Tackling the road at Teapot Rocks

Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
Trip End Oct 14, 2011

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Where I stayed
The Maze District Campgounds

Flag of United States  , Utah
Friday, April 15, 2011

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I woke up and got ready to tackle the section of road at Teapot Rocks that leads down into the Maze. At the Ranger Station on the white board listing the road conditions they referred to this section as "Technical 4WD", unlike the other roads, which are mostly just "High-clearance 4WD". I wasn't sure what the distinction meant but I was a bit concerned. The roads I had been on were already pretty bad and I wasn't sure just how much worse they could get.

Well, they could get much, much worse. The road into the Maze is the worst road I've seen in the U.S. There's a stretch of about a mile that takes most vehicles about an hour to traverse. The National Park Service web site, which I didn't read until I had safely returned, says, "The road between Teapot camp and the Land of Standing Rocks is considered very difficult under any conditions. Four-wheel-drive roads in the Maze are extremely difficult, present considerable risk of vehicle damage, and should not be attempted by inexperienced drivers. A high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle is required for all Maze backcountry roads." They go on to say, "Four-wheel drivers should be prepared to make basic road or vehicle repairs and should carry the following items:
  • At least one full-size spare tire
  • Extra gas
  • Extra water
  • Shovel
  • High-lift jack
  • Chains for all four tires (especially October through April)"
A book I have, which I read after driving into the Maze, says, "The Maze district of Canyonlands National Park is arguably one of the most remote areas in the continental United States and visiting it requires careful planning and preparation.  First off, you'll need to have a 4WD high-clearance vehicle in tip-top mechanical condition.  A short wheelbase with low-departure angle is recommended and so are rugged all-terrain tires with as many plies as possible.  Large sport utility vehicles will not do well in the Maze, especially in some difficult sections like Teapot Canyon.  They will most likely make it - although the stock tires may not - but you'll risk inflicting serious damage to the undercarriage, bumpers, mud flaps, running boards, etc.  For additional security you'll need a couple of extra tires, a high-lift jack, a compressor, a tow rope, a shovel, chains for all tires if there is a chance of snow, extra gas, lots of water, topographic maps and other necessities as you see fit for an extended 4WD road trip requiring total self-sufficiency.  Needless to say, you also need good 4-wheel driving skills.  A vehicle rescue from the Maze will cost you in the neighborhood of $2,500; not an outlandish figure when you consider that the Doll House is located 107 miles from the nearest town, mostly on a wretched trail....One final piece of advice: Bring a friend, preferably in a second vehicle.  Do not venture into the Maze alone or without leaving specific details on your whereabouts."

There was no doubt about it; I was in way over my head.  But, in spite of my lack of careful planning and preparation as well as a lack of nearly everything on the recommended equipment lists, I made it.  I had definitely done the right thing leaving the cargo box that had been mounted on my trailer hitch in Hite Marina, since it would have been quickly damaged.  My vehicle choice when I bought my Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition had also been good.  It was definitely up to the task.  And the itinerary I worked out with a ranger when I called to make my campground reservations turned out to be good.  Otherwise, it's hard to point out any good decisions I made.

I drove into the Maze and continued to the Doll House at the end of the road.  When it comes to hiking, the book quoted above says, "If you plan to do any kind of hiking inside the Park, especially with photographic equipment, you'll benefit from being in good physical shape, as some of the hikes are long and strenuous.  Most are on primitive trails, with exposure to cliff edges and steep routes requiring some scrambling and chimneying.  Even if you are in good shape, you may experience a lot of discomfort if you are not used to hiking and carrying weight over long distances.  A rope or a couple of 30-foot straps are necessary to lower packs in some difficult passages."  I was about as well-prepared for the hiking as I was for the driving. 

At the Doll House I followed the Granary trail.  I didn't know how long it was and I wound up stopping what turned out to be just a bit short of the end and I followed the Spanish Bottom trail to a point where I had a nice view of the river below.  I then went back to the Chimney Rock Campground for the night.

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