UTAH April 28- May 13, 2015
Drive from Vancouver Island to Green River, Wyoming over 2 days. Note that to do any of these trips requires much more information than I have provided – most available in Michael Kelsey’s Non-technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau, 6th edition.
1. Flaming Gorge Recreation Area. Drive and checked out lake and campgrounds. Camped commercial camp ground in Green River but the Recreation Area campground half way down Flaming Gorge would have been a much better choice.
2. VERNAL, UTAH AREA
a. McKonkie Ranch Rock Art. This was in National Geographic a few years ago. Two trails. The Three Kings panel is hard to find and high on a wall – best seen with binoculars. Great anthropomorphs – unusual amount of jewelry with earrings, great necklaces, clothing, antennae coming out of heads.
b. Dinosaur National Monument: McKee Springs Rock Art (Island Park Rock Art Panels in the north part of DNM), Josie Basset Ranch (great cabin, spring, grounds of a woman who lived in the middle of nowhere for 50 years alone until almost 90 years of age, hiked to end of Box Canyon behind ranch) and 3 petroglyph panels (first has Petroglyph sign and pull out – good anthropomorphs, second has pullout but no petroglyph sign – many lizards including a 3’ long one, third has no pull out or sign and figures can be easily seen from road) on way to ranch, Quarry Visitors Center.
3. CANON PINTADA NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK. A drive along Highway 139 south of Dinosaur, Colorado to see a potential 7 rock art sites. Saw East Four Mile, State Bridge and Kokopelli (best and only one very worthwhile).
I did not go to Fantasy Canyon or the Nine Mile Canyon Rock Art Tour as have seen both before, but these would be great additions of wanting to spend more time in the area.
4. MOAB. Stayed Slickrock Campground. Moab very busy (as always) so best to make reservations even in the campgrounds. Campgrounds along Colorado River most peaceful but all full.
a. Pritchard Canyon and Snake Petroglyph. Parked at bottom of Pritchard and walked up about 2 hours without finding petroglyph (only instruction was a nice long hike). This is the most difficult of the off-road vehicle routes and the site of the Jeep Jamboree in the fall. Incredible drops. Can avoid the road by walking in creek. Big impressive canyon with high walls, fins and side canyons coming in from east.
5. NEEDLES DISTRICT OF CANYONLANDS NP
Camped in Squaw Flats campground – first-come-first-serve – very nice.
The plan for the first day was to drive Horse Canyon but road to Peekaboo was impassable as was road in Canyon so impossible to get there. I would never come here again in the spring to do Salt Creek and explore Elk Plateau because of elevation and road problems (of course in dry years, it might be fine but Elk Plateau of often difficult before June and nobody hikes here June to August because of the heat and bugs)
a. Cave Spring Loop Trail – .6 km via cowboy camp, minor pictographs and interesting geology. Scenic Loop Trail – 4 km flat trail to 4 scenic view points.
b. VIRGINIA PARK
Always impossible for cows to get into,it was never grazed. Considered by NPS to be a special place as is most pristine place in Needles and the Colorado Plateau. Never promoted, won’t be mentioned, not on any maps, few people know about it. Illegal to go into and so if go, must stay on trail and not wander around. The NPS tries to keep hikers out by knocking down all cairns so there are no trail markers.
I am not going to give the routes to get into the park, but simply will give my observations on how we did following the instructions I had (which were accurate but minimalist).
Northern Entrance. After 20 minutes walking from the first waypoint, found correct creek, no cairns and not a footprint anywhere on the way to the entrance. Hiker’s “trail” bushy, over rocks and minimal evidence of use. Straight ahead is a “split” in wall but the real entrance is the “split” to the north. Tend to the right going up. Raining so lichen covered slick rock and two moki steps virtually impossible to get to and we were unable to get up. So wandered around to the north to the next “split”, climbed much higher than the actual north entrance and then had a difficult descent in to the park chimneying down two steep places. Walked in creek next to rock (to stay off the cryptobiotic crust and up to the sign at the real north entrance. Trail through Virginia Park very minimal, no footprints, overgrown and no evidence of use for a long time. My impression is that nobody enters V.P. this way. Kelsey describes the other entrance is in the SE part of V.P., but it is clearly in the SW part. The “trail” followed the creek and then reappeared lower, passing by a monitoring station with a solar panel, batteries and white plastic tubes marking study areas. In the middle of the park, there was what looked like a satellite transceiver but we stayed away from there. There are apparently monitors that detect people coming in but we could see none of these (the information center states that they have a counter that tells the number of people entering). Virginia Park has more grass, dense cryptobiotic crust, small prickly pear cactus and the most noticeable – flowers, than elsewhere in the Colorado Plateau. It is important to stay on the minimal trail and off anywhere else. Best views are from the south side. The trail is very minimal and sketchy as it gets very little traffic.
