Posts Tagged ‘Horseshoe Canyon’

Canyonlands National Park – Access from Hanksville Side

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Canyonlands National Park

A view to the southwest over Canyonlands National Park toward the Henry Mountains.

Canyonlands National Park features more than 337,000 acres of incredibly scenic and colorful landscape.   The park is separated by the Colorado and Green Rivers into three main districts–The Maze, Island in the Sky, and The Needles, plus remote Horseshoe Canyon which is geographically separated.  The two rivers join at the Confluence, and have been a significant force in sculpting the deep sandstone canyons, as well as offering world-class white water adventure.


The confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers inside Canyonlands National Park

Each district in Canyonlands shares remote desert qualities but each also has its own distinct character. There are no roads which connect the districts, so it’s best to settle on a section and plan to spend a few days exploring. The Maze district on the western edge of the park is accessible from Hanksville, and is just one more reason to visit Capitol Reef Country.

Views toward Hanksville, Utah over Canyonlands National Park

The Maze section of Canyonlands is one of the most spectacular and remote wilderness areas in Utah.  Here in The Land of the Sleeping Rocks the Maze is bordered by the Orange Cliffs of Glen Canyon, and is defined by sheer cliffs, canyons, and ravines sculpted by water and gravity.  Strenuous trails lead to Shot Canyon, Water Canyon, Horse Canyon and more.  Four-wheel drive roads in the Maze are extreme.  Flint Trail is one of the most popular, but can be closed during winter and slippery when wet.  Expect to spend several days exploring this area and come well-prepared as there are no amenities such as food, gas, or potable water here (you can find all of this in Hanksville).   Bring at least one full-size spare tire, a high-lift jack, gas, water, and tire chains in the winter.  This section of Canyonlands can be reached from Hanksville via Highway 24 to the unpaved Lower San Rafael Road (County Road 1010), near Goblin Valley. From here, it’s about 48 miles to the Hans Flat Ranger Station, and then another three to six hours to reach the canyons. While it’s generally easy for passenger vehicles to travel the county road, a high-clearance vehicle is required once inside the park. The Hans Flat Ranger Station is open during the day year-round.

Canyonlands National Park Utah

An aerial view over some of the rough and scenic back-country that is found in Canyonlands

Horseshoe Canyon is located northwest of the Maze district and can be reached from the 31-mile unpaved Robbers Roost Road, or from a four-wheel drive track from the Maze. This small district, about five square miles, is well known for its hundreds of ancient Indian pictographs, accessible from a rocky, two-mile spur road that leads into the galleries.  Art lovers, history buffs, and adventurers alike may want to tackle the strenuous 3.25-mile trail that leads to The Great Gallery, showcasing some of the best preserved rock art on the Colorado Plateau. The trail follows a sandy dry wash, and descends 600 feet below the slick-rock canyon rim.  Guided fall season and springtime hikes in Horseshoe Canyon can be arranged through the Maze district.

Horseshoe Canyon

A view of some of the famous Pictographs found in Horseshoe Canyon - Utah

Island in the Sky, Horseshoe Canyon, and the Needles districts are the best options for single day trips.  The Maze is ideal for multi-day to week-long back-country trips, mountain biking, extended hiking, four-wheel adventures, boating on the Colorado River, or rafting on the white waters of Confluence.  Summer and winter temperatures can be extreme, with fluctuations of up to 40 degrees in a single day.  There is no public transportation available to or within Canyonlands National Park.  Back-country permits are required for overnight camping.   Solar power provides all of the electrical needs in Hans Flat.  There are many campsites within the park and the closest to Hans Flat include High Spur (45 minutes); Flint Seep, Happy Canyon and The Neck (1 hour), Golden Stairs (1.5 hours), Panorama Point and Cleopatra’s Chair (2 hours). Campsites from two to 4 hours from the ranger station include Maze Overlook, Ekker Butte, and Teapot Rock.  Chimney Rock, Doll House, Standing Rock, and The Wall all require a five to six hour drive.  There are limited spots at each campsite, and it’s first come, first served.

Read more about Canyonlands – here.

