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Salt Creek Canyon

Wednesday – Sunday, April 30 – May 4, 2014

Salt Creek Canyon. This is a place I have wanted to visit for quite a long time. It’s actually one of the main reasons I decided to get started backpacking a few years ago. I was very excited to finally experience this amazing canyon, and it certainly didn’t disappoint!

I had taken Wednesday off from work so I could spend some time with Diane before leaving and so that I could double-check to make sure I had everything I needed for the trip packed into my backpack and Jeep. In the early afternoon Dave and Jared texted me to let me know they were driving through Price. This was my cue to leave my house so I could meet them in Moab. I arrived about 10 minutes after they did at Pasta Jays, and we had a nice big dinner before driving down to The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park to start our trip. First we dropped off Dave’s Jeep at the locked gate on the road into Salt Creek Canyon. We were hoping we would be able to leave a Jeep at Peekaboo so we could bypass the sand slog at the end of our hike, but as we figured, the road was still closed as it has been for a while now. They loaded their gear into my Jeep and we drove up to the trailhead near Cathedral Butte. We setup camp under the butte and across the road from the trailhead so we could get an early start the following morning. There was a beautiful sunset with plenty of nice clouds this evening. We took a few photos around the area and then warmed up around the fire before getting to bed early.

At the locked gate on the Salt Creek Road. Our journey would end here in four days.

Still Closed by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Nice clouds above the cliffs of Indian Creek Canyon as we turn onto the Cottonwood Canyon Road to reach the trailhead near Cathedral Butte.

Indian Creek Canyon by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

My first campsite of the trip near the upper trailhead.

First Camp by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Great golden light on Cathedral Butte this evening shortly before sunset.

Framed Cathedral by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Cathedral Butte by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The golden light then turned to a beautiful red.

Red Tree by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Cathedral Butte Sunset by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Two-Track Sunset by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

There was a faint sun pillar to the west after the sun dropped below the horizon.

Sun Pillar by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Warming up near the fire this cold evening.

Cathedral Camp by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

It was pretty cold and windy during the night. I think my Jeep said it was in the lower 20’s when we woke up. The temperature really pushed the limits of my 25 degree sleeping bag and my feet were pretty cold in the morning. They would not warm back up until we had hiked a few miles. We left shortly after sunrise and began our descent into the East Fork of Salt Creek on our way to SC1, our first reserved campsite of the trip.

First light of the day over Salt Creek Canyon and Canyonlands before we start our descent into the East Fork.

Salt Creek Canyon by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Hiking in the wash of the East Fork shortly before reaching the park boundary.

In the Wash by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Entering the park. I wonder what previous regulation was removed from the sign?

Canyonlands National Park by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After crossing the marshy area we reached the first small panel of pictographs right next to the trail.

First Panel by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We had to bushwhack through some thick vegetation to reach this nice panel across the creek from Kirk’s Cabin.

Kirks Panel by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Kirks Detail by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We also had a nice view of Kirk Arch nearby.

Kirk Arch by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Inside Kirk’s Cabin.

Inside by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A large piece of corrugated pottery that I found near some small ruins.

Big Sherd by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A smoke-stained ceiling above this small alcove with broken-down walls.

Smoke Stained by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Before heading back to camp for the night I wanted to visit Big Ruins while they were in the shade.

Big Ruins Sunburst by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Big Ruins by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

I’ve seen a lot of pot sherds over the years, but this was probably the largest concentration of large pieces that I have seen.

Pottery by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Metate by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Design by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Kirk’s Cabin in the late evening light.

Cabin Light by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Wheel of a wagon next to the cabin.

Wagon Wheel by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Wildflowers were abundant during our entire hike through the canyon.

Evening Flowers by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

My shadow in the doorway of Kirk’s Cabin.

Doorway Shadow by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A small arch with a shadow near our campsite.

Small Arch by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Stains on the sandstone.

Stains by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A view up canyon shortly before sunset.

Up Canyon by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Light Above by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

My tent at SC1.

SC1 by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The temperature was a bit warmer this night, though still a bit cooler than I would have preferred. Each night would warm up more than the previous on this trip. We were up early again and left camp shortly after sunrise on our way to SC3. It’s really nice backpacking with friends who also like to get up early and get moving shortly after sunrise. I was really looking forward to this day since I have always wanted to see the All American Man and Four Faces pictographs. Both of these panels had been very high on my list of rock art sites to visit and we would be passing by both of them today.

A natural arch visible from the trail.

Salt Creek Natural Arch by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A large path of cactus’s guard the remaining walls of this small ruin.

Cactus Patch by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We made sure to visit Wedding Ring Arch.

Wedding Ring Arch by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A very interesting Barrier Canyon Style pictograph site that I was hoping to find on this trip.

Big Alcove BCS by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Big Alcove Panel by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Anthro & Sheep by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Big Alcove Panel by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Reverse handprints and white dots are abundant in this section of Canyonlands.

Hands & Dots by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Pot sherds and corn cobs.

Corn Cobs & Pot Sherds by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Some of the ruins in this alcove are built on large boulders.

On Top by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

It was cool to finally be able to visit Squash Patch Ruin. The squash plants are still reseeding and growing after all these years.

Squash Patch Ruin by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Day 2 Hiking by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

I stopped to explore a few joints along the trail.

Joint by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Ruins located high in an alcove above a tall crack in the sandstone.

In the Crack by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

I was happy to finally visit the spectacular All American Man pictograph.

All American Man by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Jared stops to pose in front of some nice reflect light.

From the Light by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The Four Faces were just as nice as I had hoped.

Four Faces by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

View over the ruin in front.

The Four Faces by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

One of Four by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Wall by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Besides white dots and reverse handprints, connected triangles were also a common theme along the way.