Southwest Entrance. By heading SW we followed the trail right to the entrance of the tunnel, the sign, down the creek with the pour-off, and after 15 minutes encountered the main creek. There were no cairns anywhere. Looking up the creek from here gives no evidence that there are “needles” or anything special upstream. Footprints increased significantly as we got to the Joint Trail. Many went up a small creek well before the correct one as people search for the right canyon. By the time we returned to Squaw Flats CG, it was a 12-hour, 20-mile hike. Getting into the proper north entrance in dry weather would have saved an hour or so.
c. Lost Canyon/Peekaboo Springs Trail. I walked Lost Canyon (great canyon with huge pools and running water, groves cottonwood) returning via Squaw Canyon. Susan went to Peekaboo, saw the mediocre pictograph and walked out the road to the highway. This took 1½ hours, very sandy, full of big pools of water and impassable and then hitchhiked back to campground.
SALT CREEK. This is a great canyon with good scenery, year-around running water, ruins, pictographs and an old homestead. Angel Arch is said to be the most beautiful arch in the world. We had reserved SC2 and SC4 campsites for May 6 and 7.
It had rained for the previous 3 days, lightly for two but very heavy during the early morning of the day we were to start and were told at the Backcountry Desk at the Needles Visitors Center that the road to Cathedral Buttes and the trailhead would be impassable so cancelled our reservations. I will only come here in the fall next time I try to do this canyon.
5. BLANDING – Edge of the Cedars State Park. We stayed at the Prospector Motel (old dark brick motel at south end of Blanding) and went to the great state park, really a museum.
Natural Bridges National Monument. The campground is always full so left early to get a campsite on a cold, windy wet day. We basically lazed around and got ready to start the 5-day backpack in Grand Gulch the next day.
6. GRAND GULCH – Bullet Canyon to Collin’s Spring – May 9-13
Normally almost everyone arranges a shuttle leaving a vehicle at one end or the other, but we had none and were warned that it could be very difficult to get out of Collins Springs.
DAY 1. Get to Kane Gulch Ranger Station at 8am or earlier on the day of the trip (highway 261 – 4 miles south of highway 950) to get 2 permits of 8 available ($8 per person) on a first-come-first-serve basis. 20 total permits per day. 12 reservable.
Bullet Canyon TH (1950m) – Drive along Hwy 261 to between mile posts 21 and 22 and road #251. Turn west and drive 3kms to trailhead.
Moon Kiva opposite where first enter Bullet (3 white 12” round circles above ruin).
Hike down canyon 9kms (4 hours) to Perfect Kiva in a north amphitheater along a southeast-facing alcove (one alcove east of Jailhouse Ruin). A Wetherill 1894 inscription etched in an ax-grinding groove on a large sandstone boulder at Perfect Kiva has been recently obliterated. Inside the kiva on the plaster wall is the name C. C. Graham of the same expedition. 10 minutes below that Jailhouse Ruin with two moons, a half moon and star, the wood cross in the window of the upper ruin now gone so does not look like a “jail” anymore. Confluence with Grand Gulch 50 minutes down canyon. 11.6km total.
CAMP 1. Bullet/Grand Gulch confluence. Mile 15.6/Km 25.1. NB all mileages refer to Grand Gulch main canyon from Kane Gulch Ranger Station.
Shiek’s Canyon and Green Mask Spring – walk 2.3km up GG and then .3km up Shiek’s. Four distinct styles of rock art: 1. High above talus and to right is a small, solitary green mask. This well executed image was painted in at least four colors on a carefully smoothed surface high above the current floor of the alcove. The face itself is decorated with alternating horizontal bands of green and yellow. The hair, painted in red, displays two side bobs outlined in white pigment. 2. Large upper panel has very unusual geometric designs. 3. Lower portion has Basketmaker anthropomorphs in groups with stylized heads painted in white and vary from faint to very faint. The very faintest are over painted in red. Also painted hand-prints.
Totem Pole 29.1km.
Green House Canyon. Green Canyon Spring .3km from trail on north. 400m up is structure in upper left that is small and not worthwhile visiting.
Step Canyon 31.4km. Step Spring 1.3km upcanyon. Wetherill signatures.
