maze packraft trip

Spanish Bottom

Ernie’s Country and the Fins Trail

As the first snow falls here in Moab on this November evening in 2014 I am relieved Sonja and I made it out of the Maze yesterday after exploring Ernie’s country and the Fins Trail.
The three days we were gone also marks the first time our teenage son was alone at home, managing school, his sustenance and the well being of our dog. Quite possibly a far more dramatic story, better spared this audience.
As readers of previous Maze trip reports from here might have guessed, this latest excursion followed the typical time tested recipe: drive as short as possible, on the best roads in the neighborhood, followed by a hand picked hiking route down to the east bank of one of our two local rivers. Here, for a brief calm water episode, packrafts were deployed before venturing into some portion of that alluring territory. Later a reverse order of events finished things off.
After placing our vehicle at the end of the pavement at Big Spring Canyon in the Needles we hiked out the Confluence Overlook trail and, after some 4 miles, proceeded down the Cyclone route to the river directly at the banks of the above mentioned confluence.
At lunch time we were done paddling and rolled up the boats and stashed them from a cottonwood branch at Spanish Bottom, then realized that time constraints and the far too silty river didn’t allow us to apply alum and wait for settling before filtering drinking water. We left with just what we had remaining from the car. The rest of the all too brief November day was spent trudging through the expanses of Wide Valley towards the Fins.
The sun set behind the high mesas at 4:45, leaving us with gathering dusk and a brisk cold north wind, still 4 miles from Kjell’s spring, on a faint seldom traveled route. Although constantly on the outlook for moisture we had seen only dry sand and empty potholes all day. As we descended a small tributary and merged with Sweet Alice canyon a creek bed of sculpted slickrock led down to a final plunge pool, deep shadowy dark and steep rimmed. In the moonless evening a few stars twinkled back from  down there. Water! Camp!
To extricate the tea colored month old water we had to tie a string to a bottle and drop it down, hoping that no drowned carcasses were hiding under the autumn leaf riddled surface.
Next morning we day hiked to the west end of the Fins Trail and back, exploring along the way. Wonderful times were had, unburdened by packs in fabulous country. Mid-afternoon, upon returning to the pothole, we filled bottles and bladders, gathered our stuff and started back. Mom was getting concerned about the teenager at home, as moms separated from their children are bound to be, and badly wanted a head start. As it turned out we so much enjoyed the play of long shadows and vast panoramic views of Ernie’s country, that when it all too quickly became night we had energy reserves remaining to keep hiking. Under headlamps we descended the Doll’s House trail to a flat limestone bench halfway down to the river and dropped our loads. This mid-altitude camp spared us the frigid cold air drainage of the bottom, besides having morning sun earlier.
All that was left for day three was a chilly morning paddle across to Lower Red Lake canyon, followed by the now entirely too familiar slog back to the front country.
All images w GoPro:
An obscure trail down from the Needles District to the Confluence
Closing in on Spanish Bottom and the doll’s house.
Sunset scouting for both water and a suitable camp in the Fins.
Nunatak Mid at the mouth Sweet Alice canyon
Lowering a waterbottle into the only pothole with water near camp.
Cjell’s spring
Lunch
Lou’s spring
Leaving the Fins towards the Doll’s House
Camp above Spanish Bottom
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