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Lower Grand Gulch

Wednesday – Sunday, April 22-26, 2015

It seems to have become an annual spring tradition for Jared, Dave and myself to plan a backpacking trip in late April or early May to southern Utah in search of ancient ruins and rock art. This year we decided to spend three nights in lower Grand Gulch. I left from work on Wednesday afternoon and drove straight down to Cedar Mesa where I met up with Dave and Jared in our usual camp spot. We sat around the fire to catch up and tentatively worked out some plans for the next few days before getting into our sleeping bags shortly after darkness set in for the night.

I’ve driven by Church Rock countless times, but the light was looking nice this time so I stopped for a quick photo.

Church Rock by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Driving through Comb Ridge before climbing up to the top of Cedar Mesa.

Comb Ridge by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A lone tree that caught my attention in the late afternoon light near our campsite.

Cedar Mesa Tree by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Ready to get some sleep in luxury before we set out into Grand Gulch.

Coyote Flat Camp by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

On Thursday morning we were up early to break down camp and made it over to the Kane Gulch Ranger Station before they opened at 8:00am so we could get our permits first thing. We watched the required video, inquired about water in the canyon and then drove around the head of Grand Gulch to the Collins Canyon trailhead on the other side. They didn’t have much information about water in the lower section of the canyon, but the little information they had sounded promising. We were originally a little concerned that finding water in this area might be an issue with the hot and dry year we’ve had so far, but those concerns were unfounded and we easily found plenty of water throughout the canyon. The drive to Collins Canyon was quicker than I remembered it being and we were hiking down towards it’s confluence with Grand Gulch in no time. We made sure to stop by the cowboy camp on the way down and then dropped our backpacks when we reached Grand Gulch so we could hike upstream to visit Bannister House Ruin and a few other rock art sites.

Historic relics from the cowboy camp in Collins Canyon.

Can & Jars by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Columbine Milk by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Dave checks out their cold storage cellar.

Cowboy Camp Exploring by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We visited a few nice rock art sites on our way to Bannister House.

Reclined by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

This is one of the largest handprints I’ve ever seen. It’s about the same size as my hand.

Big & Small by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Small guy carrying a big bird.

Big Bird Carrier by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Pictographs of birds are common in Grand Gulch.

Many Birds by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A nice granary we passed but were unable to climb up to.

Inaccessible Granary by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A two-headed pictograph.

Two Heads by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

I liked the painted designs on these petroglyphs.

Decorated by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Finally we reached the impressive Bannister House Ruins. Aside from passing a few people in Collins Canyon, this is the only place we would run into other people the entire trip.

Bannister House by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

While we were at Bannister House the wind picked up and the sky grew dark so we quickly started back down the canyon to our packs hoping they wouldn’t get soaked by rain! Luckily it only rained briefly and not hard enough to get our packs wet. Next time we will have to leave them in an area protected from possible rain storms no matter how nice it looks out. After having a snack we continued downcanyon to visit a few more ruins and rock art sites and look for a campsite for the night. We ended up having a difficult time finding a decent campsite in this part of the canyon and had to settle for a grassy site downstream from the mouth of Water Canyon and got setup just before dark. We had a pretty long day and hiked quite a bit longer and further than we had planned, so I wasn’t feeling the greatest this evening since I had pushed myself pretty hard throughout the day. I skipped dinner since I wasn’t hungry at all and went to bed right after my tent was setup. I pretty much fell right asleep and slept through the night until the sun came up the next morning.

Hiking through The Narrows into lower Grand Gulch.

The Narrows by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

One of my favorite pictograph panels we visited on this trip.

Holding Hands by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Daisy Chain by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

This shallow alcove near the trail had a bunch of handprints.

Grand Gulch Handprints by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

These figures were near the handprints.

Red Men by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Dave and Jared hike ahead of me as we keep on the lookout for rock art and a decent campsite.

Onward by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Following the trail.

Trail by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Hiking below the towering canyon wall.

Undercut by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We found a few interesting pictographs on the ceiling of this alcove.

Alcove View by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Colorful pictographs on a ledge above the wash.

Ledge Pictographs by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

White & Yellow Panel by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We eventually reached the Big Panel, which I have read might be the largest pictograph panel in Grand Gulch. We had hoped to camp near here, but really didn’t find a good spot nearby that wasn’t overgrown.

A small lineup on the way to the Big Panel.

Lineup by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Life-sized figures are there to greet you when you reach the panel. It’s easily seen from the canyon bottom, but the view is much better if you climb up near them.

Greetings by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Red Guy by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

White Sheep by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Big Panel by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Two Birds by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Long Legs by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Here is Jared next to the panel to add some scale.

Scale by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Evening light in the Grand Gulch.

Evening Gulch by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Last light and cloudy skies from our campsite.

Touch of Light by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

When I woke up on Friday morning I was feeling much better after a good long night of sleep. We had a little breakfast, packed up camp and then hiked up nearby Water Canyon to do a little exploring. We found a little rock art, the remains of some structures and an inscription by someone with the last name of ‘Billings’ from Feb. 22, 1894, but not much else. We were hoping to visit another ruin in this canyon but were unable to climb up to the area we thought it was located in since we lacked the required climbing abilities. After leaving Water Canyon we grabbed our packs again and continued downcanyon to Shaw Arch where we would camp for our second night.

The alcove in Water Canyon that contained a little rock art, these foundations and the 1894 inscription.

Water Canyon Alcove by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Exploring Water Canyon.

