Grand Gulch Loop
Friday – Sunday, May 1-3, 2015
After spending a few days in lower Grand Gulch last week, I went back home to work for four days before driving back down to Cedar Mesa to backpack the popular Kane Gulch to Bullet Canyon loop of Grand Gulch with Diane. This would be Diane’s first multi-night backpacking trip and she was looking forward to it. We left home late on Thursday evening after Diane got out of class and reached our campsite for the night at Coyote Flat around 10:00pm. We quickly setup camp in the dark and went to bed right away. Unfortunately, after a few hours Diane found out that her Thermarest sleeping pad was leaking and she didn’t sleep very well that night.
On Friday morning we woke up early and packed up our camp into the Jeep. We tried to find the leak in Diane’s sleeping pad to try and repair it, but were unsuccessful. Since that was the pad she planned to use on the backpacking portion of the trip, I gave her my Thermarest NeoAir Xlite to use and I carried my old ProLite Plus. I’m lucky that I had an extra sleeping pad with! However, I would find that my ProLite Plus was also leaking. Luckily it has foam inside and doesn’t go completely flat, so I was able to make due. I dropped Diane and our packs off at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station and then drove my Jeep over to the Bullet Canyon trailhead. I found a place to park, unloaded my bike off the back and rode back 8 miles to the ranger station. This took me about an hour and I arrived shortly after the ranger station opened. I got to watch the required video for the second time in two weeks and then received our backcounty permit for the weekend. We were told that the canyons were very busy this weekend and all of the permits were reserved. Because of that, I was expecting the worst (a total opposite from the previous weekend where we saw no one), but we rarely saw anyone inside the canyon the entire trip! On our way into Kane Gulch we passed two groups of backpackers leaving and we also passed another pair of day hikers. We saw no one else the rest of the day and had Todie Canyon to ourselves that night. We didn’t see anyone at all in Grand Gulch on the second day until we ran into a couple at the mouth of Bullet Canyon filtering water where we setup our camp. That evening we would have one other group show up at the mouth of Bullet Canyon for the night night and would pass one day-hiker coming down Bullet Canyon on Sunday as we exited. If this is a busy weekend in Grand Gulch, I’ll take it anytime!
We left the Kane Gulch Ranger Station around 9:00am and started down Kane Gulch to it’s confluence with Grand Gulch where we saw the Junction Ruin. We continued on to Turkey Pen Ruin and explored the very large alcove for a little while.
Diane in Kane Gulch.
Pictographs near the Turkey Pen Ruins.
The structures look small in this massive alcove.
After a short hike downstream from the ruins we passed Stimper Arch on our way to the mouth of Todie Canyon.
We visited another alcove along the way that contained some broken down ruins and petroglyphs.
I was a little worried about the water situation since Grand Gulch was completely dry after leaving Kane Gulch, but when we reached Todie Canyon we found that the spring there was flowing and had good water. This part of Grand Gulch was certainly drier than the lower section, which I wasn’t expecting. We chose a nearby campsite and setup for the night.
Our brand new Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 mtnGLO tent that we used for the first time on this trip. In the past we used a 2-person Mountainsmith tent, but this one has a lot more room inside and is about a pound lighter. After this trip I can say that we are very happy with this tent and look forward to using it more in the future.
When camp was setup I climbed up to a petroglyph panel above the confluence.
View up Todie Canyon.
We also spotted The Corn Panel from below, but were unable to climb up close to it.
After dinner we hiked back into Grand Gulch and visited another nearby alcove containing ruins. We passed this nice Claret Cup on the way.
A broken metate near the ruins.
The last ruins we would visit today before heading back to camp and getting some sleep. It had been a good day.
