Photographs12 views of Muddy Creek
MapTopoQuest topographic map of Muddy Creek
This description is from the Tomsich Butte
trailhead. The main approach road bends north in front of the butte - a towering block of Wingate sandstone - while a side track forks left and heads towards the mud flats beside the creek itself, which at this point winds through a wide valley filled by bushes and tamaracks, and with great cliffs forming a backdrop to the west; a slightly eerie place with a distinct sense of isolation, very hot and airless in mid summer. Vehicles can be driven a little way south, until the creek curves across the valley and then the hike begins, initially either beside the stream bed or along a faint, disused mining track over the dusty flats at the west side. There are other old tunnels in the cliffs above, and also of note is the angular opening of Hondu Arch
, 1,500 feet higher up at the top of the Wingate cliffs.
Low hills rise to the east of the creek and a small plateau appears on the other side. Maps show an old road to the west that would bypass some of the bends in the early, shallow section of the canyon but this is not easy to follow and involves several steep climbs and descents so the best plan is to stay close to the stream. This has several wide bends with sandbanks at either side, then passes a small tributary (Penitentiary Canyon
) and deepens only slowly. Low, crumbling, disorderly cliffs line the main canyon which remains quite wide. For the first hour, the hike is along well worn paths through the sandy areas, and occasional stream crossings. Next the creek starts to cut into the Coconino layer, flows over some plateaus and rock pools, rounds a few tight bends and enters a straight section of good narrows where for the first time the waters cover all of the canyon floor. Beneath the water is a mixture of soft mud and cobblestones, plus occasional deep pools. A walking stick is recommended to probe the way ahead.
The first narrows gradually open out as the cliffs drop and the stream passes what may be an abandoned meander on the west side; here the creek bends almost 180° and becomes quite wide again, enclosed by weathered dusty hills rather than cliffs, and not too interesting. But not for long as after more twists and turns the vertical Coconino walls reappear and deepening begins again; the creek has a long straight section southwest, a bend back east then enters the narrowest, darkest section of all - the middle of the Chute. The start is marked by a very tight tributary on the east side (known as Music Canyon
), worth following for a while. This slot canyon contains interlinked potholes, pools and small dryfalls, all surrounded by nicely textured rock with curvy formations, and the upper parts (above several unclimbable dryfalls) may be explored via a hike from the Hidden Splendor road.
The next 3 miles of Muddy Creek are the best, an excellent deep shaded canyon with colorful walls, much closer together than before. Even in the driest periods when the creek stops flowing, in places there will still be standing water up to a foot deep; after rain this may be 4-5 feet. One overhanging alcove has a seep in the rocks above from which drips nice tasting water, a useful place to replenish supplies. Around another corner, and high above the streambed, is a log jam that seems now to be a semi-permanent feature, left by a huge flood many years ago. The canyon begins to widen after the next few bends and for those on round trip hikes this is a sensible point to turn back, 10 miles from the trailhead; the complete journey takes at least 7 hours.
joins about 4 miles downstream of the log jam - this is a large tributary that branches several times in its upper reaches and has much unspoilt scenery. Past this junction the walls continue to recede and after a further 3 miles the canyon approaches the inside of the southern San Rafael Reef. The exit trailhead at the Hidden Splendor Mine is reached by a short walk uphill.