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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

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

My first campsite of the trip near the upper trailhead.

First Camp

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

Framed Cathedral

Cathedral Butte

The golden light then turned to a beautiful red.

Red Tree

Cathedral Butte Sunset

Two-Track Sunset

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

Sun Pillar

Warming up near the fire this cold evening.

Cathedral Camp

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

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

In the Wash

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

Canyonlands National Park

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

First Panel

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

Kirks Panel

Kirks Detail

We also had a nice view of Kirk Arch nearby.

Kirk Arch

Inside Kirk’s Cabin.

Inside

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

Big Sherd

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

Smoke Stained

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

Big Ruins Sunburst

Big Ruins

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

Metate

Design

Kirk’s Cabin in the late evening light.

Cabin Light

Wheel of a wagon next to the cabin.

Wagon Wheel

Wildflowers were abundant during our entire hike through the canyon.

Evening Flowers

My shadow in the doorway of Kirk’s Cabin.

Doorway Shadow

A small arch with a shadow near our campsite.

Small Arch

Stains on the sandstone.

Stains

A view up canyon shortly before sunset.

Up Canyon

Light Above

My tent at SC1.

SC1

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

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

Cactus Patch

We made sure to visit Wedding Ring Arch.

Wedding Ring Arch

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

Big Alcove BCS

Big Alcove Panel

Anthro & Sheep

Big Alcove Panel

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

Hands & Dots

Pot sherds and corn cobs.

Corn Cobs & Pot Sherds

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

On Top

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

Day 2 Hiking

I stopped to explore a few joints along the trail.

Joint

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

In the Crack

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

All American Man

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

From the Light

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

Four Faces

View over the ruin in front.

The Four Faces

One of Four

Wall

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

High Designs

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

Two Faces

Small

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

The Upper Jump

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

Toad

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

Hidden

Pictographs

Dots

Side Canyon Granary

Another Granary

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

Constructed Floor

Back-lit cottonwood trees.

Green

Reflections in Salt Creek.

Reflected Light

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

Upper Jump Falls

Upper Jump

A beautiful desert oasis.

Upper Jump Pool

Out of the Crack

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

End of the Day

My tent at SC3.

SC3

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

Towers

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

High Petroglyphs

On the Trail

Dave stops to search the canyon walls for ruins.

Dave on the Trail

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

Hand Holding

This granary was hidden high up in a cave.

Hidden Cave

A closer look with some intense reflected light.

High Cave Granary

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

Wildflowers

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

Faint petroglyphs above.

Upper Petroglyphs

We eventually reached the intersection with the Angel Arch Trail.

Intersection

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

Camp View

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

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

Ledge Ruins

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

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

Staircase

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

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

Through the Door

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

Back at Angel Arch Camp.

Angel Arch Camp

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

Sandstone Reflection

Salt Creek Reflection

Cottonwood Reflection

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

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

Angel Arch

Angel Arch Morning

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

Hiking Out

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

Flying Carpet Panel

Cat Man

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

Peekaboo

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

8 Comments

  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…

  5. Mike Cassidy
    Mike Cassidy December 10, 2018

    Great photos! How was the drive out to Cathedral trailhead zone (how was the Beef Basin Rd.?)

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat December 10, 2018

      Thanks. The road out to the Cathedral TH is usually pretty easy. The only time I had an issue was when it was raining and very slippery out.

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