Hayduke Trail Day 14: Better the Devil You Know Than the Devil You Don’t

Daily Neat Beat
Day 14
Total Miles: 22.6
Cumulative Miles: 229.6
Map of day 14, hiking along the Dirty Devil River and out Poison Spring Canyon

“Wait, the Hayduke Trail Guidebook says Section 4 should take approximately 7 days and we are doing it in 3 days?” Ray looks at me with that look of what have you gotten us into now. You see, I am a lofty goal setter, or foolish planner. Take your pick. BUT, we end up doing Section 4 in two days and it was not because of me. Here is the story.

We start the day with the biggest hazard of this section: dealing with quicksand and river crossings of the Dirty Devil River.  Today we are supposed to hike six miles along the river and then seven miles along Poison Springs Canyon road to a piped spring with a masonry wall. We will be forced to cross the Dirty Devil River about ten times where the cliffs crowd into the water’s edge. The water is like chocolate milk and you can’t see the bottom. 
Dirty Devil River has a chocolate brown color from the suspended clays and silt in the water

I am a little apprehensive about quicksand.  The Dirty Devil River is known for it’s treacherous quicksand which forms when the water in the sand cannot escape and the soil becomes liquified, losing it’s strength. Often times the sand and clay appears to be quite solid until you step on it and it liquifies and you sink. There was a guy who got stuck in the Dirty Devil quicksand for 12 hours seven years ago and had to be rescued. He was stuck up to his waist in quicksand and even a helicopter couldn’t pull him out. Eventually they got him out by using two boats of people on both sides of him holding him up and having someone dig underneath. Outside Online wrote an article about this (https://www.outsideonline.com/1916551/surviving-12-hours-quicksand) . Even the cattle know not to cross the river as their poop is on one side and not on the other. And we are doing this voluntarily. Yeah right.

The cattle poop on one side of the Dirty Devil River  (front foreground) and not on the other side (clean beach in upper left side) show that the cattle know not to try and cross the river.

Ray takes the lead on these crossings and he does a great job. We both have hiking poles and take turns with the other person ready with a pole rescue or help if needed. It is cold in the morning but the light orange glow off the river makes you forget the harsh reality of the river’s nature. 

Beautiful reflections in the morning light off of Dirty Devil River

In one spot we try at least 5 different areas before finding a safe place to cross. It feels very strange to cross this river. You are essentially blind probing with your pole. Sometimes you are in ankle deep water and less than a foot away your pole goes up to the handle. Sometimes if you stand in one place more than 2 seconds you start to sink in the quicksand. And yet, the river looks no different on the top.  It is very deceiving.

Crossing the Dirty Devil River using my poles to probe for quicksand and holes.

It takes us most of the morning to go about 4.5 miles. We discuss whether we should take Nic Barth’s Dirty Devil Escape route. This would save us 1.5 miles on the river before we exit out Poison Spring Canyon. We decide to check it out and hike up the mud scree slope to a sandstone cliff.  Whoa! The route looks doable but the exposure is intense! For about a 30-foot traverse,  if you fall, the drop is about a 1,000 feet. Not just injury but sure death. We decide the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t and head back to the river.

The Dirty Devil Escape Alternative from Nic Barth goes up this slope. What you can’t see is the 1000 foot drop off directly to the right in this photo.

We do about four more river crossings without too much trouble and get to Poison Spring Canyon. It is 1pm and we discuss our water situation. We are both down to about one liter. We started this section yesterday with 3 1/2 liters each of water and so far have chosen not to drink the Dirty Devil River water. The Dirty Devil River is known to be extremely saline and contributes 150,000 tons of salt yearly to the Colorado River. We will drink it if we have to but only if really necessary.  We have seven miles up Poison Spring Canyon road to the piped masonry spring and it is hot. We decide to go for the masonry spring on one liter water each.

We get into a good hiking rhythm on the road and are soon making good time as we wind our way through Poison Spring Canyon. After about an hour and a half we see a strange sight: an older guy with white hair, a paunch, blue cotton t-shirt and trouser socks running down the road breathing hard with a Gatorade bottle in his hand.  We are puzzled and our first assumption is he needs help. But he says hi and keeps running by us…hmm..Then we see two women and two boys running behind them. We stop and I ask one of the women what is going on. She says they have a large church group of about 70 people that are camped up the road and they do a relay race out here on Poison Spring Canyon road every other year right before Easter.  Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. We pass by a line of about 30 cars and a bunch of kids lined up across the road to begin “the relay race”. They have to wait for us to pass before the race can start. One kid is really glaring at us. He is competitive and wants to go.
Large church group of about 70 people camped by the spring we planned to stay at.

Of course they are camped at the masonry spring we had planned on stopping at. Ray and I grab some water. It is now close to 4pm and Ray is out here for solitude and nature; not big crowds. I can see it in his face – he is ready to take off running. I have a suggestion he says, “why don’t we hike the eight miles to the car tonight, drive to Hanksville and get a milkshake?” He knows what works for me. 

My dopamine receptors go into high vibrate mode and now all I can think about is the milkshake. So, I run towards the milkshake and Ray runs away from the crowds. We make it to the car around 7pm and get a milkshake in Hanksville before they close. I got a grasshopper milkshake from Stan’s Burger Shak. I highly recommend it.
Milkshake happiness



  1. I don’t know what I’m more impressed with – the hike you’re doing, or the commentary! Either way, it’s quite an adventure. Enjoy!!

  2. LOL So much fun to read your run-in, running, and reward episode.
    Love the grasshopper shake at the shak!
    I think we all felt the tension in your crossing those tricky sands. In the picture of you, your Easter bonnet, and milkshake are a rewarding site!

  3. I agree with Lydia, there was much tension in reading the dirty devil non-cattle pedestrian crossings. It was clever and in good taste for you to Photoshop out the 1000-feet drop provided by the other 😈 you didn’t really know either…

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