Thursday, June 4, 2009

Dragonfly Canyon - Canyoneering in Arches National Park

Over the weekend my wife Sonja and I had the chance to meet up with our friends Melissa and Tom and do a little canyoneering in Arches National Park. We chose Dragonfly Canyon as a half-day introduction to what the park had to offer. The canyon turned out to be excellent: short and sweet - a perfect half day adventure. It offered a few minor technical challenges including two short (15 foot) swims through muddy pothole style pools, and two rappels of 65 and 130 feet. Despite being less than a mile from the main park road, the canyon instantly felt remote, even though it was a busy May weekend.

While Dragonfly Canyon is a straight-forward canyon, it does require some technical skills and equipment. In order to complete the passage down canyon you'll need helmets, harnesses, a rope, and dry bags. Expect to swim through cold water and have the skills to safely rappel. Bolted anchors are established for both the rappels. Take plenty of water as well, because the walk out of can be hot. Allow 3-5 hours for the trip.

Directions: From the center of Moab drive north on Highway 191 for 5 miles. Turn right into Arches National Park and continue 6 miles to a turnout on the right side of the road. The turnout is just over a mile past the bridge. If you reach the pullout for the Petrified Dunes, you've gone too far.

From the pullout walk south across the slickrock towards the canyon rim. Look for the prominent dome features in the direction La Sal Mountains and aim for them. Do your best to not walk on the cryptobiotic soils by staying on the slickrock whenever possible. A quick ten minute walk will bring you to the canyon rim. Enter the canyon at the north end via a steep, but non-technical ramp.

GPS Coordinates: N38 39' 43" W109 35" 03"

Route Details:
Immediately after entering the canyon you'll encounter the first potholes filled with murky water. Wade the first and swim the second and third holes to reach a small but adequate platform to rappel from.

The first rappel is about 65 feet and ends in a shallow, dirty pond. Throw your rope to the left and work to the right as you descend to avoid ending up in the muck. From here it's a short, easy jaunt to the next rappel. The canyon will start to constrict again, narrowing into a V-shaped shallow slot. Slither through the narrows or stay as high as you can by chimneying or bridging the span with you body to reach the next rappel station. The bolt anchors can be found on the left side of the wall. We saw a snake here in this little slot, so be aware they're around. This top half of this long rappel is a bit awkward, the higher you stay by pushing out away from the rock, the easier it is to negotiate.
Continue down into a beautifully lush chamber of red rock and bright green cottonwood trees. Savor the spot before continuing down canyon. Upon reaching the Courthouse Wash (where another trail intersects the canyon) turn right and hike back out to the road. This will put you about 1.5 miles down the road from your entry point pullout. A short car shuttle saves a 1.5 mile walk back up the road.

Contact: A great source of information (and the source of much of the information here) for Dragonfly Canyon is

Camping: See the earlier post on Devils Garden Campground for the nearest camping to Dragonfly Canyon or order my guidebook Moon Utah Camping.

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