Hell Roaring Canyon

I had a hell roarin’ good time on Friday northwest of Moab. There’s some rock art in Hell Roaring Canyon that I’ve wanted to see for more than a year and I finally got around to doing so. There are two routes into the canyon within easy hiking distance of the rock art: an old constructed stock trail in lower Dubinky Wash and another route zig-zagging over a series of ledges that requires one to crawl on hands and knees. I dropped my mountain bike and chained it to a tree near the top of the “crawl route” and continued driving the truck to near the top of the stock trail. I put the dogs’ packs on them and shouldered my own pack and started hiking toward the top of the trail. There’s an old corral at the top of the trail, and the first short stretch of trail had been blasted out of the sandstone, leading to a ledge that runs below the cliff. The trail then made a sharp turn and traversed a steep sandstone slope. Holes had been drilled and pipes pounded into the holes, then logs, rocks, and dirt had been piled up above the pipes to create the trail (though much of the dirt had washed away). Eventually the trail reached a talus slope and worked its way through boulders and rocks the rest of the way to the bottom of Dubinky Wash.

Torrey and Boulder at the beginning of the hike
Torrey and Boulder at the beginning of the hike


Above the stock trail leading into Dubinky Wash
Above the stock trail leading into Dubinky Wash


View into Dubinky Wash
View into Dubinky Wash


Part of the stock trail that was blasted out of the cliffs
Part of the stock trail that was blasted out of the cliffs


Stock trail following a ledge below the cliffs
Stock trail following a ledge below the cliffs


Constructed stock trail
Constructed stock trail


Boulder and Torrey shading up
Boulder and Torrey shading up


View up the trail from near the bottom
View up the trail from near the bottom


It was a one-mile walk down Dubinky Wash to the confluence with Hell Roaring Canyon, and I stopped at two small springs to let Torrey and Boulder drink. Beyond the confluence I found the large alcove containing the rock art. Pictographs and some faint petroglyphs adorned the walls, as did some late-1800s inscriptions. The most interesting to me were a large ghostly pictograph, a larger-than-life deer petroglyph, and, of course, the Comet Thrower/Yellow Comet panel. There was a narrow ledge with carved moki steps leading to the top of the alcove but I didn’t dare climb it without anyone around to help me in case I got into trouble. Above the ledge I could barely make out some more rock art. I’ll definitely have to come back with a partner so I can get on top of that ledge.

The dogs at a spring in Dubinky Wash
The dogs at a spring in Dubinky Wash


Riparian area at an intermittent spring in Dubinky Wash
Riparian area at an intermittent spring in Dubinky Wash


Tadpoles
Tadpoles


Confluence of Dubinky Wash and Hell Roaring Canyon
Confluence of Dubinky Wash and Hell Roaring Canyon


Alcove in Hell Roaring Canyon
Alcove in Hell Roaring Canyon


Grinding marks
Grinding marks


View out of the alcove
View out of the alcove


Broken grinding stone
Broken grinding stone


Small red pictograph
Small red pictograph


Chert flakes in the alcove
Chert flakes in the alcove


Large pictograph with a few indistinct figures on the left
Large pictograph with a few indistinct figures on the left


Dogs resting in the alcove with large pictograph on the right
Dogs resting in the alcove with large pictograph on the right


Sketchy climbing route above the alcove where there is more rock art
Sketchy climbing route above the alcove where there is more rock art


Moki steps leading above the alcove
Moki steps leading above the alcove


White pictographs
White pictographs


Arthur Wheeler, April 27, 1894
Arthur Wheeler, April 27, 1894


Larger-than-life deer petroglyph
Larger-than-life deer petroglyph


Comet Thrower/Yellow Comet panel
Comet Thrower/Yellow Comet panel


Comet Thrower/Yellow Comet panel, DStretch-enhanced to highlight the yellow pigment
Comet Thrower/Yellow Comet panel, DStretch-enhanced to highlight the yellow pigment


Comet Thrower/Yellow Comet panel
Comet Thrower/Yellow Comet panel


Ruins in the alcove
Ruins in the alcove


The rest of the hike through Hell Roaring Canyon was an easy-going three miles, with frequent stops to let the dogs cool off in the shade. There was no more water until just below the exit route. While looking at the exit route from the bottom it was unclear exactly how to get up each of the several ledges near the top. I got closer and found that each ledge had one or two spots where it was possible to ascend with a little bit of climbing. The dogs, especially Boulder, were growing fatigued. I lifted each of them up the ledges and gave them a push when necessary to keep them moving. The final ledge had a low ceiling and a large boulder choking it down to a crawl near the end. I crawled on my hands and knees until reaching the boulder, then I had to remove my pack and lie prone to wiggle the rest of the way through. Once past the crawl there were two more short climbs needed to reach the canyon rim.

