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A Trip to the Maze

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“We’ve been planning this for a year, why cancel just because it ‘might’ rain?” That’s what we were thinking as cold, wet weather forecast approached in advance of Offroad Passport’s recent trip to the Maze at Canyonlands National Park. Besides, we had permits to camp at The Dollhouse and special guests who’d flown to Arizona just for this trip.

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Although the adventure began as many do, from McDonald’s at the crack of dawn, it was unusual that only 2 rigs were going; Kristoffer in his WJ with his mom and cousin (our aforementioned guests), and George and I were my XJ.  Our objective that day was reaching Hite, UT early enough for last chance fuel & ice and to find a campsite before dark.  It rained intermittently during the drive, and we took side trips to Dinosaur Tracks and Mexican Hat Rock.  When we got to Hite, the store was closed so we missed getting ice, but the gas-pumps take credit-cards, so we topped off our tanks and cans and set out.

It was cloudy, cold and nearly dark by the time we aired-down.  Along the way we met a group who’d left Hite that morning for the Dollhouse, but the technical section of trail stopped them.  They said it’d rained and was windy at Hite last night, and rain was imminent tonight.  So we camped on rock-slabs and raised tarps to help keep our stuff dry.  We managed to get a little hotdog-roasting fire started, ate, watched it go out and went to sleep.

Friday we woke to the cold wet world we were to become accustomed to.  Our permit that night was at the Maze Overlook, about 50 miles away, so we bugged out.  The trail was slow-going; George and I found that our plan to fabricate fenders for my Jeep is imperative!  Any speed above 10 mph sent mud showers onto the vehicle blocking our vision.

From the first main intersection on the road from Hite, Teapot Rock and the Dollhouse are to the right; the Maze Overlook straight ahead.  This road ascends the side of a rocky ridge, one of those trails that get your attention being shelf-like and narrow, and as we crossed it on Friday, it was also slippery!  The curves mostly slant toward the mountainside, but a few are a little off-camber toward the cliff – it felt like we’d slip off the edge if we went too fast.  Particularly tricky to drive on was wet bentonite: clay with the characteristic of swelling many times its dry size when wet. This stuff offered no traction whatsoever – not a good feeling on a shelf-road!  We noticed rivulets running through holes in the roadbed and washing it away.  There were images in my mind of the recently collapsed trail at Mineral Bottom.

After turning toward The Overlook, we stopped at the Golden Stairs campsite before dropping into Elaterite Basin.  The ‘bathtub’ we’d took pictures of last year was full, and George scooped water to rinse my windows.  The weather cleared for the rest of the afternoon, and the drive to the Overlook was scenic.  When we got to the Maze Overlook we found more waterholes and rinsed both Jeeps so we could unload and set up.  We put up canopies again and our ‘tarp patios’ made great places to hangout, cook, sip and eat.  The aroma of home-cooking wafted from Kris’ camp making me miss my Mom.

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