Labyrinth Canyon, Utah
May 29, 2013
Outside Island in the Sky, Canyonlands We have canyoneering on the brain, since it's too hot to climb. We're looking at our road atlas for Utah, mulling where to go. There's this area just outside of Canyonlands on BLM land, northwest of Island in the Sky; we can't take the dogs into the National Park, but we could explore outside park boundaries. Where to go? Hell Roaring Canyon. Sounds cool but we can't get down on foot, too steep. But on the map, the road continues, dropping all the way to the Green River, just upriver from Bowknot Bend. Done and done. On the map the elevation looks dramatic, the topographic lines so tightly bound together that they almost merge.
Yeah. The Green River is a long, long way down. The road to the base of the canyon is just wide enough for the car. No guardrails, tons of switchbacks, and steep. It's a dirt road, sandy, red grit that's a long time from being wet and compacted. You hope your brakes don't give out, because it's that kind of road. I've never seen anything like it since driving from San Jose to Jaco, in the Costa Rican mountains on one-lane mountain roads. This seems a lot more perilous as the road shimmers in the heat.
You can look down out of the window of the car, and there's about 12-inches between you and empty space. About 200 meters into the downward trip, you can see a car that's crumpled and beginning to rust, about 150-feet down; it's not that old. It's relative youth lends an air of urgency and recentness that makes the ride exponentially more thrilling and horrifying.
The Green is fast and wide at the road's end, eddying along the chiseled, sandy riverbank. The road dumped us out at the apex of the bend, deep in Labyrinth Canyon. We hiked the easy trail along the riverside in high heat, taking our time, enjoying the desolation. We followed the canyon downriver, heading to the southeast, nearly to the narrow part of the knot, before turning around.
About midway through our return trip, the weather shifted; big thunderheads piling up to change the hue of the walls from brilliant, washed-out orange, to a deep, rust brown. Beautiful. And terrifying, since we had that dusty road to head up, which would become impassable and treacherous when wet. That was 5-minutes of white-knuckled driving.
We made it out just in time for the rain to hit. The desert rain departed as swiftly as it came, the ground drying out in minutes, leaving shallow pools of warm water in the gentle recesses of the rock scattered along the plateau.