Pictographs just above mouth of Step Canyon on west: Quail Panel – 3-ft painting of quail complete with a topknot and a green and brown eye. The eye is oversized and a dramatic perfect circle. Yellow men with brown duck heads, green men with arcs for heads, a crouching, side view anthropomorph, some very faint white anthropomorphs, a little brown anthropomorph in side view holding an atlatl half again his height, lots of brown handprints and a corn plant. Off to right is intense red and white mask.
Two Tier Ruin. East of mouth of Step Canyon high on ledge. Granary on opposite wall.
Dripping Canyon 35.9km. Spring 1.3km. Just inside on west: Bird Panel pictographs some looking like birds or ducks. Wetherill signatures. I could not find this.
Cow Tank Canyon 36.7km. Spring 1.3km. 450m up is overhang with rock art. Wetherill signatures.
Long House Ruin. Well preserved 25m long structure on ledge on right out of view of the trail in the arroyo. Group of white dots, green men and a large duck.
CAMP 2. Mouth of unnamed canyon with Birds and Hands Panel (many birds and few anthromorphs) about 500m up canyon on west wall. I walked all the way up canyon to a large pour-off and then saw the several panels south of deep alcove on the west wall on my way back. We had wasted a lot of time trying to find things so camped here instead of Polly’s Canyon, our original planned camp 2.
Big Man Panel 39.7km. Cairns in creek led to a steep access up slickrock and around to north on good cairned trail to this spectacular panel located in shady overhang in north facing alcove on east side. Easy to miss. One of the figures has a waist decoration similar to the large anthropomorphs on the San Juan River at Butler Wash confluence. Skirt? Both figures have round heads, ghostly eyes and pigtail hair. Their shoulders are broad and square. Man has testicles and penis. Handprints, smaller anthropmorphs, geometric figures and tallylines.
We walked only about 5 kms today. Susan got lost, I waited for her for 3 hours then decided to return to Polly’s Island as there was a lot of water in the main canyon in large potholes and I wanted to go up Polly’s Canyon to find the ruin.
Polly’s Canyon 42km – arch on east wall 5 minutes up canyon. Polly’s Spring .2km but could not find spring. I walked about 1½ hr up canyon about 10 minutes past confluence where canyon separates into two relatively equal canyons into west tributary. There is a relatively good trail or walking on rock all the way but a bypass on left side where canyon narrows and full of big rocks in the most impressive alcove on the way up (I missed this trail on the way up but took it on the way down). About half way up Polly’s Canyon, 500m below the second main confluence is a big Anasazi site with a well-preserved kiva. It is well hidden and only visible from above. I could not find it.
The canyon was full of water. I almost walked into a bee swarm (when the hive gets too full, it splits and heads off to a new pre-scouted home).
CAMP 3. Polly’s Island 42.2km. 2 sites: one behind a big rock on the north side of the rincon, another just under the rim facing east (can be seen from the top of the Government Trail which enters right at the island). This latter ruin looks like it would be possible to climb up to but I did not try. The rangers used a 16’ foot ladder to reach this. There are other ruins and petroglyphs on top of island. Panel of 54 hands on SW corner. I walked all the way around the island but only the south side is relatively accessible. Very bushy with gullies on west and north side so unable to find anything on this side. I would avoid walking around as there are almost no trails. Large petroglyph panel like ‘Newspaper Rock’ on east side (I could not find this). Many densely packed figures of varying ages. Some very faint. Near is a very faint, heavily patinated Archaic Style Panel.
Pump House Ruin. Three very well preserved buildings with good horse-collar doors, a large granary to the right and large round granary to the left. Below on west wall panel with large yellow “stick men” and other figures together Above is a four-foot high red clay anthropomorph.
Big Pour Off Spring 47.1km.
Deer Canyon 49.9km. Deer Canyon Spring – 8km. Four sites in the north fork: 2 down low, 1 near the rim with rim access only and another group of 5 roof-less granaries at the top of a chute 1km up the north fork. I only walked about 100m up canyon to a poor ruin on the east wall.
Bannister Ruin 53.1km. Double-decker ruin, upper inaccessible. Well-preserved walls and intact doors. Two wooden beams in front of dwelling appear to form banisters. Lower enclave has a kiva that could be mistaken for an oven or kiln as square and above-ground (area chained off and not accessible). Roof completely intact and no ladder. Faint petroglyphs and pictographs all around the ruin. Best picture of ruin is to shoot down from opposite rim (walk downstream 100yds and climb up the rocks, heading back to the dwelling)
Red shield in south facing alcove just before Bannister Spring. I did not find.
Bannister Spring 53.6km
4 large Basketmaker anthropomorphs and some smaller Puebloan ones at a site before Collins Canyon. In a Rincon just before the side canyon numerous figures are found, including ducks, a Kokopelli, atlatls, and large white anthropomorphs. 15.7km total.
