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Horsin’ Around: The Return to Horse Canyon

Friday – Sunday, November 16-18, 2018

It’s been over six years since the last time I drove into Horse Canyon which is located in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The road washed out again shortly after that trip and I don’t think it’s been open much, if at all, since then. When I noticed at the end of October that the road was actually open again, I quickly put together a last minute weekend trip with my friends Dave and Jared since I’m not sure how long it will stay open this time! Jared came along on my last trip here but this would be Dave’s first time in Horse Canyon and he was looking forward to it. I reserved a campsite for us at Peekaboo in Salt Creek Canyon on Saturday night so we could spend two full days in the canyon and not have to deal with getting day-use permits. I left work on Friday afternoon and met up with them outside of the Park along the Lockhart Basin Road where we spent the first night since we were able to have a fire here to keep warm on the cold night. On Saturday morning we got a late start since we had to wait until the Visitor Center opened at 9:00am to get the combination to the gate which wasted a couple hours of daylight on these short days. Once we had the combination we headed through the gate and spent the rest of the weekend searching for arches, ruins and rock art. We found plenty of all of them! Enjoy these photos from our weekend trip!

I’ve been through this gate many times, but only rarely have I been able to unlock it.


It’s been a while since my Jeep was on this side of the gate. As we drove up into Horse Canyon I noticed that it looked like the National Park Service had actually repaired the road this time and filled in the deep holes that are usually found near the mouth of the canyon since it was in better condition than the last time I drove through here.

Inside The Gate

Welcome to Salt Creek Canyon! One of my favorite places to explore in The Needles!

Salt Creek Sign

Dave’s Jeep under a ruin in Horse Canyon as we drove up the sandy wash.

Jeep & Ruin

Paul Bunyans Potty

Paul Bunyans Potty

Looking up through Paul Bunyans Potty from right below the arch.

Arch Portal

A close look at Tower Ruin.

Tower Ruin

I had seen a photo of this ruin and pictograph before but didn’t know anything about its location other than it was somewhere in The Needles, so I was pretty excited when I stumbled across it on this trip!

The Archer

Hands on Stone

Hands On Stone

We had a hard time following the trail to Castle Arch since it hasn’t been used much in years and was pretty overgrown (it’s a long hike with the road closed), but when we saw this ladder we knew we were still on the right track.

Hidden Ladder

A great view of Castle Arch just after climbing the ladder. It was worth the route-finding and bushwhacking to get a closer look!

Castle Arch

It’s amazing how thin the top of Castle Arch is!

Thin Castle Arch

A short and beautiful canyon we hiked through while exploring the sandstone below Castle Arch.

Beautiful Sandstone Canyon

The reflected light and color in this alcove at the end of the canyon was amazing!

Alcove Layers

The Nine Faces. The Canyonlands Faces Motif are some of my favorite pictographs to find and we visited a few of them on this trip.

The Nine Faces

A round ruin on a high ledge with golden reflected light on the wall behind it. If you look closely you can see a bunch of red handprints right above the ruin, too.

Ruin On A Ledge

Here’s a nice reversed handprint.

Reverse Handprint

Even though I have taken many photos of the pictographs at Peekaboo Spring, I had to take another since we were camped nearby this weekend.


We found Whitewash Ruin on this trip which has the inside wall of the ruin painted white. This is a small section of the white paint that didn’t have any inscriptions carved into it.

Whitewash Ruin

Art Burrows carved his name into the white paint of the ruin in 1878. Apparently he was a prospector with some claims in San Juan County, Colorado and must have found some time to make his way further west to find this ruin.

Art Burrows 1878

Ed Turner was the nephew of Mel Turner, who left a faint inscription that we found in Twin Canyon.

Feb 1890

Dave crossing a narrow ledge above us after visiting a ruin.


This was the ruin Dave had visited. I had to settle with this photo from below.

Square Ruin

Nice evening light on the sandstone in Horse Canyon as more clouds started to move into the area.

Horse Canyon Evening

Four Little Guys

Four Little Guys

Fortress Arch was large and impressive. We climbed up to this viewpoint for a closer look.

Fortress Arch

Jared downclimbing through a colorful section of sandstone.

Colorful Downclimb

The Blue Faces

The Blue Faces

A pair of ruins on a ledge we climbed up to. Look closely and you can see three white dots to the left of the ruin in the foreground.

Upper Ledge Ruins

Dave and a kiva.

Kiva Dave

I was hoping to photograph the Thirteen Faces in the shade this trip, but was unable to make it work this time, so here’s a shot in the sunlight. These are six of the ten faces that are found here. I know people say there used to be thirteen and three got washed away, but after studying the area more closely this time, I just don’t see how that would be possible? If someone really has an old photo of all thirteen faces, I would love to see it!

Six of Thirteen Faces

Wispy clouds over sandstone.

Wispy Clouds

We had a nice view of Gothic Arch as we walked through the wash below.

Gothic Arch

A close look at the construction of an ancient wall. The stones seem to fit together like a puzzle…


I absolutely loved the layers, colors and stripes of the canyon wall found here. The scenery of The Needles never disappoints!

Canyon Layers

Jared walks across the catwalk.

On The Catwalk

A closer look at the Sky Faces taken with my long lens this time!

Sky Faces

Dave was the only one of us who climbed up in front of the Sky Faces for a closer look. There was a very big drop right behind him that you can’t see in this photo.

Fearless Dave

Jared coming back down from the Sky Faces.

Coming Down

Exploring a large alcove with a lot of grinding grooves on the boulders.

Grinding Stone

There was also an old kiva in this alcove.

Alcove Kiva

A ruin with a view shortly before sunset.

Ruin With A View

We had a pretty colorful sunset on Saturday night.

Horse Canyon Sunset

Driving back down Horse Canyon to our campsite at Peekaboo under the colorful, but fading light.

Horse Canyon Road

Driving back to camp through Salt Creek in the dark. The water was a little deep in this one section.

Salt Creek Road

Here’s a video from Sunday morning of me driving through the same section of Salt Creek while breaking ice and making waves. I wish I had taken video on Saturday morning since the ice I broke through was a lot thicker then. Sorry about the dirty windshield, but my Jeep rarely ever gets washed since I’m always using it!

This layer of pink and yellow sandstone reminds me of the Coyote Buttes area.

Pink & Yellow Rock

Three of the Eleven Faces.

Three of Eleven Faces

Overlooking the canyons of The Needles to the distant La Sal Mountains from a high vantage point.

Needles Canyons

The grand entrance to a high ruin we climbed up to.

Grand Entrance

A closer look at the ruins seen through the ‘grand entrance’ in the previous photo.

High Ruins

Dave and Jared stop to check out the easy route through the large cave on the way to some ruins.

The Easy Entrance

Not a bad view from these high ruins! You can see the ‘grand entrance’ in the upper left. We originally thought we would have to traverse a narrow ledge to reach these ruins until we found the large cave that took us right to them!

The High Ruins

Layers of Stripes

Layers of Stripes

Entering a nice little canyon I enjoyed photographing on Sunday. We had a pretty awesome weekend!

Little Canyon

>> The Return to Horse Canyon Photo Gallery

One Comment

  1. Dianne
    Dianne November 21, 2018

    These pics are amazing! I like seeing people in some because I can see the grandeur of the rocks. Fantastic places and remains of the Ancients.

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