San Rafael River Gorge | Friday & Saturday, March 31 – April 1, 2017
Visiting the Little Grand Canyon in the heart of the northern San Rafael Swell has been something I have wanted to do for a long time. I’ve looked down into the gorge from the edge of The Wedge many times before and thought to myself that I needed to get down there. I had always dismissed going there on a day-hike because of it’s length and figured I would be able to catch the San Rafael River at the right time so I could take my inflatable kayak through the canyon. That has obviously never happened yet which is why I put this trip off for so long. Since there is a long local hike near my home that I’ve been thinking about doing this spring, I thought that hiking the Little Grand Canyon would be a good test to see if I was going to be up for it or not, so I finally went for it.
I left from work on Friday afternoon and started driving west into Utah. It was quite windy out and there was definitely a storm moving into the area. I stopped in Green River for a quick dinner and to top off my fuel tank before continuing on I-70 through the San Rafael Reef to the Temple Mountain Road exit. I followed the gravel road to the San Rafael River Bridge near the mouth of Buckhorn Wash and setup camp by the trailhead near the base of Bottleneck Peak. Shortly after sunset it started to rain and would continue to do so on and off for the rest of the night.
A cloudy and windy evening at the San Rafael River Bridge.
My view from camp at sunset. It started to rain shortly after I took this photo.
Before leaving Green River the previous evening, I had checked the weather forecast one last time before losing signal and it had called for the rain to end shortly after midnight. However, when my alarm went off at 6:00am on Saturday morning it was still raining out. I was a little worried that I was going to have to cancel the hike today and try again another time, but after about 20 minutes it finally stopped. I was still a little concerned about how wet the trail was going to be, but the ground didn’t seem too saturated around the trailhead so I decided to go for it. I would end up hiking through a few sections of slippery wet clay in the morning, but it was all dried up on my way back in the afternoon.
When leaving the trailhead in the morning, low clouds hung around the canyon rims for a while.
Eventually, the clouds started to break up and sunlight made an appearance.
Spring was definitely in the air!
My first stop of the day was at the pictographs found in a shallow alcove in Cane Wash.
Here’s a closer look at the designs found here.
After leaving the first set of pictographs behind, I hiked up Cane Wash a short distance and then climbed through a notch in the canyon wall that would save me a little distance on the hike. From the pass I also had a nice view up the Little Grand Canyon.
I liked this interesting section of canyon wall in Cane Wash.
Looking back down into the canyon as I climbed up to the pass.
Looking up at the notch I climbed through.
A nice view up the Little Grand Canyon.
My next stop was at Pictograph Butte. Not an official name on the map, but a good description of the site since there are a few nice pictographs located on one side of this small butte.
I love the red and yellow pigments found in these pictographs.
I even found this one lone petroglyph nearby.
Continuing the hike through the Little Grand Canyon.
The San Rafael River
Much of the early trail was well-defined and pretty easy to follow, but as I got closer to Virgin Spring Canyon it began to disappear and became more difficult to follow in places.
Soon I reached the turnaround point of my hike- the spectacular Barrier Canyon Style pictographs in Virgin Spring Canyon. When I arrived the pictographs were in direct sunlight and difficult to see, and since I didn’t hike all this way for bad photos I stuck around for about an hour and a half until they were in the shade. The details found in these small panels are just amazing!
After returning to my Jeep at the trailhead I still had plenty of daylight left and was feeling pretty good, so I headed over to visit one more small Barrier Canyon Style pictograph panel.
Before the day was over, I thought it would be nice to catch the sunset from The Wedge so I could get a nice overview of the Little Grand Canyon from above.
Spotlight next to the notch I had climbed through earlier in the morning.
It was a pretty nice evening at The Wedge Overlook.
Starting my drive back home…
The Green River Cutoff Road and Cedar Mountain.
A beautiful sunset on Cedar Mountain to finish off my day in the San Rafael Swell.