Sand, wind, and the Dirty Devil

It was a windy night. I’d wake up every now and then to the tent flapping and feel a new layer of sand on my face and sleeping bag. In the morning we had sand in our teeth.

Chilly and windy, we layered up and started winding our way around The Block to and through the Red Benches. Small canyons and rolling hills. Rusty cans abound amid the blackbrush, hinting of cowboy days gone by.

It stayed pretty chilly all day long. The forecast talked of high in the low 40s. We got to wondering if we really wanted to ford the Dirty Devil River numerous times over 6 miles. There’s a high route alternate, but it’s longer. In situations like this, we figure, we’ll see when we get there.

Cross country navigation was fun. By early afternoon we were at the edge of Fiddlers Cove Canyon and appreciating a little warmth from the sun. By the time we descended to the canyon floor we were ready to take our jackets off. Fording the Dirty Devil seemed down right tolerable!

I try to imagine the Dirty Devil River when John Wesley Powell was inspired to name it. Such muddy waters. The river is a tributary to the Colorado, flowing in near what is now mapped as Lake Powell. The canyon is storied with tales of Butch Cassidy, the gang, and Robbers Roost.

Today the silty river also carries agriculture waste and contaminants. Our maps warn us not to drink the water. (Hence the 2 gallons, now reasonably-less in our packs.) I think about the recent scratches on our legs and the sand scoured raw skin on my feet and am grateful we still have a few days left of anti-malaria meds. Doxycycline is also something I keep in my first aid kit for severe skin infections. Here we’ve been taking it already. Preventative care? Maybe.

We step into the river. Not too cold. At first shin deep. The sandy banks coated in alkaline salts and have thickets of willow and tamarisk that create walls on either side. Quick sand in some places. As soon as your foot is an inch below the water it vanishes from sight. We use our trekking poles to feel for the water’s depth.

Overall it’s tolerable to pleasant walking the sand bends and fording the river. It was a low flow day, so mostly up to my knees, mid thigh at the deepest place we crossed. We walked over a few bends as well. As we went up the river the canyon walls rose and the colors started to attract our attention. We noticed birds in the sagebrush and cactus in the uplands.

By the time we exited the river (after ford number 10 in 5.5 miles) we were curious about the canyon beyond. A little float trip down the Dirty Devil River sounds like it could be fun… but we’d bring all our water and look forward to a shower.

We walked up Poison Spring Canyon delightfully surprised by its ampitheatre alcoves and red walls. Camping after our feet dried out a bit in a sandy bend. Cottonwoods near by, insect chorus. Dinner by moonlight.

Also, looking forward to showers and de-griming our gear tomorrow.

Day 12: 17.1 miles; 199.0 miles total. Rock Canyon pouroff to bend in Poison Spring Canyon. 

GPS: used once; people sighted: zero (2nd time); roads walked: about two miles.

Evidence of the sand in our tent. It was in our teeth, our gear, and our cameras too. Everything feels coated in fine sand and cow poo dust.


It may be cold and windy, but there is still time for flowers.

Gabriel and the cowboy jenga cairn.

Always time to admire flowers.

Scoping out Fiddlers Cove Canyon.

A meander of Fiddler Cove Canyon.

Gabriel crosses the Dirty Devil River.

Crossing the Dirty Devil and enjoying late afternoon colors.

One thought on “Sand, wind, and the Dirty Devil

  1. malone711@comcast.net says:

    I admire you for thinking sand in your bed and teeth is fun! Are your feet holding up with all of the wear and tear they have to put up with?

    We are leaving for a few days in Lincoln City as soon as the commute traffic dies down. The weather report is for rain rain rain but if we stayed home because of the rain, we would have the couch worn out. I enjoy seeing the blue skies in your pictures.

    Your writing and pictures would surely make a good book.

    Love you very much. Gma

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