What do you think of when you hear about the Wild West? Tumbleweeds, outlaws and cattle rustling? Well, this lore is true on the Colorado Plateau in Utah. Here, those stories aren’t just Hollywood fiction- they are history and reality. However, the landscape here in canyon country is different than what is usually portrayed on the silver screen. The pinnacles, alcoves and sheer walls of rock surrounding you in a canyon are amazing. Down in the canyons near the Dirty Devil River, you can watch peregrine falcons dive down along the crazy steep canyon walls. The often hard-to-find paths to get in and out can be nerve wracking, but that is all part of the fun when backpacking along the Dirty Devil River! The narrow trails and the remoteness of this area are probably why outlaws holed up here. The Wild Bunch—Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid and the rest of their gang—often used Robbers Roost, a side canyon that joins the Dirty Devil River, to hide rustled horses and cattle.
I was able to walk in the outlaws’ footsteps through some of the most beautiful, awesome and remote areas in Utah. The trail we took to get down to the Dirty Devil River and its adjoining canyons is named Angel Trail. In the book, The Wild Bunch at Robbers Roost, one of the outlaws who taught young Butch Cassidy the outlaw trade “insisted it took wings to get over it.” I think that he offered quite an accurate description—it has steep slick rock slopes that I can’t imagine herding dozens of horses down.
Although I may have a hard time envisioning life in the West, the members of the Wild Bunch had an extensive knowledge of this place from living here that helped them to evade authorities in the late 1800’s. Robbers Roost—where they often hid—has a view of the surrounding area. It’s perfect for outlaws on the lookout for an incoming posse and is a good incentive to get to know a place like the back of your hand. I’m sure the authorities looking for the Wild Bunch wished they had that advantage!
As a visitor to these canyons, I can’t fully imagine what it took to live in this remote region of the southwest. However, many people have and still do call this beautiful place home: Native Americans, early pioneers, ranchers, miners, and—last but not least—the outlaws who became icons of the West.