The sidewalks of Dark Canyon

Last night Gabriel dreamed of the produce section of a grocery store. Signs we’ve been away from modern conveniences for a little while. Our seaweed, dried veggies, spirulina tabs, and powdered green juice aren’t quite adding up to our normal intake of fresh leafy greens.

Still, the trade off of fresh kale for this morning in Dark Canyon is worth it. The first few miles rolling up and over meanders. The slopes are sprinkled with shrubs and flowers. Signs of spring abound: the Utah service berry and false mock orange are in bloom. Gamble oak is just starting to leaf out. Flaring red rough paintbrush, sweet smelling desert phlox, showy stoneseed, western wallflower, beautiful rockcress, mountain pepperweed, dropseed rockcress, red penstemon, double bladderpod, and prince’s plume.

More flowers and rocks to learn! But the natural history books are back in the trunk of the car in the storage unit in Moab. Time to learn and know from being in a place. Experience learnng. I’ll fill in the facts later.

We walk the bed of the dry creek, it feels more like a river bed due to its width. Sometimes the bottom has big boulders, other times it is a mosaic of red, purple, blue, yellow, orange, green, gray, black, brown, and white rock. So many patterns too. Stripped, speckled, waves.

As we walk we hear our foot falls and the distinctive trill of a canyon wren. Its call a descending scale. More cottonwoods and willows line the edges of the creek bottom, a sign that water is near. We start to see merky pools, then hear the sound of flowing water. A faint trickle.

We stop for breakfast at the sight of flowing water on one of our first Dark Canyon “sidewalks”. These side walks are easy travelling rock benches that travel above the potholes and channels by which the water flows. These are layers of rock I wish to learn more about.

We walk the benches and ledges above the side walls above. Crossing the water easily on rocks to the other side of the canyon when a sidewalk plays out or the canyon walls steepen.

The character of the canyon changes every mile or so. Waterfalls and plunge pools. Sandy cottonwood flats. Always towering red, white, and black walls. I make note, this is another place to come back to for more than two days thru. It will be interesting to think back on the Hayduke and the places where we want to return.

A mile or so from the Sundance Trail entry to the canyon we start to see LOTS of people. First a college class out on a canyons field trip (!!!!!!). Then many a family camped out. Then couples on backpacking dates. Gear all over their camps. It feels like we walked into an issue of Backpacker magazine. Who says backpacking is on the decline?

Seeing all the people, we don’t feel like lingering in this red rock and cottonwood rich part of the canyon. It is beautiful, but we feel the crowds – an energy different than that of the upper canyons quiet rhythms. And there are still a few hours of hiking time left in the day.

We grab a gallon of water (it’s about 16 miles until we reach our Hite area cache) and chat with some friendly backpackers. Then we start hiking up, up, up… what might be a trail? I can’t be for certain. We see cairns all over the rocky, rubble slope, in most directions. But little signs of use. And some of the rock is loose. Is this what the grandmas, old men, and five year olds of Utah call an easy weekend trip? I think more respectfully of all the people in the backpacker camps below. Kinda burly. But I’m still convinced that we were on a less used route up, and a somewhat better trail is on the other side of the ridge.

Anyhow, 1,200 feet up in less than a mile. Semi loose sandstone. Pole pole we go. Every time we stop and look back, the view is fantastic gazing down at Dark Canyon. Approaching the rim we see a claret cup cactus in bloom. Sweet reward for sweaty hiking.

The upper Sundance Trail weaves through beautiful white sandstone. Fantastic in the evening light. But it is windy and just around the time to find camp.

The wind is picking up and every flat spot is covered in cryptobiotic soil or a cactus garden. So we keep walking. More tired after the climb up than I thought I was, I really want to find camp!

Eventually we depart the Sundance Trail and walk toward white sandstone dome slabs that skirt Sheep Canyon. By the slabs we find a nice bit of duff beneath a pinyon pine grove. It is out of the wind. Home for the night.

Day 10: 15.5 miles, 162.5 miles total. A mile west of Woodenshoe Canyon to a sweet little pinyon pine grove tucked into the slickrock a short while after the top out on Sundance Trail.

GPS: used twice; people sighted: too many to count at the base of Sundance, and two people who had been in the canyon for five days!; roads: crossed one for about 3 seconds.

First tint of sunlight in Dark Canyon. 

Beautiful rockcress.

Showy stoneseed.

Rough paintbrush.

Canyon, Gabriel, and Utah service berry.

Mukmuk and the waterfall out of Youngs Canyon.

Sidewalk strolling.

Thanks Lissa for the cricket bar! May us Westerners embrace less energy intensive sources of protein. So long, of course, that we don’t eat Mr. Chester Cricket of Times Square.

Mukmuk took time to smell the phlox. It is one of my favorite spring time desert smells.

Gabriel at the top of the Sundance Trail.