Tunnel by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Back in Grand Gulch on our way to Shaw Arch.

Lower Grand Gulch by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We stopped to visit the red man of Redman Canyon.

Redman by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Another alcove we explored along the way. Again, there were a few foundations here and some faint rock art, but the most interesting thing was another inscription from Feb. 22, 1894. This one was made by J.L. Ethridge. Since it was created on the same date as the one we saw earlier in Water Canyon I did a little research when I returned home and found that they were made during the Hyde Exploring Expedition led by Richard Wetherill.

Alcove Exploring by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Soon we reached Shaw Arch and checked out all the rock art in the immediate area.

Under Shaw Arch by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Hard to see ‘lizard men’ petroglyphs near the arch.

Faint Lizard Men by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

There seemed to be handprints everywhere we looked around the arch.

Multi-Color Handprints by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

While the handprints are cool, I found the streaks to the left of them interesting. It sort of looks like someone blew paint along the wall to create the streaks?

Streaks by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After setting up camp near the arch and relaxing in the shade for a bit, we wandered across the canyon to search for some other pictographs, including this fading design.

Fading Design by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The view back to Shaw Arch from across the canyon.

Shaw Arch by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

It was a steep climb up to a massive alcove to visit these pictographs.

High Alcove Panel by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

One last view from under Shaw Arch, also known by some as Grand Arch and Wetherill Arch.

Shaw Arch View by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The following morning (Saturday) we left our camp setup and hiked to an amazing kiva hidden nearby in a large alcove that still has it’s original ladder poles in place. It was a very special place and one of the best untouched kiva’s that I have ever visited.

Dave hikes ahead under gray skies.

Down Canyon by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The amazing kiva with original ladder poles still in place.

Grand Gulch Kiva by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

One of the largest corncobs I have found.

Big Corncob by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

There were also a lot of nice large potsherds around.

Broken Pieces by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A closer look at the entrance of the kiva.

Original by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A little spotlight in the alcove as a storm blows in. We waited for a short rainstorm to end before leaving.

Alcove Spotlight by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Lower Grand Gulch.

Canyon Walls by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Raindrops on wildflowers we hiked past on our way back to Shaw Arch. Wildflowers were plentiful in the canyon during the entire trip.

Rain Drops by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Wildflower by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Jared and Dave hiking ahead of me back to Shaw Arch.

Lower Gulch by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

When we returned to camp, we packed up and started hiking back up the canyon to try and find an alternate way back to the trailhead. We thought we had read that there might be a way out of Redman Canyon, but we found it impassable to us and had to abandon those plans. While we were searching Redman Canyon for an exit it started raining again and got a bit windy, but we waited the storm out in an alcove and it ended shortly after.

A small granary we passed on the way back up Grand Gulch that had a nice little garden growing in front.

Garden Granary by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Plenty of water was found along the way. We explored the unnamed side canyon on the left of this photo and have since learned that it may be known as Rope Canyon and could offer a route out of the canyon, but we didn’t know that then…

Pool by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The storm moves in as we approach Redman Canyon.

Storm Moving In by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

More bird pictographs in Redman Canyon found in the alcove we waited out the storm in.

Birds by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Since we couldn’t find an alternate route out of Grand Gulch this time we decided to cut our losses and start returning the way we had come. We ended up setting up camp at a nicer site near the mouth of Water Canyon this time and got our tents setup just before it started to rain again.

It would rain on and off throughout the night, but finally stopped before we woke up in the morning before sunrise on Sunday morning. Luckily, we would only have to deal with wet rainflys this one time on the trip. We had a quick breakfast and packed up camp. Today would be a shorter day since we all still had to drive back home, so we put on our packs and hiked out at a good pace without stopping to revisit any sites. We did make one rest stop after reaching Collins Canyon, but other than they we hiked out non-stop and made pretty good time. As we were hiking out of Collins Canyon the sky grew dark again and the wind picked up. The temperature dropped quickly and for the first time on the trip I was a little cold. Good thing we were almost back to the Jeep at that point. After totaling up my GPS tracks from the trip, we ended up hiking about 45 miles over the past three and a half days.

Sunrise from our camp at the mouth of Water Canyon.

Water Camp Sunrise by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

There was nice spotlight on the canyon walls during our hike out.

Storm Light by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Overhang by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Nice clouds above.

Nice Clouds by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

This ruin blends in nicely with the surrounding sandstone.

Room Block by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Back Up the Gulch by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The drive home was filled with frequent rain, hail and wind with much cooler temperatures. It appears that we got out of the canyon at just the right time!

Nice sky over Grand Flat looking towards the Red House Cliffs and Navajo Mountain.

Grand Flat Sky by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Leaving Collins Canyon and the Grand Gulch behind while driving towards Moss Back on my way home.

The Road Home by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

I think it goes without saying, but it was an awesome trip! We hiked a lot and my legs were tired when we got back, but it was well worth the effort.

>> Lower Grand Gulch Photo Gallery


  1. carol newton
    carol newton May 6, 2015

    Wonderful discription of your trip…I loved the pictures, felt as if I were there.. Thank you for sharing..

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat May 6, 2015

      Thank you Carol!

  2. Harry Schmeichel
    Harry Schmeichel May 10, 2015

    It looks like someone patched up the red man pictograph. In 2007 the red man had two bullet holes in it.

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat May 10, 2015

      I digitally repaired the bullet holes in my photo.

  3. MG
    MG February 26, 2017

    Great TR and Photos.

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