Horseshoe Canyon Utah

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Horseshoe Canyon Utah

Pictographs at Horseshoe Canyon in Utah

Horseshoe Canyon is a detached unit of Canyonlands National Park, located just north of the Maze District. Most famous for its well-preserved prehistoric rock art—some of the best in the U.S.—Horseshoe Canyon also made history as a notorious outlaw hideout in the late 1800s (think Butch Cassidy). The 1900s brought ranchers and prospectors to Horseshoe Canyon. In 1971, it was added to Canyonlands National Park in hopes of preserving its legendary rock art and history. Today, both history buffs and adventurer-seekers come here to hike and horseback through the canyon’s winding maze of sandstone walls for a descent into the prehistoric past.

Even in winter months, Horseshoe Canyon can be a serene adventure.

Hiking through Horseshoe
The trail through Horseshoe Canyon is about 7.5 miles roundtrip from the west rim trailhead, with a 750-foot elevation change. It’s pretty well-marked but reaching the Great Gallery will require stamina—and you’ll be heading up at the end so reserve some energy for the climb. The trail is great for horses, and free permits are available for groups of up to ten people and ten animals from the Hans Flat Ranger Station. Ranger-guided tours are available on weekend mornings from April to October, and are a great way to learn about the canyon’s interesting history without missing a thing.

Spring and fall are ideal seasons for hiking through the cottonwood groves on the tranquil canyon floor. Horseshoe Canyon is accessible year-round but scorching summer temps can be brutal so bring plenty of water and rations, and check weather conditions for flash flood warnings. Overnight camping is not allowed in the section of Horseshoe Canyon located within the Canyonlands boundaries but campers can settle in for the night on the BLM public lands at the west rim trailhead.

Pictographs along the canyon wall in Horseshoe Canyon

The Trail
The trail descends into Horseshoe Canyon along an old 4WD slickrock trail. Easy-to-spot rock cairns guide the way. About a half-mile into the canyon—a hundred yards or so before you reach an old watering trough—you’ll catch your first glimpse of prehistoric interest on the east side of the trail where three 12-inch, 3-toed Allosaurus tracks are visible in a patch of gray shale. You’ll reach the canyon floor after a 1.25-mile descent, then follow Barrier Creek south. The first pictograph site, The High Gallery, will be on an east wall as you approach Water Canyon. Next up: Horseshoe Gallery, located slightly upstream. Spend some Where’s Waldo time searching for hidden pictographs on the west wall. The Alcove Gallery is a half-mile upstream, and shows some graffiti damage from early 20th century cowboys and prospectors.

The Great Gallery
About 1.25 miles from the Alcove Gallery (roughly 4 miles from the trailhead and two to three hours of hiking) you’ll finally reach Horseshoe Canyon’s masterpiece, The Great Gallery. As impressive as a visit to any of the world’s brick and mortar museums—in fact, there are reproductions from The Great Gallery in New York’s Museum of Modern Art and in the Denver Natural History Museum—nothing beats the sense of awe from seeing the real thing right where its prehistoric artists created it. The 200-foot long x 15-foot high panel depicts about 20 life-size anthropomorphic figures, with the largest figuring standing over 7 feet tall. The work of the Desert Archaic Culture, this massive mural dates back between 1,500 and 4,000 years ago and is one of the largest and best preserved examples of Barrier Canyon Style rock art (native to Utah and Colorado) in the U.S. The Great Gallery was likely created over hundreds of years and contains mostly pictographs (painting) and some petroglyphs (etchings). Clay figurines of a similar style, estimated to be about 5,000 to 7,000 years old, have been found in nearby Cowboy Cave.

How to Get There
Horseshoe Canyon is located west of Hanksville, Utah and north of the Canyonlands’ Maze District. You can reach Horseshoe Canyon from Hanksville via a graded dirt road accessible from Highway 24.  A signed turnoff leads to Horseshoe Canyon. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended for the 47-mile drive along a dirt road from Hans Flat Ranger Station to the east rim. Both roads may be impassable during inclement weather, so plan accordingly.

Read more about Horseshoe Canyon here.