The Colorado and Green Rivers divide Canyonlands National Park into three districts. The most familiar area – Island in the Sky District – occurs above the confluence of these rivers. The Needles District, to the east of the Colorado River, is relatively remote with only a single paved road. Then there’s the Maze, on the west side of the rivers. The ranger station along the entrance to the District is almost 100 miles from the nearest town. From there, access to the vast, remote region is either by foot, mountain bike, or high-clearance 4WD vehicle. The latter choice is often the slowest mode of transportation.
Having visited the other Canyonlands districts many times, I really wanted to explore the Maze. I hesitated in the past because of the inherent risks of going in alone with a single vehicle. So when a friend recently offered to go with me, I began preparations. I took my stock Toyota FJ Cruiser and Drew used his stock Toyota 4Runner. Both vehicles held up well, although the running boards on the 4Runner took some abuse on the first day and came off the following morning. The roads are exceptionally difficult and travel is slow. It took seven hours on our first day to get from the ranger station at the district entrance to our first camp. Later in the week we spent nine hours driving from our camp at the Doll House to camp at Ekker Butte. Hiking would have been quicker.
We spent a week in the Maze, driving about 130 miles and hiking about 50 more miles. The interior portion of the district consists of a complicated network of interesting canyons. Hiking through the canyons without a GPS system could be disastrous. The park rangers insist visitors are responsible for “self-rescue”, but we were told they conducted two emergency evacuations last season. One was a heart attack and the other person became “seriously lost.” Neither scenario is difficult to imagine. Another two vehicles flipped over on the steep switch-backs descending from the Orange Cliffs along the western part of the district. For vehicle break-downs, the rangers call for a very expensive tow.
I hope to return and explore more, particularly the region between the Maze Overlook and the Doll House. I doubt Drew will put his 4Runner through the abuse again, however. The video provides images from the entire area. As a disclaimer, don’t attempt Drew’s antics on the edge of Horse Canyon. Yikes.