Seldom Seen Floats: Dirty Devil River, Utah

They don't call it the Dirty Devil for nothing



It took me a decade to hit the Dirty Devil window. I drooled over the quadrant of canyon country it scribes through, full of side slots and sandstone slickrock and Butch Cassidy hideouts. Some years it would be a bare trickle, no more. Once it came up, but I dallied one day and missed it. But last spring the snowpack was deep, spring break landed right, the river gauge was coming up nicely. We made the leap, drove 700 miles, and found ourselves in mid-March, camped all alone at the end of a four-wheel-drive road, perched above the braided, murmuring stream running about 220 cfs.

They don’t call it the Dirty Devil for nothing. It is a turbid flow, thick as a coffee milkshake, and shallow sandbars lurk below the impenetrable current to snag your boat. We took a couple of inflatable canoes and kayaks. The first day and a half we picked our way through sandbars, often getting out to wade to deeper channels, stopping to explore side canyons, being pulled under sandstone rims. After that we hardly had to get out again.

Take warm gear, because March snow squalls are entirely possible. You can manage it in four days, but if you have a week, it’s nice to dawdle and explore. Tributaries like Happy Canyon are amazing side hikes, worth a layover day. At the end, blast down the final 15 miles, because you enter the zone of old bottom deposits from Lake Powell and camping gets scarce.

BEST WINDOW: March 15-30 (after April 1, upstream irrigation robs the flow).

MINIMUM FLOW: 150 cfs at Poison Springs. LENGTH: 84 miles from Hanksville, Utah, to Hite Marina on Lake Powell.

LENGTH: 84 miles from Hanksville, Utah, to Hite Marina on Lake Powell.

DIFFICULTY: Class I-II.

FLOAT TIME: 4-7 days.

CONTACT: Hanksville BLM (435-542-3461).

BACKUP: San Juan River, Utah. Bluff to Mexican Hat, or Mexican Hat to Clay Hills Crossing (depending on your date, a permit may be required).

— AK

Smith River, Montana   Upper Gila River Wilderness Run, New Mexico

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