UT – Dark Canyon Wilderness – Sundance Trail

When you arrive to camp late, you never know what morning might bring. Holly and I’d spent the afternoon at nearby Natural Bridges National Monument and were chasing the last of dusk to find this site. 

A visit to Dark Canyon had been on my list for a few years. When we stopped at the ranger station, we found this was the only road open at this time of year. Snow would block access on the others. (Note: since I’m writing this post nearly a year late, this past fall I made it to the other side of Dark Canyon. Link to related post.) 

We spent the morning sightseeing before landing in Blanding for a much needed shower ($6-7 at the RV Park). I was getting a bit ripe after a week of adventure. Pop’s is a great place for burritos, including breakfast. I recommend Hunt’s Trading Post for coffee. The Blanding Visitor Center is one of the best I’ve visited. The gal who runs the place is extremely informative and enthusiastic. You can use free WiFi with receptacle access as well as refill water containers. We found a perfect spot for dispersed camping with sunset views like this of the Henry Mountains, and nearby slickrock ledges where we could stretch our legs before bed. 

You know it’s going to be a good day when the trail comes with warnings. Loose talus is my least favorite hiking surface! Add to that Holly’s serious accident several months earlier in a boulder field, and we should have just said NO and found a Plan B. But that’s just not how we roll. How bad can it be?

Let’s find out!

Welcome to Dark Canyon. 

Yep, it’s a LONG ways down. 

Look closely and you can see the trail paralleling the Colorado River. See the cairn at the forefront of the photo? It marks the way down, down, down. I seriously can’t imagine lugging a backpack down this route.

This gal has an amazingly strong mind and body. She faced her demons and nightmares repeatedly during the day . . . and came out the winner. I was there to support, encourage and remind that it was okay to turn around.

This will give you a better perspective. This is the talus/boulder field. Hidden within the rocks is a group of 5 guys. Even with my computer zoom I couldn’t find them. 

I had to zoom on the camera while taking the photo and then again on my computer to find the group. I circled them in yellow in the below photos. 

Here they are again about 20 minutes later..

I’m always happy for macro photo diversions. 

The canyon geology is astounding. 

The reward for making it down safely. 

Getting down was my nightmare; getting back up was Holly’s. This chunk of rock is what I’d like to call Beauty and the Beast. 

Where’s Holly?

We crawled, clawed and climbed our way back up through this unstable and treacherous boulder field. 

Holly gets serious props from me for being one bad-ass chick! Overcoming physical, mental and emotional baggage is not an easy feat. She’s tough, resilient and a winner in my book! 

About the half-way mark. 

The sky was gorgeous on our way back up. Of course, I was hoping against rain as these roads are not wet-weather friendly. 

Our greeter as we reached the rim. 

A reminder of the calm before the descent. I could have played on the slickrock all day, so much better than talus.

Having a nearby home after an 11-hour, 11-mile day was exactly what we needed. Bonus was enjoying sunset views of where we’d spent the day. 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: March 21, 2017
  • Mileage: 11 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,400’/2,400′ 

Tips:

  • Call or visit the Monticello BLM field office to find out latest road, trail and weather conditions. It’s also a great place to ask about dispersed camping options.
  • Blanding has an outstanding Visitor Center.

Links:

Resources:

Important Note:

Please remember to turn off location services or automatic geotagging when photographing rock art or other heritage sites- especially if you plan to post your photos in social media. Avoid showing the horizon or identifiable features in the background that would help people navigate to the area. Better yet- only post photos of public archaeology sites. Those sites can generally be identified by the presence of interpretive signs or appear in materials distributed by the land-managing agency. While remote and little-known sites may no longer protected by being difficult to find, easily accessible sites have been targets of vandalism for decades. Public education is our best defense- please spread the word: rock art (both prehistoric and historic), structures, and archaeological deposits are wonderful to visit but impossible to replace when they are damaged or destroyed. Please enjoy these treasures, but don’t destroy them. Source: Utah Heritage Stewardship Program

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