To The Dollhouse
Monday, April 9
Our itinerary takes us down the last little bit of Pictograph Fork. Just before Pictograph Fork joins the South Fork of Horse Canyon, we'll turn up a side canyon heading west. From there, we'll head up what's called the Pete's Mesa Route, and from a wide, broad ridge, we'll hike to Chimney Rock, where the other Jeep is located.
Looking back to the drops
As we walk downcanyon, we examine the effects of last night's flooding. There are little pools of water here and there, wet sand (and sometimes quicksand), and bent plants. The canyon seems no worse for wear. Although it seemed monumental and scary to us, it was probably no big deal when considered in the context of the grand history of this canyon.
Now heading up-canyon
We reach the side canyon (and we note a big 10-foot dropoff in the wash over a shelf - that would've looked impressive last night!). We start uphill now, although very gradually. It is very pleasant going in the cool morning air, and everything seems colorful and lush. The canyon gradually narrows as we head upstream, and there are some cairns marking the way. The canyon forks into several smaller forks, and Sophie, who is in the lead at this point, briefly chooses the wrong one, but I notice within a few minutes, via my GPS unit, that we're heading up the wrong way. It is important to follow the right one (there are some small cairns showing the way - or you can look at my track display). It is very easy to make a mistake, since all this little side canyons look the same, and get rim-rocked in the wrong one. That's why it's called the Maze, after all!
Starting to climb
I'm quite looking forward to seeing the transition between being here in the intimate confines of the maze and rising out and starting to see the scenic features of the wider landscape. It is contrast that drives us!
We are now in a nice, narrow defile with high multi-colored, bulging walls, and deep green plants and vegetation. We leave the bottom of the side-canyon and start climbing up steeply, around big boulders and up short steps. The route is well-cairned at this point. We start to get little slices of more distant views. There are a few scrambles required here and there, but nothing difficult.
The side canyon we were in
Once the scrambling is complete, we emerge onto the wide ridge connecting Pete's Mesa to the Land of Standing Rocks. We are on the west side of the ridge, and we have stunning, wide-ranging views across the top of the Maze, to the Chocolate Drops (which look a lot smaller and insignificant from up here), to the land above, with the towering Buttes, Mesas, and the distant Orange Cliffs. The day is completely clear. No thunderstorms today, I don't think.
From here it is a straightforward 4 or 5 kilometre walk along the spine of the ridge back to the Chimney Rock Trailhead. We've done the majority of the elevation gain (which was only about 600 to 700 feet).
Ewarts hikes out of the Maze
Soon we're on the ridgecrest, and we can see the little thumb of Chimney Rock in the distance. Clear sailing!
A Typical Canyonlands View
Hiking past Elaterite Butte
Hiking towards Standing Rock
Now that we're on the ridge, a whole new panorama to the south and east unfolds. In the distance we can see the jumbled, rounded spires of the Dollhouse, and the behind that, the lands of the Needles District. Right below us to our east is a deep and interesting looking drainage. This is Jasper Canyon -- another of the canyons of the Maze. It is a forbidden canyon now, because it has been declared off-limits by the park service. Apparently is one of the only canyons on the Colorado Plateau that has never been subject to regular agricultural usage, and as a result is in a particularly pristine condition.
The walk along the ridge is enjoyable but somewhat tedious at times. I take pictures of many fantastic views along the way. We make good time, though, and are back at the car by about half past noon. We've survived the Maze!
in seeing more of our exciting Pictograph Fork backpack? Click
to go to a special
"focus on" page that contains 46
Pictograph Fork backpack pictures, as well as interactive track maps
and gps-derived elevation profiles.
A video account of our hike out of the Maze on the Pete's Mesa route:
Hike out of Pictograph Fork - Click on video above to start
Luke and I quickly drop our packs and drive off to fetch the car at the other trailhead, and we are back in short order. We carelessly pack things into the vehicles, scarf down a whole lot of Ewart's Chocolate Chip Cookies, and then start our relatively easy 10km drive from here to the Dollhouse. It is mostly soft, sandy two-track, with a couple of minor 4wd sections thrown in. There is also a section where the road essentially follows a wash bottom, and it is neat to drive along this section, because it feels like you are driving without any hint of a road.