High Designs by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We climbed up for a closer look at the Two Faces.

Two Faces by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Small by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Eventually we reached the Upper Jump of Salt Creek, which would be the furthest we would go today.

The Upper Jump by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

There was a toad hanging out in the water below the waterfall.

Toad by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We visited a small side canyon to search for more ruins and rock art.

Hidden by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Pictographs by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Dots by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Side Canyon Granary by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Another Granary by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Interesting how they constructed a floor across the gap in the ledge here.

Constructed Floor by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Back-lit cottonwood trees.

Green by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Reflections in Salt Creek.

Reflected Light by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

I visited the Upper Jump in the evening before sunset to take a few photos of the waterfall.

Upper Jump Falls by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Upper Jump by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A beautiful desert oasis.

Upper Jump Pool by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Out of the Crack by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Light on the sandstone formations above camp as the day comes to an end.

End of the Day by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

My tent at SC3.

SC3 by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

On Saturday we left camp early and made our way to the Angel Arch Camp located just past the mouth of Angel Arch Canyon under a few large cottonwood trees. It was very warm in the sun under the mostly cloudless sky which definitely started to drain my energy. We would take a few breaks in the shade throughout the day to cool off and relax.

Hiking on the bench below Upper Jump after leaving SC3.

Below Upper Jump by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Towers by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A few petroglyphs high above the trail that Dave and I climbed up to.

High Petroglyphs by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

On the Trail by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Dave stops to search the canyon walls for ruins.

Dave on the Trail by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A faded pictograph panel found in a larger complex of ruins we visited.

Hand Holding by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

This granary was hidden high up in a cave.

Hidden Cave by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A closer look with some intense reflected light.

High Cave Granary by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Below the ruins the bench was covered with many different kinds and colors of wildflowers. The best wildflower display we would see the whole trip!

Flowers Everywhere by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Wildflowers by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

While photographing the flowers I came across this well-hidden granary in an unusual location. Had I not been checking out the flowers I’m sure we would have missed it.

Hidden Granary by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Faint petroglyphs above.

Upper Petroglyphs by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We eventually reached the intersection with the Angel Arch Trail.

Intersection by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

While setting up camp, we noticed pictographs on these rocks above.

Camp View by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

When Dave and I climbed up there for a closer look, I wasn’t convinced they were authentic. They looked more modern to me.

Closer Look by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We then found our way over to the Bighorn Ruins, which is another large complex of ruins on a high ledge.

Ledge Ruins by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

That’s where I saw a few similar pictographs to the ones we had just visited above our campsite. This made me think that maybe they are authentic?

Similar by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We found something at these ruins that I have not seen before, a constructed staircase. Very unusual!

Staircase by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

At first we thought these ruins were also inaccessible like the Big Ruins, however I managed to find a route up. Unfortunately, it was pretty sketchy and I was only able to make it half-way up. Dave did manage to climb up to the top, though.

Going Up by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

While Dave was visiting the ruins above, I noticed the reverse handprint visible through the window of this structure.

Through the Door by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Here’s a view of the route to the ruins. Dave had a little trouble getting back down and this was taken when he was relieved to make it past the most difficult part.

Route by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Back at Angel Arch Camp.

Angel Arch Camp by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Shortly before sunset I headed out with my camera near camp to photograph reflections.

Sandstone Reflection by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Salt Creek Reflection by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Cottonwood Reflection by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

On Saturday we had been going back and forth on whether or not we wanted to hike to Angel Arch for sunrise the following morning since we would have a long hike back to the Jeep afterwards. In the end we decided it would be stupid not to take the three mile round trip hike to the arch since we were so close. I am glad we made that decision since the clouds in the sky and light on the arch just after sunrise was pretty nice.

Sunlight just touching the top of Angel Arch when I arrived.

First Light by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Molar Rock and Angel Arch in early morning light. What a beautiful scene and great way to start the day!

Angel Arch by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Angel Arch Morning by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After returning to camp and packing up, we started the long hot hike out. Not only would this be the longest day of hiking with our packs on, it was also the warmest. The only saving grace was the overcast sky which stuck around until we reached Peekaboo Spring. Then it was a hot sand slog under the sun.

Hiking under the overcast sky.

Reflection & Dave by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Hiking Out by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We made sure to visit the Flying Carpet pictograph panel on the way.

Flying Carpet Panel by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Cat Man by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

…and of course we stopped to rest and check out the rock art at Peekaboo.

Peekaboo by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After Peekaboo I didn’t take any more photos, I just powered through to reach the Jeep near Cave Spring since I have hiked and driven this section plenty of times in the past. We had to drive back up and get my Jeep from the upper trailhead and then we drove to Moab to finish off the trip with a burger and a Coke from the Blue Pig. Then it was an hour and a half of driving and I was back home again. This was definitely a trip I will not forget!

>> Salt Creek Canyon Photo Gallery


  1. Michael Hubrich
    Michael Hubrich May 27, 2014

    Fantastic pictures. The best one I have evers seen from the all american pictorgaph.
    Thx for showing.

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat May 27, 2014

      Thank you very much, Michael!

  2. Randy
    Randy June 6, 2014

    Outstanding. Great trip report

  3. Rj
    Rj June 3, 2015

    Fantastic adventures, I had no idea the shield pictograph “all American man” was so large! Looks quite big next to the ruin wall, have only seen close ups before.

    Great reading as always, transports me away.

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat June 4, 2015

      Thanks RJ!

  4. Blanka, Czech rep.
    Blanka, Czech rep. October 1, 2015

    Great report, I enjoyed a lot! I have recently visited the Canyonlands and I loved it. I definitelly want to go back one day. But all the country out there is amazing. You are lucky, gyus, to live closer to this hiking paradise…

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