For this trip, I started from an offroad trailhead and aimed to do a loop hike. The goal was to work into the canyon from the flatter area in front of the Cottonwood escarpment, see Middle Hidden Bridge Canyon, and exit the canyon while proceeding higher into the range -- either finding a route to explore other canyons or loop back to the trailhead from the higher elevation using a different route back than the way in.
I wasn’t able to find any information on a bypass from Middle Hidden Bridge Canyon to Upper Hidden Bridge Canyon (or places beyond), so I used topographic and imagery maps to plot some routes that looked promising before my trip.
The hike started clear and sunny. Coming around the front of the Cottonwoods, the ground was a little bit rough and rocky moving over the up and downs of the fans. I decided to cut west into the mountains early and use a side canyon that I hoped would lead to Hidden Bridge Canyon. It was a bit of a gamble since I didn’t know whether the route had an outlet or if it ended somewhere impassable. I couldn’t imagine the side canyon route was heavily used, so I was surprised to see footprints in the soft gravel as I made my way.
There was an interesting dry fall diverging from the side canyon to the left. The rock was comprised of thin bluish sheets that crumbled easily when stepped on. It was just wide enough to climb so I had a short climb to see what was around the corner.
The side canyon also contained a preview of what I was to find in the Middle Canyon. There were some slight dry falls to climb and rocks squeezed together like a smashed layer cake.
I followed the side canyon fully as it dropped through a variety of shapes and textures -- dense rock, crumbly dried mud, and, eventually, as it closed up, an impossibly tall rock sediment wall. No problem. It was a short backtrack and the canyon walls gave way to a short climb up the left side. It was actually an easy problem to spot on an imagery map. From above, the shadows looked obviously deep with no exit. Altogether, the side canyon was well worth the effort even if it ended up being a slightly longer distance.
The side canyon eventually ended, and the bypass ridge into the middle canyon rose into view. It would have been an easy side trip to drop into the lower canyon to see the bridge again, but it was getting late and I wanted to do the bypass before dark so I headed straight for the middle canyon. Reaching the bypass and dropping over the ridge with the middle canyon now in view, I headed left, hugging the canyon wall, before turning right and following a diagonal to reach the middle canyon floor. I immediately set down my heavy bag, which contained around 20 pounds of water and and started exploring the narrows towards the bridge.
I set up camp for the night at the bottom of the bypass into the Middle Canyon:
The next morning, I awoke long before sunrise and ultimately ended up waiting for light to photograph. The first thing I noticed near my camp was an interesting though deceased-looking spider. I spotted another one that was more lively at the end of the canyon.
One feature of the Middle Canyon are the number of side canyons, so I almost immediately followed one up to a higher elevation to have a look down at my camp and hopefully spot a bypass to the Upper Canyon.
There would be other side canyons that provided outlets to the surrounding hills further down the canyon. These were extremely useful for getting a better vantage point on the canyon and understanding how in linked into the rest of the area’s topography. For this first side trip, I eventually climbed back down into the main canyon, but I had skipped a set of narrows. I would catch them on the way back to camp.
It is tough to adequately describe the Middle Canyon in way that does it justice. It is a magical place, so I’ll offer some brief observations: it seems extraordinarily long and a place where one could easily spend several hours; there are a number of side canyons and dry rock falls breaking off from the main canyon that are interesting places to climb and explore; and the narrows are spectacular. Each set of narrows has its own flavor. This included a bleached version of the layer cake I had seen in the side canyon the day before:
[37 second video]
In another set of narrows, the sandy canyon floor disappears and multi-colored rock walls converge as if melting and collapsing toward a center path:
The disappearing canyon floor was an ominous sign, though. Sure enough, a high dry fall appears a short distance later, ending the hike into the middle canyon. There are some enticing hand holds and foot holds on the dry fall, though. I got pretty far climbing up this, and saw a couple of risky moves that could possibly be used to reach the top. Common sense prevailed, however, and this was my stopping point after I climbed down. I would later see that this was a good decision.
Now heading back from the dry fall, downcanyon, I caught the first set of narrows I had skipped when hiking up a side canyon and dropping down further in. This too was a hodge podge of color:
Finally, arriving back at camp, I ate some lunch, and gathered some rope gear I had brought along to have a look at the final set of downcanyon narrows.