Driving south from Chimney Rock
Approaching the Dollhouse
The Dollhouse is an area of colorful rounded spires at the very end of the Land of Standing Rocks Jeep Road (sometimes also called the road to the Dollhouse). There are three backcountry vehicle sites in the vicinity of th e Dollhouse, named 1, 2, and 3. We've been given Dollhouse 3, the most isolated of them. Basically, you keep driving down the road until it ends. That's where the campsite is.
Dollhouse 3 campsite
It is a beautiful spot. The situation is slightly elevated, giving an excellent view back to the spires of the Dollhouse and to the distant lands beyond. The views extend all the way to the La Sal Mountains above Moab, in fact. To the East, we can see across a swath of land that includes the Needles district and the distant Abajo Mountains. We are well away from the other two campsites -- probably at least a kilometre away, so we're likely to have complete solitude.
Parked at Dollhouse 3
It is a beautiful, sunny, afternoon. We quickly lay out all of our wet stuff; it'll dry in this weather in a flash. I'm hungering to see a little more of the Maze district; I've heard the Dollhouse and surrounding area is very scenic. Luke, Sophie and Catherine choose to laze around camp, but Jenn and Ewart are up for a quick dayhike. We hum and haw over two choices : Spanish Bottom, which takes us down to the edge of the nearby Colorado River, or the Overlook trail, which leads to high viewpoints near the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers. The Spanish Bottom trail is shorter but less scenic.
Even though time is tight (daylight-wise), we decide to go for the Overlook trail. There's no time to lose, so we quickly get our stuff ready and head off to the trailhead. When we get there, we see (on a sign) that it is 4.5 miles (about 8km) each way. Yikes! It is 3:20pm; we have a little over four hours to hike 16km. It'll be a brisk pace.
Hiking through the Dollhouse
We know the trail is mostly flat and suspect it has good footing, so we opt for ultra-light (read: sneakers and sandals) footwear, which will help us keep up a good pace. The route quickly winds through the spires of the Dollhouse and then heads east, down and across small washes, through joints that cut through brilliant lines of multicolored, rounded rock spires, and leads across sandstone flats dotted with shallow waterholes. The trail is extremely scenic.
After an hour and half of brisk walking, we arrive at a wide flat, covered in low desert shrubs, cacti, and dark black cryptobiotic crust. We are close to the overlook now, and we're excited at the prospect of reaching a sudden, breathtaking overlook.
We are not disappointed, as we crest a small sandstone rise that we can sense has thin air behind it. It is the first of the Overlooks down to the Colorado, and it is indeed breathtaking. Our view takes in a grand, majestic sweep of the Colorado River. The Overlook is on the very edge of a very precipitous thousand-foot drop. There is a very palpable feeling of 'big air' here.
The view is also very complimentary to all of the fantastic scenery we've seen so far today, from the innards of the Maze to the beauty of the Land of Standing Rocks, the colorful spires of the Dollhouse, and the hike to this point. This view topped it all off with a very Grand-Canyon like majesty. This is a very worthwhile hike. And the fact you get all of this plus practically complete solitude.... well, it's practically heavenly!
It is late in the day, which puts us under time pressure, but the late day light is a boon for taking great pictures. I know that the confluence and Green river are just a few minutes further, and I manage to convince Ewart and Jenn to go just a little farther.
In a few minutes we are rewarded with another, equally impressive view of the Green River as it makes a final curve before meeting the Colorado, which we can just barely see part of from this vantage point. If we had more time, I'd definitely explore the ridge leading up to the confluence, but we simply cannot. We bask in the glory of the overlook for a few more minutes, then quickly start our hike back. We have just enough time to get back to the camp before dark -- if we hustle.
Returning to Beehive Arch
The hustling works - we arrive back at the trailhead a few minutes before sunset, and are soon back at camp. We've taken just over four hours, which is excellent time. Luke and company have had a relaxing afternoon.
Some unwelcome-looking clouds have slithered in from the west, but upon closer inspection we can see that even further to the west they thin out again. Hmm... are we paranoid about rain?
in seeing more of our Overlook Trail hike? Click
to go to a special
"focus on" page that contains 23
Overlook Trail pictures, as well as interactive track maps
and gps-derived elevation profiles.