Fall 2016: Canyonlands: The Maze

The Maze district is the most dangerous hike in America according to Backpacker Magazine.  It features many canyons that all seem to look about the same, so it’s easy to get confused and lost, and help is tenuous at best.  With water available in just a few places during the fall, there is plenty of opportunity for trouble.  In my four days there, I saw no one; it was simultaneously thrilling and scary.

But with good advice from park rangers and modern navigational tools, I encountered none of the dangers one might imagine.  But that’s not to say the journey was easy.  Route-finding, not my greatest skill, was challenging.  Clambering up and down dry waterfalls and over numerous ledges with a relatively heavy backpack was a full-body workout.  No matter how many miles you think you can hike in a day, you can’t hike nearly that far in The Maze.  At the end, I found myself looking forward to a good rest.

My late afternoon journey into The Maze left the Colorado River behind me. Good bye. It was nice while it lasted.
My ghostly companions in the Doll House. They were big, perhaps 100-200 feet tall.
A portion of the Doll House from a distance


There was a lot of hiking at this level. You could see for many miles in varying directions. The hiking here was generally rather easy, although often at a sideways angle that was often 20-30º. It’s definitely not a good place to go if you suffer from vertigo.  The gray circles in the large flat area are called potholes and hold water when it rains.  Some of them are home to brine shrimp.  If you examine the pothole when it is dry, you will come to the conclusion that no life is present.  In fact, the brine shrimp are merely dormant and will revive with the next rainfall and can then be seen swimming around!

The canyon in the bottom half of the picture leads to another canyon near the center.  The canyons were all carved by flowing water and, thus, are connected.

Looking down and up dryfalls, i.e. dry waterfalls.  I would climb up and down plenty of these during my trip in the maze (carying a relatively heavy backpack).  I felt more like a climber than a hiker.

Erosion does strange things
Erosion does strange things
Much of my journey was spent walking through the canyon bottoms
Much of my journey was spent walking through canyon bottoms
This gives you some idea of how deep the canyons were, probably a few hundred feet.


Late in the day I discovered that I had missed a turn and was walking through the wrong canyon.  Rather than go back, I decided to go forward, assuming I’d be able to cross up, over and down into the correct canyon.  When it was getting close to sunset, this seemed like a nice place to spend the night.  I had to camp on bare rock with a thin mattress pad, but what a view!

At 9:25 AM, the sunlight has yet to reach all the way into this canyon.
Unidentified hiker on the way to The Granary above the Colorado River

Totals for The Maze: 4 full days plus 2 partial days, 67 miles

Next destination: The Needles