice panel in the top part. Little Luna with her pack are in the pic too
poisinSprings_3.jpg


The lower part of the canyon.
poisinSprings_4.jpg


The lower part of the canyon has a feature called the Black Jump. It is a change in rock strata and color that causes another slot in the canyon. It is easy to poke your way down the drainage by traversing a short distance from the pourover. The road itself stays on the bench to the right and eventually goes down a side drainage. There is an old exploration road going to the left on the left bench above the Black Jump too that looked navigable.

The Black Jump (note the skies)
poisinSprings_5.jpg


A great boulder with letterbox features
poisinSprings_5a.jpg


Turned out it was irresistible, as usual. If there is a way UP. One must always go up.
poisinSprings_6.jpg


Here is the Dirty Devil itself. Crossing was easy albeit a little swift. Merlin and I had no problem. This hike was done in April to give you an idea of water flow. I thought it looked pretty easy to drive it. I wouldn't drive across alone. And I hadn't had the experience I had the next day. Now I am not so sure I would ever drive it :whistle:
poisinSprings_7.jpg


Two experienced river crossers
poisinSprings_8.jpg


This canyon is very important as is the road because it allows the USGS to install and maintain the most important gaging station in the Dirty Devil drainage, bar none. This is the place to check before you go for the river flow. It is accessed here. This site shows you the Cubic Feet per Second (CFS) that the Devil is running at. A flow rate of water but it translates to depth of the river and the speed. Right now. Real time. Very important. Another post here at BCP details my crossing experience at various CFS as well as other people's experience.

The gaging station (you can see that it gets pretty beat up by flash floods)
poisinSprings_9.jpg


You can see the station in the lower left in the distance. I am standing on the road for this pic.
poisinSprings_10.jpg


These USGS hydrologists are tough. The station is hard to get to even empty handed - not to mention with tools and equipment.

Poking our way down to the station
poisinSprings_13.jpg


poisinSprings_14.jpg


Some more views of the Devil from the bench above the Poison Springs/Dirty Devil confluence. (note the clouds now)
poisinSprings_15.jpg


poisinSprings_16.jpg


So, we walked back to the camp where we had parked the trucks and had a great evening. The next day we woke to a drizzle. Not too worried at that point since the canyon is very wide at most places and the stream was a trickle. Still we hustled breaking down camp immediately and started driving out. The road crosses the stream over and over again and in some places it is in the stream bed. As we crossed the stream depth went from 1" to 4" to 12" at successive crossing. I am driving my wife and two dogs in our Tundra and two trucks are following us - and it is still drizzling. We came around a corner and a section of the Poison Springs road was in the stream bed and the stream was flowing in it. I, charged up with adrenaline, pulled down into it and started up the stream bed and the two trucks behind me did the same. The water got deep quickly and started coming over the hood and then the windshield. Ruh Roh. I turned on the wipers (didn't help) and then stopped immediately and motioned the others backwards and up out of the stream which they completed uneventfully.

My forward motion gone I attempted to reverse and then again go forward to no avail and the engine died, forever. It had ingested water and hydrolocked. There wasn't much physical dangers since the stream bed was the only place there was water and there were wide benches next to it. We hustled the dogs and the packs out of the truck anyway thinking we might have to camp there since we might be stranded.

The water receded, down to ankle deep in less than an hour, and quite running an hour after that. Dang adrenaline! The truck was buried to the axles in mud, rocks and debris and it took us an hour of digging and roping up the other two trucks ahead of it, in series, to pull it out of the hole up to another bench presumably into safety. We learned later that it flashed again that day and the truck was at least axle deep in the second flood and some other locals lost their truck too that afternoon. A trip to Hanksville and meeting the great guy that owns the Sinclair there ended in arrangements for him to take his tractor and friend down to tow it out for a $1500 bill later that week. The insurance companies do not try and repair flooded vehicles because of lack of success in the past. They ended up totaling it and they covered the loss. We replace it with our Taco.

Poor, poor Tundra (phone pictures-sorry, this is after the water has gone down about a foot)
poisinSpringsTundra_17.jpg


I really loved that truck!
poisinSpringsTundra_18.jpg


So, lessons learned:
1) When faced with a flash flood, don't rush it. Stay up on a bench where it is safe and don't drive (or walk) in it. You can't. And it is likely to subside very quickly anyway.
2) It is a good idea to have others with you. Being a soloist this sounds wrong coming from me but I would have had to spend hours walking my family out of there and hitchhiking to Hanksville if we hadn't had other trucks with us.
3) Even though we were never in any serious personal danger it was still pretty frightening. So, repeat #1 - don't drive or walk in it. Wait it out.
4) As you are walking or driving in a canyon have a contingency plan in process the whole way. Memorize ways out. Memorize benches to get up higher.
5) The flood came down from a side drainage from the north off the Burr Desert. Poison Springs wasn't even the origin. Once we drove up a couple of miles Poison Springs was bone dry. It had been drizzling on us but never a downpour. So, the source of the thunderstorm was quite a ways away. They are right when they say it could be decent sky over head and you could still get flashed. I did.

I heard later that another family of locals were stranded down Poison Springs by the afternoon flash flood and lost their truck too but without injury. The helpful Sinclair station owner said it happens to tourists and locals all the time. Anybody can get complacent or amped up enough to try driving it.

Mea culpa. There's my dirty laundry. Hope it helps. I wouldn't say I avoid the desert or canyons now because of the accident. In fact the canyons and potential floods maybe frighten me less now that I have been through an incident. But I learned these lessons and I am further awed by the power of our Mother Nature.

Go out there! ...safely....

