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Poison Spring Canyon

Posted in Events on November 20, 2013
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The one subject Lone Writer is best known for is the Outlaw Trail. He has spent hundreds of hours over 30 years following the trails outlaws used before and after holdups of banks and trains. One reader suggested he is an old soul who lived on earth during another life spanning the 1890s, and this other life was spent either chasing the outlaws or riding with them. Lone Writer's vivid imagination can easily relate to such a theory. In any case, he spends a lot of his time researching and visiting the trails and hideouts used by the Wild Bunch. Every clue and every lead eventually is investigated.

The latest clue came from a retired rancher named Denzel. "I used to be a rancher running cattle in Poison Spring Canyon. I know where there is a Butch Cassidy signature that just might be original." That was all it took to send Lone Writer back into the Utah desert.

During the early 1800s, Poison Spring Canyon was a main route for rustlers getting cattle and horses on and off Robbers' Roost. At the end of the century, rustlers were replaced by those who robbed banks and trains. They used Robbers' Roost as a sanctuary from the law. They created a notion that the hideout was populated by hundreds of thieves, gunfighters, and outlaws. Lawmen truly believed sending a posse onto Robbers' Roost would be sending them into the jaws of death.

Lone Writer and some of his other pals met Denzel in Hanksville on a sunny morning in May. Denzel took the lead and the group was soon driving along the floor of Poison Spring Canyon. Lone Writer and his pals had been there dozens of times over the past three decades but none of them knew canyon the way Denzel knew it. During his younger years, he lived in the canyon for days at a time searching every nook and cranny for maverick cattle. He told many stories about his mother, father, and brother including some near death experiences as they endured the desert heat and even flash floods herding their cattle in and out of the canyon.

Along the way, the group stopped to visit some rock art on the canyon wall. It was far enough off the trail to be hidden from anyone who was not looking for it. There were three such panels within a short drive of each other. Another side canyon led to Poison Spring Cave. Reaching it involved some climbing, which was a challenge for Lone Writer's arthritic knees. The cave is about the size of a small apartment and appears to have been used for that purpose in the past.

Driving down the canyon is a pleasant cruise. High rock walls carved out over millions of years by the quietly flowing creek at the floor of the canyon provide a feeling of isolation. Those walls of rock are made of many colors and a variety of minerals. There are also trees, brush, and flowers decorating the canyon floor. In the fall, aspen groves fill some areas with a golden glow.

Denzel stopped at a campsite where Lone Writer's old travel club (Pass Patrol) had spent many nights back in the 1990s. Anyone who has a copy of Larry Heck's guidebook titled In Search of the Outlaw Trail has seen this campsite listed in the navigation logs. All the books in the series, called the Adventures of Pass Patrol, are no longer in print but can sometimes be found online. New stories about the Outlaw Trail are frequently added to We ask you to visit that site and like us on Facebook.

When Denzel stepped out of his vehicle, he had a big smile on his face. "You're gonna kick yourself when you see where this signature is. Your tent was right around the corner from it." Denzel had read Lone Writer's book and knew the history of Pass Patrol.

At the outside edge of the campsite, a huge rock stood alone near the south wall of the canyon. On the backside of that rock some signatures were carved into the surface. The signatures were weather worn and had obviously been there for a very long time. Due to the color of the rock, they were not instantly visible at first glance. One of those signatures was dated 1869 with the initials "S.J." When S.J. carved his name into the rock, Butch Cassidy was only 3 years old.

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The other signature was not dated but displayed the name of Utah's best known outlaw: Butch Cassidy. Robert LeRoy Parker was 18 years old when he left the family ranch in Circleville. In June 1884, he kissed his mother goodbye and began the transformation from Robert Parker to Butch Cassidy. He met up with his mentor, Mike Cassidy, and several other outlaws to take a herd of stolen horses to Telluride, Colorado.

Lone Writer's active imagination instantly formed a scenario that is entirely fictional but possible. It goes like this: One of the outlaws involved in taking those horses to Telluride had the initials S.J. That outlaw was at least 20 years older than Cassidy. On the way through the canyon, he took Cassidy to the rock where he had left his signature 15 years earlier. When Cassidy saw the artwork that had already lasted for so many years, he decided to add his own beside it.

Did that happen? Naw. But it makes a good story.

There is no way for Lone Writer to authenticate that signature, but there are plenty of reasons to assume it is an original. First of all, Butch Cassidy was well educated and this name is accurately spelled. Secondly, it has obviously been there for a very long time. Thirdly, there is no doubt Cassidy had been through the canyon many times during his outlaw career. He lived on Robbers' Roost for months at a time.

Denzel left us and headed back out of Poison Spring Canyon to visit some family members still living in the area. Lone Writer and his pals continued through the canyon toward the Dirty Devil River. As the distance to the river grew shorter, the canyon became much larger. It opened up so wide, there was no longer a sense of being in a canyon.

The Dirty Devil River is formed near Hanksville where the Fremont River and Muddy Creek run together. It flows south from Hanksville and empties into Lake Powell. Along the way, it has carved extremely deep canyons. There is no bridge across the river, but crossing it is rarely a problem during dry weather.

Join us next month as we follow the trail over Sunset Pass and to the outpost at Hite Crossing.

The website has been restructured. The blog running on it concerns our upcoming border-to-border trip along the Outlaw Trail. During that trip, our progress will be posted daily or as often as Internet connections are available. Questions and comments can be directed to Larry E. Heck at

We used the book titled, "Butch Cassidy My Brother" for some information in this story. The book is from Lula Parker Betenson as told to Dora Flack. If you can find this book, it is very interesting.

Navigation: GPS Positions
Trip Meter Latitude North Longitude West Comments
0.0 38 8.5047 110 36.6057 At mile post 17 on SR95 South of Hanksville, UT, turn East on Poison Spring Canyon Road.
3.4 38 8.4702 110 34.0297 The entrance to the canyon has been moved after a flood changed much of the canyon. The new road connects to old road at this waypoint.
5.8 38 7.8121 110 32.5286 This is the position to park for hiking to the rock art. It is not a waypoint for the rock art.
6.0 38 7.7560 110 32.3427 This is the place to park for hiking to Poison Spring Cave.
7.2 38 7.5744 110 31.1726 This is the position to park for hiking to the rock art. It is not a waypoint for the rock art.
9.3 38 7.5392 110 29. 4574 This is the waypoint for hiking to Walled Off Spring.
9.5 38 7.4509 110 29.2656 This is Cassidy Camp. A fire ring and room for tents is available. The Cassidy signature is behind a big rock at the edge of the camp.
11.0 38 7.0351 110 27.9400 Take the right fork at this point. The other is a dead end.
16.3 38 5.8063 110 24.4099 This is the Dirty Devil River crossing. The road continues on to Sunset Pass.

PhotosView Slideshow

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