More than a thousand years ago, someone took the time to draw an image resembling a winged dragon in a narrow canyon on the San Rafael Swell. We now refer to such people as the Anasazi. The question that goes unanswered is the artist’s inspiration for drawing such an image. Was the winged dragon a creature he saw with his own eyes? Or was it a myth passed down to him from his elders? Or something else? In any case, the image dubbed the Black Dragon has survived weather and human visitors for centuries. The dragon watches over his canyon like a cat protecting its lair.
Lone Writer has been visiting Black Dragon Canyon on a biannual basis for many years. When Nissan loaned him a 2013 Xterra Pro-4X, the most logical choice for a place to test it out was the canyon where the Black Dragon resides. He did not know the canyon had recently endured a flash flood that took out most of the existing road. That flood removed the time-traveled floor of the wash and uncovered a minefield of huge boulders and deep sinkholes large enough to swallow an Xterra.
To reach the Dragon without traveling much of the flood-damaged wash road, enter the canyon from the east end by leaving I-70 via a gate on the westbound side. Lone Writer always enters from the west end of the canyon by turning onto Sinkhole Flat off the Buckhorn Wash Road. That part of the trail was unaffected by the flood. It simply began as a very scenic drive through a forest of weather-beaten trees, which is so typical of Utah desert country.
Lone Writer was in a kickback frame of mind. With previous trips through the canyon to use as reference, he was confident the trail would not get much more difficult. It consisted of a narrow rocky two-track path taking him to the intersection where the sign for Black Dragon Canyon invited him to enter. At first, the trail simply meandered along the edges high above the canyon floor, offering a constantly changing variety of scenic views.
Our first indication something about the canyon was different came at a point where the trail narrows and winds around a wide corner of the canyon wall before dropping to the floor of the wash. It wasn’t a significant difference, but the trail seemed to be a little narrower than on a previous visit.
When we reached the floor of the wash, Lone Writer began paying a little less attention to the scenery and a little more attention to the obstacles. Huge boulders were appearing in places he could not remember seeing them before. The drop-offs from some of those boulders tested the ground clearance of the Xterra’s rocker panels. Little by little, the trail became more and more threatening.
There was another concern beside the worsening trail condition. The desert sun was rapidly dropping toward the horizon. Traveling through such a canyon at night would almost surely result in body damage. Unless the Xterra could get Lone Writer through the canyon before sundown, both of them would be there for the night. Of course, a generous supply of water and food is always riding along in the vehicle, so bedding down in the canyon posed no threat. On the other hand, staying overnight would put Lone Writer behind schedule the following day.
Little by little, Lone Writer navigated the Xterra through the wash. In two spots, he had to move a few rocks to ensure safe passage over boulders larger than the vehicle. The electronic locker was only used once to get back out of a poorly chosen detour. It probably wasn’t needed, but since the Pro-4X comes equipped with such a locker, using it just in case was a no-brainer.
By the time Lone Writer reached the Black Dragon, the canyon floor was dark. The only light came from a golden glow where the sun had just descended below the horizon. If you decide to visit the Black Dragon going in from Sinkhole Flat, start early and be ready for some excitement. It’s going to take a lot of traffic to beat the floor of the wash down enough to resemble the road that had been washed away by the flood.
No doubt, Lone Writer will return to visit the Black Dragon in the near future. Hopefully, he will be driving a Nissan Xterra Pro-4X, so the journey will take less work. In the meantime, check out the border-to-border Outlaw Trail Project. It crosses the country from Canada to Mexico primarily on backcountry roads, connecting locations used as hideouts to the sites of bank and train robberies. Check us out at Outlaw-Trail.com.
|Latitude North||Longitude West||Comments|
|N38 55.7865||W110 36.0753||Sinkhole Flat Intersection|
|N38 54.9969||W110 34.5067||There are three intersections. This is the first one. Take the left fork here, the right fork at the next one, and the left fork at the third one.|
|N38 56.8352||W110 31.1240||Turn right at the sign for Black Dragon Canyon. This is the last intersection going into the canyon.|
|N38 56.5659||W110 25.4890||This is the parking area for the hike to the rock art panels. It may take a while to find the one with the winged dragon on it.|
|N38 55.5214||W110 25.0217||This is the gate off I-70 where Lone Writer exits. It can also be used as the entrance to avoid the more difficult parts of the canyon.|