IntroductionThe kids were out of school and due to cutbacks, I had to take some unpaid time off, so it was a perfect opportunity to take advantage of the usually fine October weather in the Canyon Country. Kessler chose to go to the Maze in Canyonlands National Park. I had already visited much of the Maze, so we decided to explore Ernies Country which I hadn’t seen much of. Ernies Country is probably the least visited area of the Maze which itself is considered to be one of the most remote areas in the Lower 48.
October 15I had chosen to access Ernies Country from the top of the Golden Stairs Trail for two reasons. Even though the drive is a rough 4wd road, it is much shorter than driving to the Land of Standing Rocks. The second reason was that I hadn’t used this access before to access the canyons of the Maze.
After spending the night in Green River, I picked up my Dad at the Green River Train Station and we drove the three hours (short as the crow flies, but with rough roads) to the top of the Golden Stairs. On the way we stopped at the ranger station to get our permit and to discuss parts of the route we planned to take. We learned that the spring at our planned campsite (Clells Seep) was dry so this would complicate things.
The Golden Stairs Trail is a seldom used historic trail that was built in the 1930’s. It is rather rough, but by standards in this country, it makes a fairly easy access down the cliffs below. We followed the pretty good but washed out trail down the cliffs to the land of Standing Rocks Road.
From there we headed east into the Ernies Country on the rugged Fins Trail (the national Park Service removed this route from all their recent maps, but the route is still marked with cairns so it isn’t that hard to follow). There were some steep scrambles, but it was a straightforward route to the bottom of the first canyon. We set off to explore the first canyon and found a really neat arch (Kessler called it Tornado Arch because of its shape) and found a nice Indian ruin before heading to Lou’s Spring where we set up camp.
After setting up camp we set off to explore the area. We explored several steep and exposed climbing routes up to the ledges above the spring. My Dad headed back while Kessler and I explored a very steep scrambling route up to near the rim.
At night the stars and Milky Way were really bright so I left the tent door open all night so we could see them.
October 16Today we set off for some explorations of the Fins area of Ernies Country. Because Clells Spring was dry, it would be a much longer walk than it would have been from our originally planned campsite. We hiked over to the canyon containing Whitmore Arch and explored it. Whitmore arch is rather hidden, but we thought we saw it from below, but weren’t sure. We continued exploring up canyon to find a fantastic and unexpected slot canyon.
After exploring and climbing through the slot canyon we were stopped by a 30 foot unclimbable dryfall and we headed back downcanyon. Kessler found a (dead) tarantula so we decided to call this canyon Tarantula Canyon. We decided to climb a rock fin so we could look for Whitmore Arch. Coincidentally, we reached the top of the fin right near Whitmore Arch. We climbed through Whitmore Arch and descended down the other side to the floor of the canyon before heading back downcanyon to the Fins Trail.
We followed the Fins Trail east to the dry Clells Spring and then east to where it crosses Sand Tank Canyon. We would head up this canyon to look for Tibbitts Arch, which is the biggest arch in the Maze. It was a long sand slog up the canyon, but there were some spectacular rock fins along the way. We found another large arch before reaching Tibbitts Arch. We tried for about an hour to look for a route up the cliff bands to get into the arch, but we never found a viable route.
It was getting late and we headed back down canyon and then back west to camp along the Fins Trail. It was a very long hike back and we hurried as fast as we could to beat the fading daylight. It was completely dark when we got back and we were lucky that we got back when we did as much of the route would be very difficult to follow in the dark. Kessler didn’t complain much, but did say that he was cold, hungry and thirsty. We had just enough water to make it back to camp. We had completed 15 miles in a single day (not bad for a seven year old and a 66 year old), nine of which were off trail and much of the route was rather rugged. The fifteen miles didn’t include our hour to try and find a route closer to Tibbitts Arch, so it was a long day.
October 17After yesterday’s very long day, we decided on a shorter (but even more rugged) day. We followed the route up towards the rim that Kessler and I found on October 15. It was a rugged route and we had to climb several cliff bands. One of the cliff bands had some very old moki steps carved into the cliffs, indicating that this was a centuries old Indian route. We found one more Indian ruin and climbed several more cliff bands before reaching the true rim of Tarantula Canyon. We headed north along the canyon rim to look for Cave Arch. The Trails Illustrated map isn’t very detailed, so it would take lots of exploring to find the arch.
We explored several nooks and crannies and were thrilled to find several arches and some flint chips and an arrowhead, but we didn’t find Cave Arch. We followed the rim of the canyon to the head of Tarantula Canyon and found a fantastic double pothole arch. It was really neat.
We explored the east rim of Tarantula Canyon and found a very steep and somewhat scary descent into the canyon. A pile of rocks strategically stacked rocks proved that others had preceded us sometime in the past.
We explored down canyon and explored another side canyon before eating lunch. While trying to get close to another arch, we found an obscure route back up to the rim. It was very steep, but not too scary. We circled around the rim over to a really impressive pothole arch. After taking photos, we found yet another neat arch.
We never did find Cave Arch so we headed back towards camp. We looked for an easier route than the old moki steps route we found, but we never did find one. We returned to camp pretty early in the afternoon, so we had a rest before dinner.
October 18Today we just packed up and headed back west along the Fins Trail. After the previous two days routes, it was a basically a piece of cake. We headed back up the Golden Stairs Trail. Even though it was uphill on a rugged hill, we made very good time and made the five miles in less than three hours. We enjoyed the views along the way before heading back for home.
It sure was a great trip and we got to explore some awesome country.