Beware: Hiking in desert tricky this time of year

Bruce McCabe, who works at the Canyonlands National Park visitor center, said he rarely deals with hikers caught in flash floods, simply because it’s too darned hot to be hiking in the desert in late July and early August.

However, his everyday dealing with motorized visitors finds him frequently cautioning them to keep an eye on the weather before they leave on that day trip.

“Our biggest concern here is folks who want to drive into Horse or Lavendar or Salt canyons because the road is a sandy stretch right up the middle of the draw,” McCabe said. “If you drive out there and it starts raining hard upstream, you could be in a bad way in the worst places.”

He said one visitor a few years ago managed to escape a flash flood but had to leave his car partly buried in the sand until park rangers could extract it a couple of weeks later.

“Two years ago a government rig was ‘parked’ at Peekaboo Spring for six or eight months,” McCabe said.

He said the current string of thunderstorms pelting southeastern Utah have left water flowing in some of those draws and narrow canyons.

“I tell visitors to avoid moving water,” McCabe said. “It might not look like it’s running very fast but it might surprise you and sweep you downstream.”

Visitors also are cautioned to watch for saturated soil and quicksand, said Canyonlands National Park guide Gary Howatt.

“Some of the canyons, like Salt Creek, are impassible right now because of quicksand,” Howatt said. “It’s not usually a problem for hikers, it’s not like the stuff you see in movies that sucks you in, but it will stop a vehicle. And the only way you know you’re in it is when you’re in it.”

McCabe said the weather forecast for southeast Utah calls for 50 percent chance of thunderstorms at least through Thursday.

“It’s not the best time to be hiking in the desert,” he said.


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