During March of 2003 I found myself hanging around the marina in Hite, Utah at the end of a solo road biking trip. There were only a few tourist in Hite that day so things were pretty quite. As I was leaving the gas station I made eye contact with a man wearing nothing but a wet suite covered with mud. He made a beeline right for me and asked if I was busy. I said not really and he asked me if I would help him carry his inflatable ducky up from the Dirty Devil River to his car. I had never heard of the Dirty Devil River but offered to help once I notice he had just bought some cold beer. As we were driving to the river where his gear was he said his name was Ralph and he was from St. George, Utah. His wife had dropped him off in Hanksville while leaving his car in Hite. He had just finished floating the Dirty Devil River and had the attitude of someone who had just experienced something special but wasn't going to attempt to put it to words. We snuck our way through the cliffs down to the river where his gear was and I caught a glimpse of the solid rock canyon walls up river. The river made a quick bend to the left but the image of what might lie around the corner led to my desire to float the river. We shared a few beers and packed out all of his gear back up the hill to the road.
What makes the Dirty Devil River trip so special is the fact that there's hardly any water in it. It doesn't give itself up easily so few people float it during the season. A year had passed since I met Ralph and I had the urge to float the river. The USGS has a water gauge "waterdata.usgs.gov/ut" at poison springs which is a little more than halfway down the river from Hanksville. When my brother and I floated the Dirty Devil the water was flowing at around 85cfs. It is important to remember that the gauge is halfway down the river and the upper half has slower flows. Between the two of us we've done very little paddling so we opted to use one and two person inflatable aire ducky's. We each had our own dry bag as well.
The first day of our trip we found ourselves scraping the bottom of the river ever five minutes or so. We would get out of the ducky's and the would float while we walked until the river deepend. I don't know much about boats but I would not do this trip with anything that has less floatation than a ducky. The river was very braided and the ducky's did very well despite the water being mostly calf deep. As the days progressed the river tightened up and the paddling got better although getting out and walking with the boat still happened a lot. The bottom of the Dirty Devil is made up mostly of tightly compacted sand so walking in it is pleasant. The views in the canyon are amazing and we only saw one foot print the entire trip. It took us 3.5 days but it can be done in 3 if the river is up and you don't have to spend time walking. The highlight of the trip was the last day when we entered into the area where lake Powell used to be. The Dirty Devil had cut a path through the silt that the lake had deposited making a quick almost roller coaster ride. The water was banked by overhanging canyon walls. If you plan on doing this trip think like a mountaineer and go light. Even a 30 pound difference between my brother and myself was all it took for him to drag along the bottom while I continued to float and laugh as he got out and walked.
I-70 turn south to Hanksville