Photographs15 views of Eardley Canyon
MapTopoQuest topographic map of upper Eardley Canyon
Rocks around the canyon edge have a mixture of colors, eroded formations and plentiful exposed thin-bedded limestone - a hint of the attractions to come. Once on the canyon floor, the way ahead is sandy with occasional downward steps of a couple of feet and is generally quite open. The streamway turns due east and narrows after a while, through one particularly pretty stretch of crisp angled strata carved into different forms, soon after which the Hyde Draw tributary joins from the left; this can be used as an alternative entrance but ropes are needed to overcome a sheer drop at the junction.
The main canyon veers south and soon enters deeper narrows with no obstacles, just a clean flat sandy floor beneath high Cedar Mesa sandstone walls. In some places clear (drinkable) water seeps out from between layers near the base of the cliffs. The gorge becomes gradually wider and another tributary joins from the west, from behind a high sandbank. The rocks above rise steadily higher and the curves become wider, with several hundred feet of the canyon visible ahead. Pebbles and boulders are scattered in the streamway, which is now quite overgrown with large cottonwood trees, reeds and grass. Later these fade away, replaced by more fallen rocks and flat terraces scoured by smooth, water-carved channels.
Other notable features are a clear pool with deep water, a dryfall several meters high that may be passed by climbing down on the right hand side, and another sheer fall after about 6 miles. This marks the point at a 180° bend in the canyon where the floodwaters once broke through a narrow separating ridge, creating a rincon (abandoned meander), and leaving an isolated peak in the middle of the two channels. From here the boulders in the canyon become larger, causing many downward drops of a few meters and frequent pools underneath. There are several V-shaped narrow passages with very old-looking, weathered limestone rocks, one of which leads steeply into a muddy area,
site of a deepish pool in wet weather.
More boulders and exposed strata follow, as Eardley Canyon nears the edge of the San Rafael Reef; just before is the technical section with 6 deep potholes, all or most of which require swimming. This part is usually explored starting from the southern entrance.
I visited in mid October, on a still, essentially cloudless day with clear blue sky from dawn to dusk, conditions which emphasised the striking colors and textures of the rock. The canyon had absolutely no litter or other footprints and seemed completely unspoilt. A round trip to a point not far above the potholes (about 16 miles) took 8 hours.