Saturday morning we were up early, had a quick breakfast and packed up camp so we could explore Grand Gulch between Kane Gulch and Bullet Canyon. I’ve day-hiked both Kane Gulch and part of Bullet Canyon before, so this section was all new for me. There were a lot of ruins and rock art in this section of the canyon- so many that we didn’t have the time to stop and visit them all along the way. I will definitely need to spend more time in this section of the canyon. The temperature in the morning was very comfortable when we started hiking, but became very warm as the day wore on. We had to take multiple breaks in shaded alcoves along the way to stay cooler.
Diane on a log at the mouth of Todie Canyon as we set out for the second day.
The first set of ruins we visited today.
Reflection in a dark pool at the bottom of a pour-over.
Inaccessible ruins built on a high ledge in a large alcove.
Pictographs painted on the ceiling of an unusual overhang.
There was a line of these small mask-like pictographs that appear to have blue hair.
We made sure to visit Split Level Ruin along the way. The BLM has placed chains up around these ruins, so this is as close as you are able to get these days.
An interesting pair of petroglyphs I spotted from the wash.
Grand Gulch scenery.
This pictograph is probably one of my favorite finds of the weekend. Not only is it a cool panel, but the view from this location was pretty nice, too.
I’m not sure what these red streaks represent, but there were quite a few of them in this alcove. They kind of remind me of comets…
There were a couple nice granaries here, too.
There had been no good water in this section of Grand Gulch for a while and at this point Diane was running low, so when we reached Sheiks Canyon we went up to the Green Mask Spring to fill up on good water and also visit the amazing rock art located there.
The Breech Birth pictograph panel.
Red pictographs behind a wall above us.
Ruins in the Green Mask alcove.
I’ve still never seen anything like these elsewhere.
Interesting designs high on the wall of the alcove.
One of my favorite pictograph panels.
Of course I had to get a photo of the Green Mask that the nearby spring is named after.
After filling up our Camelbaks with good water and resting in the shade for a while, we continued on to the mouth of Bullet Canyon and setup our camp near the confluence. The Bullet Canyon spring was running, but it was the worst water we would filter on the trip. It’s a good thing my First Needs XLE filter gets rid of bad tastes. The water from the spring was not nearly as bad as the stagnant pools we had passed in Grand Gulch above Bullet Canyon, though.
We passed the Castle Ruins on our way to Bullet Canyon. The climb up to them was too steep for me, so I got a photo of this round structure from below.
Our tent at the mouth of Bullet Canyon.
Evening light on the sandstone above camp.
Sunday morning we woke up before sunrise and got camp packed up so we could start hiking out early when it was cooler. Lucky for us, the sky was overcast much of the morning and the temperature never seemed to get any warmer than it had been overnight, which was very comfortable. It was good weather for hiking, just not great for photography. We were pretty tired from the previous two days and had definitely slowed down a bit. Diane topped off her water at Jailhouse Spring, which was slightly better than the Bullet Canyon Spring, and we visited Jailhouse Ruin along the way. Since our legs were tired and we still had five miles and 1000 feet of elevation to go to reach my Jeep, we decided to skip Perfect Kiva this time (I’ve already been there and Diane’s been inside a kiva before). It was a long hike out, but we eventually reached my Jeep at noon where cold drinks were waiting for us in the cooler. It figures that the the sun had come out a little during the steepest climbs of the hike and warmed us up a bit. When we got out of the canyon we saw plenty of darker storm clouds and rain surrounding us, especially towards the Bears Ears. It started raining a little bit when I picked up my bike at the Ranger Station and we would drive through a few more showers on our way back home.
The feature that gave Jailhouse Ruin it’s name.
Doorway inside Jailhouse Ruin.
Designs on the ceiling.
Distant view of Three Moon Ruin on our way out of the canyon.
One last look down Bullet Canyon as we climbed out.
Awesome post and photos, Randy! I hiked down Bullet Canyon to Grand Gulch with a couple friends a few years ago. We did it in the winter and had a good time negotiating a large ice fall and several very frozen ponds. Your post has inspired me to do a similar loop some time. Had it in the back of my mind for a while but haven’t committed to it. Maybe this year!
Thanks Bret! It’s definitely a great hike.