Beauty in the Land of Rustlers – Robber’s Roost
Robber’s Roost is an area of Utah due south of the town of Green River and on the western side of the actual Green River. The area is extremely remote and rugged which made it an ideal hideout for outlaws and cattle rustlers in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Most notably Butch Cassidy allegedly formed his gang, The Wild Bunch, in the rough and broken land of Robber’s Roost thus inspiring the name of the area.
Today Robber’s Roost doesn’t hold much in the way of cattle rustler’s or train robbers but the land is still rugged, remote, and beautiful. The recent epic story of Aron Ralston’s survival after being trapped by a boulder in Bluejohn Canyon took place in this area as well. Bluejohn Canyon is just one of the many large canyon systems in the area that hold in their secret depths some of the most technical canyoneering to be found in the Four Corner’s Area.
Myself, not being a cattle rustler, a train robber, or a particularly-technical canyoneer, I found myself in, “the Roost,” as it is commonly called after a bit of a different type of adventure. While some of the canyons offer a myriad of technical rappels and keeper potholes to navigate there are a few other small canyons that offer deep dark narrows and slots that when caught in the right light inspire visions of nature’s beauty that are seldom if ever seen anywhere else in the world.
My journey only lasted a couple of days but the beauty was indisputable. It started with an evening departure from Durango, CO, my route taking me into Utah and through the Cedar Mesa area where I had an overnight bivouac in the front of my truck. I was originally planning on driving all the way to Hanksville the first night but the dark and lonely road got the best of me and I decided it was better to pull over rather than to plow into one of the many deer that seemed to be jumping out in front of my truck.
On the second day of my trip I woke up early to the whomping racket of what sounded like a freight train slamming into my truck, since there were no freight trains anywhere to be seen I quickly realized that it was the wind that was making my truck sound like a rock concert gone bad. It turns out that the whole area was being hit by a large-scale wind event and as it turned out the wind would not let up the entire time I was out. Twenty to thirty mph sustained winds with gusts even stronger than that, it was definitely a bummer but more to come on that later.
For now I was back on the road headed towards Hanksville. After a quick stop to top off my fuel I turned off of UT24 north of Hanksville at the signed turn for Horseshoe Canyon. The wind was blowing so hard that the dust I was kicking up while trucking along the dirt road was actually moving faster than my truck was, therefore creating a bit of a problem for driving. None the less, I found my way through the dust clouds and wind-blown sand to the intersection with The Maze Road and headed south for another 26 miles or so to the Han’s Flat Ranger Station. On the way it seemed that off to the east there were some pretty dark clouds forming and all around there was cloud cover with intermittent breaks of blue sky. Not exactly what seemed like ideal slot canyon conditions, let alone really remote and solo slot adventures.
While on the Maze Road I stopped to say hi to a couple of guys eating lunch near their vehicle and asked what they thought of the weather, the last time I had looked at the weather report it called for ,”windy and clear conditions.” The wind was definitely there but the clear, not so much. The two guys said they had heard the same thing but it didn’t much look like clear weather to them either. They said they were going to keep their eye on the weather but they were still planning on doing Bluejohn Canyon. I wished them well and told them I was off to the High Spur. They wished me luck and we parted ways.
I arrived at the Han’s Flat Ranger station under partly cloudy skies and the wind making it difficult to stand without leaning into it. I asked the ranger inside what the road condition up to the High Spur was like, he casually leaned over, looked out the window at my truck (a stock Tacoma) and said, “you’ll be fine in that.” With that I asked him if the weather report had somehow changed from clear to storms? He looked it up on the internet (I think it’s wild that they have internet in such a remote outpost), the weather still said, “…windy and clear.” With that I said thanks and walked out the door into the gale force wind and the gathering clouds that could be seen in all directions.
The road north from the Hans Flat Ranger Station was in good condition with just a few relatively rough spots over the slickrock and it took me about an hour and fifteen minutes to drive the 13 miles to the intersection of The Spur Road and Deadman’s Trail. A spot in the vicinity of the canyon I was looking for, The Northeast Spur Fork, otherwise known as The High Spur.
These photos of the road are actually from the drive out but it gives a good idea of the road condition and what to expect…
And one of the camping / parking near the intersection of The Spur Road and Deadman’s Trail… Note the rather ominous looking clouds to the east!
The Upper Canyon
I took another look at the clouds around me and decided that the dark clouds were off to the East and with the gale pounding out of the West it seemed safe to assume that I was in no present danger of a storm. With that I packed up my camera gear and some light-duty canyoneering hardware and made my way toward the upper part of the canyon. There was a meager hiker’s trail leading from the parking area to a small drainage that I followed down to the upper portion of the slot. At this point it was easy to find a way down into the sandy wash which quickly became a narrow passage between tall sandstone walls.