COLLINS CANYON. The original plan was to camp at Collins Canyon and have a long day-hike down canyon the next day but I arrived at 3pm, left a note for Susan and walked the 3.2kms up Collin’s Canyon. Two large pour-offs to walk around, a cowboy camp with tons of old stuff in alcove on right and Collins Spring on right (20m long trough, lots of cow shit and constant drip from edge with sign that says water I not tested for human consumption). Arrived at parking area at 5pm, tried to talk two hikers at the parking lot to drive me to the nearest road for $20 (both refused) and then walked the 10.2km on the road out to highway 276 to Hall’s Crossing. Got a ride with 2 girls from Salt Lake and tried hitchhiking until dark and then slept in the ditch. Up at 6:30, I finally got a ride at 8:30 from 3rd vehicle that went by (after pleading with him to give me a ride) to Highway 291 junction. Here was picked up by Susan who had caught a ride with a fellow who shuttles hikers around to all the trailheads and was at Collins TH by mistake, to the Kane Gulch Ranger Station). He then drove us to the Bullet Canyon TH to pick up my truck.
Directions to Collins Spring TH. Drive west of Natural Bridges along highway 276 and near mile post 51, turn south on road #218/260 and drive 10kms to trailhead.
We then started the long drive home: From Kane Gulch – to Hanksville, through Capital Reef NP, I-15 through Salt Lake City (motel at Snowman Pass), I-84 to north of Pendleton, Oregon, I-82 to Ellensburg, WA, I-90 to Seattle (bypassed Seattle at rush hour on 405), and I-15 to Peace Arch Crossing. Caught the 8:15pm ferry from Tawassan to Duke Point, dropped Susan off at home and drove into my apartment parkade at midnight. I cleaned up most of my stuff and stowed it away before going to bed at 3am.
DOWNSTREAM FROM COLLINS CANYON. Our original plan was to go as far down canyon as possible and return as a day-hike but decided not to do – will save for a future trip. I will include it here for information sake.
The Narrows 58.4km. Abandoned meander has pictographs at lower end on right: small anthropomorph groups with linked hands, bird, a quadraped
60km: past a gooseneck, many handprints right
Big Panel 61.3km: panel on right with 30 anthropomorphs representing various styles and epochs of painting: white (several outlined by dots instead of lines, others decorated with dots; large faint white ones decorated with dots, necklaces, belts, horns, head attachments, brown lines, zigzags above the head and solid painted areas, only two have eyes), red (3 small with stylized heads are Puebloan), yellow, orange, brown and green. Birds superimposed on several figures (brown group of smaller animals and anthropomorphs). Two medium athropomorphs with long, thin necks and round heads have large, oversized hands with three digits. Most of the large white anthropomorphs are armless. Four small anthropomorphs are simple stick men. Several brown handprints and few geometrics finish the large and busy scene.
Red, White and Blue Panel 63km: Grand Gulch’s largest panel. Fills alcove on right. Array of many pictographs and few faint, Archaic petroglyphs. Ravens, long-legged and legless birds, bighorn sheep, and other mammals, lines of racing stick figures in side profile, a footprint atlatls waving lines, raked lines, circles, possible chili peppers, small solid painted anthropomorphs, outlines anthropomorphs dot group headdresses, and a quadripartite blue and white circle all surround the two large anthropomorphs, each with an upraised arm. The large, rounded heads look like space helmets. One has 28 dots in 8 rows for a headdress. A small red anthropomorph with crosses for hands and feet adjoins this figure. To the right the base of a triangular anthropomorph with a 25-dot headdress and three elongated fingers is connected to the head of another. Most of panel painted in white. Blue, browns and reds also employed. 1km above Water Canyon.
With fewer springs and less hospitable canyon down stream, less evidence of prehistoric occupation occurs.
Water Canyon. Some running water and one set of ruins 1km up canyon.
Red Man Canyon 68.6km. Nearby panel plus second panel nearby downstream. Below are ruins, pictograph and 1894 signatures.
Shaw (Grand?) Arch 72.4km. Halfway between Collins and San Juan River. Rock art all over the place. Good place to get to the San Juan. Below Shaw walking is fast and easy. 29km total return from Collin’s Canyon
Shangrila Canyon. Last big tributary coming from the east before the river. Water starts to flow. Boulder fields to walk through.
Last Fork Canyon. 2 kms above San Juan on west. Can exit here and walk cross-country back to Collins.
San Juan River 83.2km.