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Sandal hiking 800 miles thru Canyon Country

Post-fall into sandal-stealing mud in Bull Valley Gorge (Photo: Ryan Kodak Brown)

Danielle Vilaplana, aka. Sonic, is a long distance adventurer, trail mapper, and photographer. In this guest post, Sonic tells her story of thru hiking the beautiful and treacherous Hayduke Trail - all in Bedrock Sandals. Named after one of Ed Abbey's more notable characters, the Hayduke Trail, was created to heighten awareness and promote the need to conserve these wild desert landscapes now under threat. Read more for conservation inspiration and be sure to follow Sonic for more tales from the trail. 

You’re walking through Stevens Canyon, a remote stretch of rolling sandstone waves and walls in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, when you happen across a pair of Bedrock and trail running shoe footprints coming from the opposite direction. You and Beans deliberate: to follow your doppelgängers into the alternate reality, or continue on your way to Escalante, UT?

Congratulations; you have reached Level 5 of Hayduke, the video game!  

The Hayduke Trail is a relatively new route, first conceptualized by Joe Mitchell and Mike Coronella in the 1990s. It meanders 800 cross-country miles through southern Utah and northern Arizona, across a multitude of desert landscapes: deep, loamy sand full of cryptobiotic soil; cow-pocketed fields of brittle sagebrush and juniper; slickrock canyons atop rocky, sun-baked washes. We climbed 7000ft to the snowy summit of Mt. Ellen (armed with Peter Zernia’s famed “lobster socks”) and slogged through sandal-hungry quicksand and silt in the Dirty Devil River. The climate changed not only by week or day but by hours, as life blossomed at canyon bottoms but grew silent and perished atop rims and mesas.  

The route is highly regarded - among those who have heard of it - for a beauty that both supersedes and is enhanced by its challenges. Decaying elk and cattle juxtaposed the warm canyon walls and marked the location of ancient petroglyphs. Tree frogs echoed in the alcoves and canyon wrens sang anonymously from the cottonwoods and tamarisk along fading springtime streams.

Love for the desert is tied to such loss, but my awe was often tinged with helpless anger for our stolen public lands in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. This privation is not part of the natural desert cycle, but one of greed and inequality that has no place in the outdoors. The Hayduke was designed to pass exclusively through public lands but it now crosses a patchwork of smaller monuments and no-man spaces waiting stagnantly for mining and development. Perhaps a modern-day Monkey Wrench Gang will slow down the progress, if we are so lucky.

A typical “Joe and Mike Special;” details can be found on an underground indie video game subreddit from 2014


The Hayduke is also notorious for its difficulties, which we began to view as challenges and levels in an underground indie video game. Pools of indeterminate depths beckoned beneath slippery granite slides, and drops of blood led the way up a class-4 chimney. The Dirt Road was saintly for all its banality, as it offered solace from the impassable pour-offs and various Joe and Mike Cliff Specials.

Trail runners are theoretically more sensible shoes for this unforgiving terrain, yet Beans’ were shredded after 300 miles of dry falls and river walks. Peacock replaced his trail runners in Tropic, but my initial pair of Cairn 3Ds made it 650 miles to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. They were in rough shape, to be sure; I knotted the back straps after the pervasive sand destroyed the velcro and the cliffs and chinles had worn my front treads smooth. But following a frantic, low-food sprint to the South Rim market plaza, we made it in time to get all of my resupply essentials: chips, booze, and a badass pair of prototype Bedrocks.

More clambering and mud-wading in Bull Valley Gorge (Photo: Ryan Kodak Brown)

Though there can be more hazards when hiking in sandals, an initial blister and some heel fissures from overuse and the rough terrain were the extent of my foot woes - a far cry from my sneaker-clad days of Ibuprofen and tears on the Continental Divide and Arizona Trails. Thru-hiker posture mandates staring exclusively at the ground so I never stepped in cacti or near a rattlesnake. I did stub my toes, once - buying beer at the Escalante gas station.

Unfortunately I can’t say I’m the first to hike the Hayduke in sandals, though I’ve sent invites out for a Bedrock showdown vs. the big sandal brands, in the Little Colorado River. But I can promise that the Cairn 3Ds killed it on this gear-destroying trail, and that the proto strap I tested in the Grand Canyon is tougher than the earth’s strongest quicksand hugs.

Coyote Buttes: for the hiker who hasn’t had enough risk on the rest of the Hayduke

I believe desert recreation can be measured by the depth of one’s tanlines, and the Hayduke truly extended into Seventh Dimension Fun. These lines will tell the stories of moshes in washes and an Edward Abbey-inspired future of river-running and desert-dwelling - if you can see them, that is, beneath the perpetual dusting of sandy, red earth.

Bedrockin’ through slot canyons in the former Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument

All photos unless credited otherwise taken by and property of Danielle Vilaplana.

6 Responses



August 22, 2019

Hayduke would have hated sandal-wearers.

Mark Roberts

Mark Roberts

April 26, 2019

Great story and great photos!



September 04, 2018

how do yall do this



August 10, 2018

sick article! gotta do some research of my own and check this trail out when i get back to utah

Mark Finster

Mark Finster

July 12, 2018

fun post / great pics / desert FOMO!



July 02, 2018

Those sandals look awesome.

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