Hell Roaring Canyon
Hell Roaring Canyon


The dogs resting in the shade
The dogs resting in the shade


Hell Roaring Canyon
Hell Roaring Canyon


View up the escape route
View up the escape route


A muddy pool that was a huge relief to the dogs before the climb out of the canyon
A muddy pool that was a huge relief to the dogs before the climb out of the canyon


Climbing up to the canyon rim
Climbing up to the canyon rim


Approaching the crawl-route
Approaching the crawl-route


Torrey at the crux of the exit route
Torrey at the crux of the exit route


Just past the crawl-route
Just past the crawl-route


At the canyon rim looking toward upper Hell Roaring Canyon
At the canyon rim looking toward upper Hell Roaring Canyon


From the rim it was an easy walk to retrieve my bike, and I traded my hat for a helmet and started down the road. Boulder was really dragging. Her paws had a couple of sores on them, but I didn’t see any alternative other than to slowly press on for another 2.5 miles until reaching the truck. The dogs made it back without too much difficulty and were eager to jump into the truck after I turned the A/C on. I had planned on camping right there and doing some mountain biking at Bartlett Wash the next morning, but considering Boulder’s condition I decided to head home. Even if her muscles weren’t sore the next day her paws would have been. Both dogs were limping when I got home, even though Torrey hadn’t been doing so at any point during the hike. I think I have some work to do toughening the pups up before our next long hike. This one was only eight miles total, and with fall/winter coming up–prime hiking season in the desert–I’m sure our hikes will only become longer.

The dogs in some water
The dogs in some water


Hell Roaring Canyon
Hell Roaring Canyon


Picking up the bike shuttle with 2.5 miles left to go
Picking up the bike shuttle with 2.5 miles left to go


Running along the road back toward the truck
Running along the road back toward the truck


Hey, Joe!
Hey, Joe!


Back at the truck where Boulder collapsed
Back at the truck where Boulder collapsed


Photo Gallery: Hell Roaring Canyon
Maps with GPS Tracklog and Photo Waypoints:
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6 thoughts on “Hell Roaring Canyon

  1. Dennis, I will volunteer to be your assistant when you go back to climb up into the alcove farther. I should be able to walk/hike by Fall. 14 weeks down, 1 week to go and I get rid of the crutches…….then the painful rehab begins.
    Alan P.

    1. Sounds good (all except the painful rehab part!). Wade says he is on board for a November/December hike into Hell Roaring, but I’m willing to wait until whenever you’re up for it.

    1. There’s a lot of subtly interesting stuff in the area. Being on the way to Island in the Sky and Dead Horse Point sort of makes it a sideshow to the really good stuff, but it’s pretty solid in its own right.

  2. These observations from another trip report might be of use to you when you return.
    “The climber ascended the ramp without a rope, and later commented that it was one of the most difficult free climbs he has ever done. The carved steps, he says, made the climb a bit easier, he estimates there are 30-40 of these steps, but he spent most of the climb hugging the cliff face, with his right arm and leg stuffed into the crack between the ramp and the cliff. At the top of the steep ramp, which flattens out into a ledge, he saw no painted forms. He was able to make out abraded areas and incised lines and one anthropomorph, about a half meter tall, just a torso and head.
    The ledge was marked with tool grooves – long channels about a cm deep carved out of the horizontal sandstone surface.
    He noticed that the cliff face adjacent to the ramp exhibits what climbers call body rub. When a route requires climbers to use a sandstone face as support, the natural varnish wears off of the stone over time, and leaves a swath of lighter colored stone exposed. The body rub here extends along the cliff face for most of the way up the ramp. This would seem to indicate that the site has been visited by a large number of people.”

    1. Thanks, that’s some great info! The climb certainly looked sketchy, and that description makes it sound even worse. 🙂 I hope I’m able to do it when I return, though. I used binoculars and could just make out some sort of figure in faded white paint up there, but that may have been an abraded figure mentioned in that text.

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