Lost in the Maze

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As I stare up at the night sky a myriad of stars seem to look right back at me, only to be interrupted by the shadows of swooping bats.The forty foot stone pillars that loom overhead trap and echo the clicks and squeaks from the tiny rodents as they chase down their nightly meals.

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The camp stove next to me lets out a soft roar as the gentle blue glow of the gas flame heats a pot of green chile stew. As the smell from the stew fills the campsite, I sit and reflect on the previous two days exploring a remote corner of Canyonlands. Welcome to the Dollhouse. Welcome to the Maze.

The entrance to the Maze District lies in the middle of the San Rafael Swell near the small town of Hanksville. In contrast to the visitor
centers that greet you in Needles or the Island in the Sky districts of Canyonlands, the Maze greets you with a wooden sign on the side of the highway. This sign quickly addresses the remoteness of what is to come: Ranger Station- 46 miles, The Maze- 80 miles. As we pull off of the main road the stresses of work, planning, logistics, and pavement all melt away under the hiss of the tires as we air down at the trailhead.

The departure from the highway is a welcome, sandy two-track that hisses as the aired-down tires travel at high speeds. Almost 50 miles of track leads east off of the highway before you reach the Hans Flat Ranger Station. I had made pre-arrangements for a late arrival with the Rangers and was pleased to find two passes with my name on them in a small metal box outside of that station. A faint orange glow in the western sky confirms my suspicion: it’s going to be a late night.

I have several miles of unfamiliar trail ahead of me en route to my camp at Panorama Point. Light covers are removed, ratchet straps are tightened, and the group moves onward into the impending darkness. The left turn to Panorama Point is found and as the trail begins to climb, sand gives way to rocky steps much akin to the standard Utah fare. Those who may be familiar with “Top of the World” in Moab would be very comfortable on the climb to Panorama Point. I quickly realized that I had packed too much gear into my little KJ and the suspension seemed overly-eager to bottom out when dropping from any one of the multitude of ledges on the trail.

Up, up, and up… the trail winds this way and that way and seems to climb forever into the darkness. Only when the grade eases and I am stopped in a smooth dirt area do I notice that I have nowhere else to climb. My roof lights simply show a cliff edge and then the glow is swallowed by the darkness. A brief survey of the area shows that I am surrounded by cliffs on three sides and I have no idea how tall they are or what lies beneath. Eager to see my surprise in the morning, I set camp and drift off to sleep under the stars. Only the faintest lights can be seen on a point in the horizon and the top of this wind-swept mesa seems lifeless. I am alone and the silence is deafening.

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