This was a cool blue section of smooth polished rock. I could picture the periodic deluges funneling into this last set of narrows, having coursed from upcanyon and squeezed into a tiny corridor before escaping and buffing the surfaces here. If the other narrows were surreal, this last set felt space age and sleek.
Having seen the narrows of the middle canyon, it was time to find a bypass to the upper canyon or other canyons. While I was looking down from the first side canyon, I spotted what looked to an obvious bypass route out of the Middle Canyon. I ended up using this to successfully make it to the Upper Canyon. The bypass out of the canyon begins about one-third to one-half mile upcanyon from the bypass into the Middle Canyon. It is just after the first narrows.
Here’s a closer look at where the left (south-ish) turn from the canyon starts. This is a perspective from the canyon floor. There’s a little “beehive mound” to the right of the trail exit.
This bypass aims for the top of the nearby ridgeline. This is not a fast hike nor is it difficult to navigate. If alone, it’s a good chance to listen to a long podcast or two. If bringing a friend, it’s a good chance to talk politics. After climbing upward for a bit, I finally reached the top. This is a look back at the middle canyon just before it went out of sight.
Once at the high point, the navigation was fairly easy. I followed a dry sandy creek that actually felt really good on the feet after the uphill part. Then there was a flat area, which is where I ended up camping, and finally, a drop into Upper Hidden Bridge Canyon.
The flat area where I ended up pitching my tent for the night was interesting. There was a thin layer of rocks that covered the ground. All I had to do was kick away the surface rocks with my foot and there was brown dirt immediately beneath, an easy place to pitch a tent. Some of the rocks had a neat layer of rocky bright frosting on top.
Having no geology background, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. With the exception of rocks that had been polished by rushing water, the rocks in the area were overwhelmingly tough on bare hands. There were lots of prickly points that liked to scrape and cut. I happened to find a light duty pair of cycling gloves in my hiking pack and they were very helpful for scrambling. My boots took a pretty good beating from the jagged rocks too.
In the morning, I tried a couple of drops into the canyon without any luck. Then I spotted the rocky drainage that was easy to navigate down:
Here’s a look from the top of the way in:
It was a little bit steep at the bottom of the bypass, so I rigged up my rope in case I needed help getting back out. It was an easy climb, so not at all necessary to have ropes.
The Upper Canyon, while not as brilliant or lengthy as the Middle Canyon, still contained some incredible rock formations and provided a number of side canyons for exploration.
I started heading higher up towards the west end of the canyon.
Below is the dry fall that ends the journey. Again, there was an obvious set of hand and foot holds for climbing. This looked even easier than the one that cuts off the middle canyon from the upper canyon. But since the dry fall is monstrously high and I did not have someone else hiking with me, I did not attempt.
Heading down canyon, and past the drop in point, I eventually came to the top of the dry fall that separates the Upper Canyon from the Middle Canyon.
[45 second video]
From this vantage point, I could also see that the rocks at the top part of the fall were very dodgy looking for a climb. There were some clear cracks in the mud that secured the rocks to the top of the dry fall.
Thus, it was not a surprise to see a piton with webbing hammered into the rock nearby, ready to assist with repels into the middle canyon.
Heading back to camp, here is a look at the point where I dropped into the canyon. There were white streaks striped into the rock that I hadn’t noticed elsewhere in the canyon. The rope that I fixed is hanging down just left of center. As mentioned, I did not need the rope.
After I hiked back out of the canyon, it was a pretty easy climb over the next ridge and onto 5-Mile Rock Canyon. I did accidentally wander into one of the side canyons that led once more into Hidden Bridge Canyon. There were some fun dry falls to navigate around in the area, so it was a shame to have to turnaround. This might be another way into the upper canyon, though.
I had hoped to do some more canyon hiking, and even water for at least another day, but I was also concerned about the drive home, so I proceeded down 5-Mile Rock to my waiting car instead. 5-Mile Rock was an incredibly fast hike so I ended up slightly regretting the early exit.
As I approached the four-wheel drive road for Marble and Cottonwood Canyons, the wind began to pick up.
By time the time I reached my car at the trailhead, the breeze turned into an all-out assault. The Mesquite Dunes, which I had stared at from my car only two days later, were completely obscured by blowing sand. I hopped into my car and drove straight for it.