The upper portion was easy to navigate with several one meter steps to negotiate but nothing overly ambitious. About a half hour into my trek I came to my first obstacle, it was a downclimb of about two meters, since I had little idea of what lay in store for me down the canyon (other than the beta from a Kelsey book, which I always take with a bit grain of salt) I decided to rig a handline so that I could get back up the downclimb without too much difficulty if the need arose. About five or ten more minutes down the canyon there was a second downclimb, a little bit higher, and this one seemed a bit harder if I wanted to come back up it, so I set up a second handline just in case.
Not too long after that I came to an opening in the canyon with what seemed like several gullies making their way to the canyon rim so I decided to return up the canyon and retrieve my gear before continuing down the canyon.
After this opening the canyon got very narrow forming the first real slot portion, it was a fantastically narrow area of twisting and curving sandstone, logs wedged between walls, and wind-blown sand hammering me in the face.
Another hour or so down canyon, after intermittent slot sections and open narrows sections, I came to the area in the canyon where Kelsey shows a “steep entry/exit.” It was easy enough to spot, a steep rock-strewn gully that seemed to breach the top of the canyon rim. It was only three ‘o’ clock but a little bit early I had taken a fall while stemming a short narrow section. The wind had blown fine dust all up and down the walls of the canyon and while I was frictioning a foot placement my foot completely slid off the wall and tumbled down onto my left side, scraping myself up a little and bruising my left thigh. I decided that I had a good day and felt satisfied to return to the truck and get a fire going for dinner.
The steep climb out wasn’t actually as bad as it first appeared and it did indeed get me to the top of the canyon rim with a short walk to Deadman’s Trail and a short walk along that back to camp. Of course when I arrived in camp the wind was still coming in like a hurricane and I decided a campfire was probably not a good idea, instead I warmed up some beef stew on the stove in the back of my truck and curled up with a good book. The wind continued to hammer my truck and I fell asleep dreaming of a terrible storm blowing in during the night.
The Lower Canyon – Corkscrew Slot
Lucky for me it was only a bad dream, I awoke to find clear blue skies. The wind was unfortunately still blowing like a banshee but at least the skies looked less menacing which gave me a better feeling about the day. I decided that I wanted to skip the middle portion of the canyon and go directly to the famed “Corkscrew” area to see if I could get some good shots. In order to make my trip a little shorter I drove Deadman’s Trail to the Pinyon / Juniper Camp marked in Kelsey’s book. The Deadman’s Trail was easy to drive except for the one spot (also marked in Kelsey’s book) that required a little bit of finesse and perhaps four-wheel drive as well. The bad spot is a series of two rock steps, neither one of them are truly horrible, but just steep enough that I think a two-wheel drive might need a little bit of gunning to get up.
After that I found the Pinyon / Juniper Camp and it seemed like a pretty nice place to camp, much nicer than my spot the last night which was very exposed and open.
Once again I quickly packed up my stuff, filled my water bladders, and thew some light canyoneering gear into my pack. I headed out from the camp following a wash down to the canyon rim. I then followed the rim around to a spot where I figured I could work my way down to a lower shelf, then I found a trail which brought me out once more into the sandy bottom of the Northeast Spur Fork. I turned right and immediately found myself walking into a tight twisting slot section. It was late morning at this time and I spent about an hour shooting images in this section with nice light bouncing between the red canyon walls.
I was stopped by a steep downclimb of about three meters that looked like I would definitely need to set up a handline of some sort in order to get back up. From reading Kelsey’s description of the canyon I figured that this downclimb was the one immediately before the rappel at the bottom of the technical part of the canyon so I figured I would just stay up on top of the downclimb and shoot photos, not bothering with rigging any gear.
After about an hour I was packing up my stuff and curiosity got the better of me so I decided to go ahead and rig a handline down to see what there was to see. I am very happy I made that decision, below the downclimb was not the rappel, but instead a deep and beautiful chamber that seemed reminiscent of Antelope Canyon in many respects. I ended up spending about two hours there shooting images. The chamber was deep enough that the wind was not even reaching me, the only problem was that with it still blowing above me sand and rocks were constantly being blown off the rim and dropping down all over my camera gear and my head.
The dark and delicate beauty of the place was truly breathtaking and it was worth a bit of sand being blown down to capture some beautiful images of one of Mother Nature’s masterpieces.
Another beautiful trip in a remote and beautiful place. I didn’t find any robber’s treasure but Mother Nature left some treasures of her own to discover here for sure. Definitely worth a return visit for sure!