My wife, Traci, hasn’t slept in a tent in more than a decade–we’ve had a camp trailer for so long that she’s gotten used to having a cushy bed and a bathroom whenever we camp together. Last week she unexpectedly suggested that we go tent-camping at Lake Powell. So, it came to pass on Friday that I left town with my family in our Jeep packed (and I mean packed!) with camping gear. We made a quick stop in Hanksville to top off the fuel, and pulled into our planned camp spot at around 6:30PM. We thought we were at the Dirty Devil primitive camping area shown on the National Park Service map, but as we found out the next day the map is flat-out wrong. Our first clue should have been the lack of signage or a self-serve pay station. Nonetheless, we unloaded a few things from the Jeep and prepared a dinner of bratwurst and sauerkraut on wheat buns.
When I finished eating I went for a short stroll to take some photos. While I was away from camp a sudden and violent burst of wind and rain moved in. I heard Traci scream while she tried to hold down the shade tent under which we’d eaten dinner, but by the time I ran to her aid it had already been destroyed by the wind. I held the shade tent down to keep it from blowing away while Traci threw the rest of our gear inside the Jeep, though much of it had fallen in the mud. We got everything stowed then huddled in the Jeep while the storm raged outside. The kids were upset and wanted to go home, and much of our gear was a muddy mess. After things calmed down, we waited another hour to make sure it would remain calm outside, then decided to stay put and set up for the night. The rest of the evening was pleasant and calm. The full moon rose behind intermittent clouds in the east, and we relaxed to the sounds of crickets and ducks and frogs. During the night Traci and I were awakened by a coyote that was yipping extremely close to our tent. I shined a flashlight out the door and saw its eyes reflecting back from just beyond the Jeep, perhaps 75 feet away. I was surprised that Traci didn’t freak with a coyote that close, and after talking together for a few minutes about what a good time we were having, we resumed our good night’s sleep.
I awoke around 6:50 on Saturday morning and immediately slipped on my shoes, grabbed my camera, and exited the tent. I walked around camp and enjoyed the silence of the morning, then watched as the sun broke the horizon about 10 minutes after I’d gotten up. My family joined me after that and together we watched the moon set behind the cliffs to the west. We ate breakfast burritos filled with scrambled eggs and bacon, with mine smothered in sour cream, green chiles, and extra sharp cheddar. We crammed our gear back into the Jeep and hit the road by 10AM without a solid plan for the remainder of the day. All we knew is that I wanted to hike and everyone else wanted to swim.
Further down UT-95 we saw the actual Dirty Devil camp sites. They sucked. There were several short, rough dirt roads leaving the highway, each with self-serve pay stations, uneven ground, and each quite far from the water. I’m glad we’d stumbled onto the site where we camped the previous night. About a mile after crossing the bridge over the Dirty Devil River, there’s a road-fill on the highway where it crosses a small canyon. I spied this canyon in Google Earth while planning this trip and it looked like a good place to hike. We initially passed it up, but after looking at a dirt road that follows the Dirty Devil upstream on its east side and deciding the road looked too rough, we returned to the canyon and parked just off the shoulder of the road.
There was a little scrambling involved in getting down the road-fill into the canyon, but after that it was fairly easy hiking for a distance. The canyon slotted up, then widened a couple of times, and we all easily navigated through it. There were pools of water, which after the previous night’s rain I was fully expecting, and it allowed me to let Torrey roam free without a leash or her pack. We bypassed one dryfall by climbing out of the canyon and going around it, but dropping back into the canyon beyond the dryfall proved difficult. Actually, dropping back in was easy–a short slide down the slickrock–but I wasn’t certain about my ability to climb out. I slid down into the canyon and tested the climb out while Traci and the boys waited above. I made it out just barely, but I was confident that I could get myself and everyone else out when we returned this way. We continued the descent, and at the next impassible dryfall Traci and Michael said they’d gone far enough. Bradley and I weren’t satisfied, so we left Traci, Michael, and Torrey in the shade while we explored further. The canyon only got more difficult and more beautiful as we descended. It deepened and formed a “subway” section where the bottom of the canyon opened up, but with narrower walls above. The lighting in that section was wonderful and left me wishing I had a nicer camera. Eventually Bradley and I got to a section that narrowed and deepened enough that I didn’t dare climb down further without another capable adult to help me out. We returned to our waiting family members and ascended back to the highway. I helped everybody up the difficult spot that we slid down earlier. What I expected to be an easy walk through a canyon turned out be a fun, family-friendly slot canyon! It’s definitely something I want to return to complete exploring.
We’d gotten the hiking out of the way and now it was time for lunch and some swimming. We stopped at Hite but there’s a $15 entrance fee that wasn’t in place the last time Traci and I were there (before we had kids, so at least 12 years ago). The park ranger approached me and I told her we were still debating whether to enter Hite or go somewhere else, and she told me the fee would be the same anywhere on the lake–an outright lie which I didn’t bother calling her on. It wasn’t worth spending that much just to check the place out, so we proceeded down the highway and took the turn to Farley Canyon where day-use is free. With the water level low it took some 4WD driving to get to the water, but we found a small spot to park and prepare lunch. Once everyone had their fill of crackers, cheese, and pepperoni, we walked a few hundred feet along the shore until we found a nice spot to jump in. We spent a couple of hours swimming, jumping off rocks and cliffs, and exploring the shoreline. Everyone retired to the Jeep, changed into dry clothes, and loaded up on snacks for the evening drive home. I planned one last stop at the Hite Overlook where there’s a nice view of the northern end of Lake Powell. We had a good view of Hite from there and determined that it would indeed make a great place to camp next weekend for yet another trip to the lake, this time with the camp trailer and a few friends to make the weekend even more fun.