Hayduke Trail Day 16: Nothing Left in the Tank

Daily Neat Beat
Day 16
Total Miles: 16.2
Cumulative Miles: 268.2
Map of Day 16 from Sweetwater Canyon on the west side of the Henry Mountains, across Tarantula Mesa and down Muley Canyon to 37.1 Spring

Today our main goal is to find water. We are hiking across Tarantula Mesa which is an open sagebrush and juniper/pinyon-covered plateau.

View from Tarantula Mesa Looking back toward the Henry Mountains

We checked the map and our data sources last night. We should go by four water tanks developed for wildlife and cows on the plateau in five to eleven miles from camp. If those are all dry, there is a spring in Muley Canyon about 16 miles from our camp referred to as 37.1 Spring. If that spring is still dry,  four miles further is Swap Canyon spring. So that gives us six chances for water. But much of it is off trail hiking which is slower and we are starting off dehydrated. We will see how it goes.

We get started  before 7am and are down to 1 1/2 liters each of water. I had a small cup of coffee for breakfast and consciously tell myself not to drink for the first two hours. 
Morning light leaving camp from Sweetwater Canyon heading up to Tarantula Mesa in the background of this picture

Maybe we will get to the first tank and tank up so to speak.

We hike up on the Tarantula Mesa and see the Waterpocket Fold for the first time off in the distance.
First view of Waterpocket Fold to the west on Tarantula Mesa

The Waterpocket Fold is a warp in the earth’s crust that extends for nearly 100 miles in a north-south direction. It is a classic monocline: a steep fold on one side that is a wrinkle created along a fault. I have a masters degree in geology because I love understanding the landscape and how it formed. It helps me feel more connected. I am excited to see the great Waterpocket Fold but it is a long ways away still and we are focused on one thing: water.

As we get closer to the first tank, I look for fresh cow sign but it is all at least two weeks old. Not a good sign. The tank is a cement box approximately 3 1/2 feet by 8 feet.

Tarantula Mesa Tank #1

It looks like it is attached to a well. I peer into the box and the weight of my fear gets a little heavier. There is wet muddy sand about  1/4-inch deep with a skim of water on the top. Not really drinkable. Ray checks to see if there is a way to turn on the well but the valve is fully open. Conditions are really dry up here.

Tarantula Mesa Tank #1 only has a skim of water on a layer of mud in the tank

So we head for Tarantula Mesa Tank #2, two miles further. It has an elaborate setup with new plastic storage tanks, a solar panel, and well. But it is not completed as the tanks are empty and there is not a pump in the well. 

An elaborate set up but there is no water in the tanks at Tarantula Mesa Tank #2

Strike two today on water. 

By now it is mid morning and the sun is beating down. We at least have a cool breeze to help from it getting too hot. I take another swallow of my electrolyte drink which is mostly gone. We are now headed to the third tank which requires going off route for a 1/2 mile. I am hoping this tank will have water. One of the sources of information we have is from Clayton Feider-Sullivan who hiked the Hayduke Trail last spring. He found this unlisted tank and said it was flowing full of water. But the cow and wildlife sign is all at least two weeks old and everything is so dry on the Mesa so I am less hopeful than I was earlier.
Our little detour does us no good. Once again we hit a dry tank.
A third dry tank at the unlisted Tarantula Mesa Tank mentioned by Clayton Freider-Sullivan as a water source last spring

And again at tank number 4. By now it is mid day and we have to cut cross country to drop into Muley Canyon. 

We are both getting concerned. We are tired, dehydrated and have to travel five miles off trail, drop into a canyon and get to a spring that we hope is not dry like several we went by yesterday. The 37.1 Mile Spring is reported to have a small flow and be fairly dependable. But, with how dry everything else has been who knows?

To get the hopefully spring, first we have to drop into Muley Canyon. 
Looking into Muley Canyon near where the route will drop off the mesa.

And it is once again one of those Hayduke routes that has one way down through a cliff wall. We are now both down to a 1/2 liter of water. At this moment, it becomes as much a mental game as physical strain. We have not seen water since yesterday morning and had to dry camp last night. We have gone by four potential water sources this morning and found nothing. Now we have to drop through a cliff and hike down another dry canyon for at least four miles before maybe getting to water. I think about the saying “nothing left in the tank”. I feel that we are closer to having nothing left in the tank than we ever have been on our hikes.

Ray makes it down to a spot in the cliff where there is about a 10-foot drop which requires jumping across a 5-foot crack from an overhang that if you miss, will probably result in serious injury. He is working up the nerve to jump it as we can see cairns below. He is swearing more than I have ever heard him swear. I have a big pit of fear in my stomach. It feels like extra weight; like carrying a kettle ball when you are really fatigued.
There is part of me that knows this situation is when you can make bad decisions. So I muster my reserves and say to Ray, “let me look around and make sure there is not another way.” I climb across a ledge to the right and up from where we are stopped by the overhang. And, there it is, a crack you can climb down! I giddily climb down it and yell to Ray, “I found a better way.” I let go of the kettle ball and hope the adrenaline is enough to keep me going. Ray climbs down the crack and we continue on.
Ray coming down the route into Muley Canyon
Dropping down into Muley Canyon. The cliff behind required a little bit of a tricky move to get through.

It is dry and windy in the afternoon as we climb and wind our way on through Muley Canyon. We push until we make 37.1 Mile Spring and I gorge myself on water until I feel bloated. This is even better than a grasshopper milkshake from Stan’s Burger Shak in Hanksville.

Ray filling up water at the 37.1 Mile Spring

I ignore the trained hydrogeologist in me that says, there are orange and white mineral deposits from the spring water, probably iron and gypsum. Maybe there are other less desirable metals that are being leached out along with the iron. I rationalize to myself, maybe I need metals right now. I am just really glad to have water. We pushed ourselves hard to get here.  Champions leave nothing in the tank. Right now I feel like a champion.

Campsite at 37.1 Spring in Muley Canyon
The lighting was incredible this evening and Ray got a few great pictures!


  1. Wow! You two are tough nuggets. The photos and storyline are so beckoning. Keep ’em coming.

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