Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Horseshoe Canyon

Dean and I each have bucket lists...things we really want to do before we can't...whenever that is! Horseshoe Canyon Hike in Southern Utah has been on his for a couple of years now.

Access isn't easy...just off of Highway 24 near Goblin Valley you'll travel on a mostly graded dirt road for about 30 miles. The road is almost passable with a two-wheel drive vehicle depending on the road conditions, but Dean was real happy we were driving the Big Truck. You will most likely not pass a soul...well maybe a cow soul. That's it! You'll notice I used a lot of ambiguous words like mostly, almost, and most likely...that's exactly how this hike rolls.

Once you arrive there is a great information kiosk at the trailhead, but literally nothing else to let you know you are driving the right direction. Dean and Chet are making sure we check in. In the very recent past, a couple people have passed away attempting this hike...either getting lost or not having enough water. So it's always a good idea to sign the trail log.

Exact dates unknown...but human presence in Horseshoe Canyon has been dated as far back as 7000-9000 B.C.  Later inhabitants included the Desert Archaic culture, the Fremont culture, and Ancenstral Pueblo People. It is believed that the canyon was abandoned by Native American peoples by 1300 A.D.

Ancient people hunted large mammals such as Mastodons and Mammoths across the region. This is a dinosaur print preserved in the rock. The tracks are thought to belong to an Allosaurus which was the most common carnivore to exist during the time these tracks were formed.

It's easy to see how someone could get lost on this trail if you weren't paying close attention. There are cairns placed frequently along the rocky trail to help you out.

A steep hike down 780 feet into the river bed means a steep hike out at the end. Make certain to save some energy and water for that!

The hike isn't really that long, about 8 miles round trip...

depending how far you go up the river bed.

But don't be fooled! Nearly the entire time you are sloshing and slumping through loose red sand, which makes 8 miles feel more like 12 when you are done.

The views up the canyon walls are stunning. However the views alone are not the enticement for this particular hike.

The first gallery of pictographs are high on the east canyon wall. So high that we missed them on the hike in, didn't see them at all until we were hiking out. The three of us made all sorts of speculation as to HOW and WHY the ancient people painted these figures in this location. Did they rope down from the top or build scaffolding up from the bottom?

The next site called Horseshoe Gallery is a little bit hidden as well. Look on the left...there is ancient man's best friend. 

These vivid pictographs were probably our favorite. The art in Horseshoe Canyon is primarily pictograph...painted on the rock surface. Which is unlike petroglyphs that are carved into the rock.

Because paint is less durable than carving...pictographs are rarer since they are more likely to fade away under intense desert sun. Which makes the amazing images that remain on Horseshoe Canyon walls even more special. "Hunter shoot wild animals with big horns and tiny tail."

There is talk...that the artists who painted these pictographs might even be from another planet. I mean...I'm not saying this is an alien...but...!

Just a little further into the hike we came upon the Alcove Gallery...aptly named because it was in this cool little alcove.

We didn't miss this one because there was a giant cairn marking the location.

These pictographs looked entirely different than the other sets. We decided they must be painted by different ancient people.

Alcove Gallery has incurred both natural and man-made damages to the site. Oil drillers and cowboys from the early 1900's carved their names into the wall next to the pictographs. And who knows what lies beneath some of the crumbled debris from the falling canyon walls

About another mile further, we found the treasure of this canyon...The Great Gallery. The most photographed and reproduced panel in the canyon. The Museum of Modern Art in New York even has a reproduction of this panel.

We met a volunteer Park Ranger along the trail who scoffed at us for not bringing our binoculars. But who needs them...

there are existing binoculars at the site chained to a log that you can borrow. Take that Mister Park Ranger.

The Great Gallery displays dozens of detailed, intricate and even mysterious pictographs in different shades of red, brown and even some white.

They range in size with some up to 8 feet tall and extend across the canyon wall for over 200 feet.
The images are truly stunning. You have to wonder what it all means? Who put it here and how long ago? There are so many details you could study the panels for hours and still discover more.

This part of the panel is known as the Holy Ghost...with one distinctly looking spiritual figure among the others. Chet transcended their culture and flashed the figures an ancient gang sign or something like that.

We thought the Holy Ghost could use a little Jiggystick in that hot desert sun.

Oh hello ancient archaic desert dwellers who left us these cryptic drawings.

It was a fantastic that I highly recommend. We saw very few other hikers that day, which makes the hike even more enjoyable as you soak in the serenity of this ancient place.

Just don't forget to follow the cairns on the way in and out and remember your Jiggystick too! 

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