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Hell’s Revenge – To The Black Hole And Beyond
by Marcy Hafner

Recently while I was looking over the Moab East Trails map, my eyes locked in on the fire and brimstone words of “Hell’s Revenge.” Scanning over the course of this 6.5-mile difficult jeep trail, which runs through the Sand Flats Recreation Area, the terminology of Tip-over Challenge, The Escalator, Hot Tub, Rubble Trouble, Hell’s Gate and The Black Hole triggered my imagination and curiosity.

A few days later, I’m following the painted yellow flames up and down the slickrock of Hell’s Revenge to check out this ominous sounding trail. Quickly I discover that I’m in for a heart-pumping, calf-burning workout and scanning this angle-of-repose at close range, I am amazed at what man and his machine can traverse!! The extraordinary steepness can be daunting even for a hiker. The excellent traction of the dry slickrock does make it possible for a well-equipped off-road vehicle to surmount an incredibly steep grade, but it doesn’t come easily. The amount of rubber on this extremely technical route is proof of that and observing these tricky, dangerous maneuvers from a safe distance can be very entertaining!

While in the Sand Flats Recreation Area, the Hell’s Revenge Trail crosses over the well-known Slickrock Bike Trail several times before making its trek out towards an overlook of the Colorado River above Negro Bill Canyon. On the return trip, it completes a loop around the Lions Back before exiting west of the entrance booth.

The majority of the trails in Sand Flats are designed for mountain bikes and four-wheel drives, but great hiking opportunities also exist that are especially appealing in the quietude of winter. During that season the crystallized air sharpens the outlines of the stunning full circle panorama of Arches National Park, Behind the Rocks, Porcupine Rim and the La Sal Mountains - a wide screen portrait that is a striking contrast between snow covered alpine peaks and a red rock desert.

Bordered by two wilderness study areas - Negro Bill to the north, Mill Creek to the south - this unique playground receives almost 100,000 visitors a year. In response to this recreational overload, the Moab community, Americorps, Grand County and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) collaborated in 1995 for the purpose of preserving this precious resource - a coalition that formed an unusual partnership between the county and the BLM so they could manage, protect, maintain and rehabilitate this over run land. In order to meet these goals, however, it became necessary to charge entrance and camping fees.

To get to this outstanding recreational area from Main Street, turn east at the Moab Information Center on to Center Street. At the stop sign on 400 East, go right. Then drive five blocks and turn left at Dave’s Corner Market on to Mill Creek Drive. At the three-way stop, go straight and drive 1.7-miles on the Sand Flats Road to the entrance where trailhead parking can be found to the left of the entrance booth.

It’s mind-boggling to realize that way back 150 million years ago during the Jurassic period the Colorado Plateau was situated near the equator in a dry, hot, empty land of shifting sand. Over the eons these prevailing sands petrified into Navajo sandstone, becoming the rounded mounds and fins of slickrock that are so characteristic of what we see today throughout the Sand Flats Recreation Area. As the sand dunes drifted with the whims of the wind, they etched into the sandstone a series of diagonal lines called “cross-bedding,” leaving behind a signature trademark of their existence.

One and a half miles into my hike, the Hell’s Revenge makes a brief connection with the Slickrock Trail just above Abyss Canyon, which is a sidebar canyon of Negro Bill. The edge of this canyon is definitely on the brink of the abyss - a sudden drop off of hundreds of feet to the deep, dark shadows of a well-watered, lushly vegetated canyon floor below. In the summer the steep scallop-shaped walls protect the inner depth of this canyon from the worst of the scorching sun, but now with the summer long gone, the barren leafless branches of cottonwoods and oaks portray the chilling mood of a late fall day.

Stopping for a break, I study the swirling soft brown patterned consistency of the sandstone mounds and fins that surround me with their artistic flowing beauty. While munching on a sandwich, I survey the somber winter sky layered with fleecy clouds. With the textured appearance of white-gray cloth, they filter most of the sunlight; only a few colored patches of aquamarine and pale blue manage to peak through this heavenly curtain.

A raven’s voice breaks the silence and I catch a glimpse of his profile against the slickrock as he glides in and then out of this quiet scene. According to a sign at the entrance booth, these birds have the largest brain of any bird species in the world and are excellent mimics having mastered a wide range of vocalizations.

All is so calm and peaceful until two very aggressive yellow jackets buzz in to disrupt my reflective interlude!! What are they doing out on this nippy day!! Aren’t they supposed to be hunkered down until next spring?! Moving in for the attack, these persistent pests completely ignore the swats of my hand. For some reason unknown to me, they are determined to run amuck until I change my strategy and chase them off with my hat. Finally they are gone and I return to my tranquil state of mind, giving my full attention to this majestic scene that I am now so fortunate to have all to myself.

Overly crowded in the spring, scathingly hot in the summer and still wildly popular in the fall - winter is when Sand Flats puts on its best face of a brisk coolness accompanied by a blissful solitude. The short winding road from Moab quickly transports me from the civilized world to this treasured off-season refuge of petrified sand dunes – a geologic wonderland filled with intriguing, odd shaped sandstone formations that extend for miles and miles in all directions.

Cryptobiotic soil garden
Cryptobiotic soil garden

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