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Aldaron

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Jun 16, 2012
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Holy cow! I remembered the picture of your truck that you posted a while back, and just last week I thought, "Where's the trip report from that guy whose truck got flooded?" I didn't realize that was YOUR truck!

Thanks for telling the story. You're exactly right: we all get complacent. I would have never thought Poison Springs would flash that big from a small rain. I've never been in a flood of any kind, so I would have a really hard time knowing that the danger was that bad from a small storm.

Sorry about the truck, but at least everyone was okay.
 

Artemus

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I would have never thought Poison Springs would flash that big from a small rain. I've never been in a flood of any kind, so I would have a really hard time knowing that the danger was that bad from a small storm.
Sorry about the truck, but at least everyone was okay.

Well, it was just a truck. :whistle: Thanks. I am not sure it was all that small a rain.. It just wasn't over our heads. We did see ominous purple clouds around as we pulled up out of the drainage and there was thunder around. You probably saw a hint of the storm clouds in the pictures down by the Devil. It sure didn't look like that a couple of days previously and if it had been that ominous the day we started in, we wouldn't have.
 

Michael

Alien from over the pond...
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Thank you so much, Art!
That's a well written and interesting TR and for me a real eye-opener.
 

DAA

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Daaaaang! Glad that only equipment was harmed and also glad that your insurance covered it. Thanks for sharing the details.

Wondering, was that last April, or longer ago? I drove my covered wagon ('08 mega cab diesel) down PS last April. It was the first time in two years I had been down there and my friend Jared (xjblue) and I were both making a lot of comments about how much the canyon had been changed by massive floods since our last visit.

There is even a nice panel in the top part. Little Luna with her pack are in the pic tooView attachment 8414

I think that panel is the one that has one of my favorite "fighting men" scenes in it.


There is an old exploration road going to the left on the left bench above the Black Jump too that looked navigable.


It is navigable for a few miles, until it ends where a giant boulder has fallen onto the road. We drove it that far on our trip last April and day hiked Happy Canyon from there.

- DAA
 

Laura

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Oct 1, 2012
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Thanks for sharing, very sobering and a good reminder to err on the safe side. It's really easy to get sucked in to the mindset of trying to rush to make that crossing, reach that peak, whatever it is, but that's when accidents happen. Glad everyone was safe!
 

Artemus

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Daaaaang!

Wondering, was that last April, or longer ago?

It was April of 2011, Dave. A wet spring (and then dry summer).

It is navigable for a few miles, until it ends where a giant boulder has fallen onto the road. We drove it that far on our trip last April and day hiked Happy Canyon from there. - DAA

So I guess you can day hike Happy Canyon from this road and also from the north side (on Burr Point) on the old miner's trail ????
 

DAA

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So I guess you can day hike Happy Canyon from this road and also from the north side (on Burr Point) on the old miner's trail ????

Yup - that's my understanding anyway. I've never gone down the Miners trail though. Walked over and just looked at the down climb above the talus once, by myself, no rope, just walked back to the Jeep.

- DAA
 

regehr

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Mar 28, 2012
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Scary!

On another subject, how is the poison springs road? It has a reputation for being really rough but the sections shown in your pictures here make it look recently bladed.
 

Artemus

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On another subject, how is the poison springs road? It has a reputation for being really rough but the sections shown in your pictures here make it look recently bladed.

The road is often maintained by the county or whomever - don't want it to start looking like wilderness! I call the road "easy". With a high ground clearance vehicle it isn't really challenging. It is like a 2 on the 4 point 4WD scale. Crossing the Devil would be harder though. The road is too tough for an RV with low ground clearance however. The canyon flash floods enough that recent maintenance can be destroyed and so it can be different from one day to the next. And of course it is not so easy if there is running water :)
 

regehr

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Thanks Artemus! I'm going to be down in this part of the world next week in a 2006 4runner. Will definitely try to avoid any water up over the hood level.
 

Nick

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Wild story, Art! An excellent learning experience, even though it probably took it's toll on your insurance premiums. I bet you look at stormy skies in a different way since. Also, fantastic photos of the hiking part. Walking on a road sucks, but looking at pics of people doing it in a beautiful place like that still makes me pretty jealous right now! :)
 

Jammer

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Wow -- good post. I missed this when you originally posted it. Glad you guys made it out ok!

The first time I walked down Poison Springs Canyon it was very rough. One section mid-canyon was extremely rough and I thought I would never take my Jeep down it. Then last year the road looked graded and even the rough section from my first outing didn't look that bad. I guess the recent weather and/or maintenance really does make a difference.

Also... for reference I didn't see a vehicle on the road either time out (though I did see 2 parked trucks on the first trip.)

- Jamal
 

Artemus

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Thanks, Jammer.
I am now sure now that this road's condition changes a lot over even the course of a year. Even dramatically.:facepalm:
 

Riggs

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Jan 31, 2014
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Yeah, good reminder, thanks for the story. I'd like to go down there and up to Happy Canyon someday, we almost did a couple years ago. It's amazing how fast those flash floods can come up.
 

Glasterpiece

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Sobering Report. I've been on that road twice to exit the Maze area. I believe it was 2011, late August, that we were coming out and left the DD just before sunset intent on going to Hanksville that night. The Poison Spring bottoms had just recently been trashed by a tremendous flood. although the water was no longer running we went through several deep holes. One was almost up to my hood. If It had stalled there I would have been sleeping in a submerged car. Luckily we made it out with no damage to either vehicle but I vowed to never do that in the dark again. It's bad enough in daylight when the streambed has been recently re-arrainged by floods.

Thank you for the report.
 
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