Hayduke Trail Day 11: Cannonballs and Waterfalls

Daily Neat Beat
Day 11
Total Miles: 13.6
Cumulative Miles: 174.4
Map of Hayduke hike Day 11

The Hayduke Trail so far has been a mixture of off route hiking, ATV or remote 4wd road road walking, and some trail hiking. 

Ray route-finding across Horse Pasture to find entry into Youngs Canyon

Today we are mostly hiking through Young’s Canyon and Dark Canyon in the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area. The first part of it will be route finding and cross country hiking as we find our way into Young’s Canyon and will hike Young’s until it joins Dark Canyon. We will then hike down Dark Canyon to approximately 7 miles above where it joins the Colorado river. There we take the Sundance Trail which steeply traverses up a talus slope out of the canyon. Our plan is to camp in Dark Canyon near the bottom where the Sundance Trail comes in and hike out to Hite Crossing tomorrow.

I knew this would be a great day and Young’s and Dark Canyon did not disappoint. 
The route that drops into Youngs Canyon at the top. There is only one way without ropes.

The steep drop off the cliff into Youngs Canyon was a sweet little route. There is only one way through the orange and white cliff bands. It is well cairned but I can imagine before it was it would be easy to get cliffed out. Ray finds a pottery piece from the ancestral puebloans- grey and wrinkled. This route from the dry mesa highlands down in a deep canyon with water and lush vegetation has been used for thousands of years. I feel like we are converging on a point in space where time is no obstacle.

View down Youngs Canyon.

We drop down into Young’s and this place has such a feeling of remoteness and beauty. The water in this deep desert canyon has that gurgle sound that people try and recreate in their backyards with ceramic Buddha ponds. The sound of peace.

Water in Dark Canyon Wilderness Area

Pretty soon Young’s Canyon turns into a pool and drop as we head down it and it works it’s way through the pinkish sandstones and grey limestones of the Elephant Canyon Formation and into Dark Canyon. There is still water in the middle section but it is more in big pools above ledge drop offs. This makes the hiking a little tougher as you have to work around the limestone ledges and canyon drop offs but it is absolutely stunning. We call one pool “the Emerald Pool”. I know, it is not an original name but look at the picture – tell me that does not look like an emerald stone.

A pool in Youngs we called the “Emerald Pool”

The character of the canyon changes once again past Junction Spring and the canyon once again has flowing water. Water flows for about a mile until the junction with Dark Canyon and a trail becomes more pronounced. This area is so stunning and I feel emotions vibrate through the pores of my skin. Maybe it is because we went for such long distances in the past few days without water. Water is life and beauty. It just is. There is beauty everywhere here.

Water is life and beauty in the desert

From the junction of Dark and Youngs Canyon, we work our way down through the Honaker Trail Formation and sedimentary geologic layers of alternating shales and limestones. There is also now a trail and we see a few people hiking in Dark Canyon coming from the Sundance Trail. We hiked the Sundance Trail and in Dark Canyon down to the Colorado River about 25 years ago. It still remains a real jewel of backcountry beauty. 

Ray in Dark Canyon

The geology is fascinating and Ray and I stop to ponder how some soft-ball sized cannonball cherts formed. 

Cannonball Cherts!

It is still a mystery and there are many hypotheses on how they formed. One possibility is they were built up like a snowball when you roll it around on snow-covered ground. Only instead of being made of snow, they are formed from a gel-like material made of silica rolled around by submarine currents.

Knobby Surface in the Limestone from cannonball cherts.

The limestone bed that contains these cannonballs has eroded down around the cherts and the surface looks like the sole of a climber’s approach shoe. Sticky nubs, only very hard.

We get to the where the Sundance Trail goes up out of Dark Canyon and set up camp around 5pm.



  1. Yes Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore. The emerald slipper proves it! Did you “slip” into it? Or on it? And thank you for the Geology report – I know you might not want to bore others but for me it is nourishment.

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