Press "Enter" to skip to content

Heart of the Salt Creek Archeological District

Five Years Later | Return to Salt Creek Canyon
Wednesday – Sunday, April 10-14, 2019

After spending the past couple of years searching for rock art and ancient ruins in Grand Gulch during our annual spring backpacking trip together, this year Dave, Jared and I were really looking forward to getting back into upper Salt Creek Canyon in Canyonlands National Park to see what we had missed on our first visit almost five years ago. I made sure to secure our camping permits earlier this year so we could spend four days exploring the heart of the Salt Creek Archeological District.

While I was originally planning on leaving after work on Wednesday, at the last moment I decided to take the entire day off so I could pick up our permit from the Backcountry Office before they closed at 3:30pm. This turned out to be a very good decision since I’m not sure I would have driven up to Cathedral Butte that evening in the dark alone. I slept in a little late on Wednesday morning since I had gone to a concert the night before and then headed out and drove through rain all the way to Moab which turned into rain mixed with snow as I got closer to The Needles. There was a strong cold front moving through the area today which would leave colder temperatures and drier weather behind it for our backpacking trip, but we’d have to deal with wet weather and high winds on our way to the trailhead today.

While driving through Indian Creek Canyon I spotted these petroglyphs that I have looked for before. I swear I spot something new almost every time I drive through this canyon!

High Petroglyphs

They said a storm was coming…

They Said A Storm Was Coming

When I picked up our permit the Park Ranger at the Visitor Center informed me that the road to Cathedral Butte was very wet and slippery, as I expected it to be, and he didn’t recommend driving up it at this time. I then drove back to the North Cottonwood Road where I met up with Dave and Jared who were waiting for me and we discussed our options about driving to the trailhead. We debated driving up now in the rain on the wet and muddy road or taking our chances that the road would freeze overnight and be easier to drive in the morning. In the end we decided to go for it this evening, and as expected it was a huge muddy mess and very slippery! I’ve now had my fill of mud for a couple of years. There were sections of the road where turning the steering wheel did absolutely nothing and I lost track of which way my tires were pointed, not to mention inching across sections of shelf road so we didn’t slide off into the abyss below. When we finally arrived at our campsite near the trailhead there was already about 1-2″ of snow on the ground and it was still coming down pretty heavily. Since neither Dave or I would have wanted to drive back down the road we had come up in these conditions, we had basically just gotten ourselves stuck up there for a few days, but luckily we were going to be backpacking during that time. I certainly would not recommend driving up to the Cathedral Butte Trailhead in a storm like this!

Low clouds in North Cottonwood Canyon.

North Cottonwood Canyon

My muddy Jeep at our campsite near Cathedral Butte. I didn’t take any photos during the drive up since my hands were tight on the steering wheel!

A Muddy Mess

Dave’s Jeep at our campsite trying to wait out the snowstorm that would never end.

April Snow

I was sleeping in my Jeep this first night, but Dave and Jared had to set up their tents before there was too much snow on the ground.

April Camping in Utah

This trip certainly started out as a muddy ADVENTR!


It was 26 degrees out when we woke up on Thursday morning with a few new inches of fresh snow on the ground and it was still snowing lightly out. There was a family of backpackers from California who had hiked up to the trailhead on Wednesday evening before we went to bed and were stuck there overnight hoping that the road would freeze so they could drive out in the morning since they had a 2WD minivan and another AWD vehicle. Unfortunately, the temperature never got cold enough and the roads were still a sloppy mess on Thursday morning. Even the 100 yards we had to drive to the trailhead from or campsite had us sliding all over the place in our Jeeps! We talked to them and found out they had enough food to spend another day or two up there but were short on water, so Dave left them a bunch of water in case they had to stay a few more days until things dried out. We wished them luck and then started hiking down the steep trail into the canyon.

Good morning to a clearing storm and more snow on the ground!

Morning Surprise

Jared’s tent in the morning.

More Snow Overnight

Not a bad view over upper Salt Creek Canyon as we were getting ready to hike down into the canyon.

Cathedral Point

A closer look with a little spotlighting on the landscape below.

Light In The Canyon

The hike down the trail from Cathedral Butte was also very muddy and slippery with the mud hidden under the fresh layer of snow. Of course, I was leading the way and slipped and fell a couple of times. There was snow on the ground until we passed Kirk’s Cabin and reached the side trail into Big Pocket. By then it had mostly melted off within the canyon. We did have to deal with some quicksand in the marshy area before Kirk’s Cabin when we lost the trail. Horse Mountain and Boundary Butte to the south were were still in the clouds most of the day and probably getting even more snow, which made us a little concerned that the road might not even be dried out when we returned in four days. It was a little bit cold and breezy out during the day, but it was nice hiking weather for a long day on the trail.

One last view into upper Salt Creek Canyon before we started hiking down the trail.

Upper Salt Creek Canyon

Snow along the trail in the upper part of the canyon.

Snow In The Canyon

Entering Canyonlands National Park.

Entering Canyonlands

The clearing storm left behind some nice clouds in the sky throughout the day.

Salt Creek Snow

The first pictographs along the trail.

Upper Panel

Jared hiking through the snow-covered brush.

Snow Trail

The ‘Upper Upper Jump’ just before Kirk’s Cabin.

Upper Upper Jump

We made a brief stop at Kirk’s Cabin with a touch of snow still on the ground.

Kirk's Cabin

Dave taking a break along the trail.

Taking A Break

Our first view of this nameless arch (V3-25 Arch).

V3-25 Arch

We made a quick stop at the Squash Patch Ruins.

Squash Patch Ruins

Dots & Hands

Dots & Hands

Following the overgrown trail…

Follow The Trail

Of course, we had to stop and visit the amazing All American Man pictograph.

All American Man

After hiking through the pass in the sandstone, dark clouds started heading our way.

Storm Light

Visiting the Four Faces pictographs.

Four Faces

While we were at the Four Faces a quick-moving snowstorm moved into the area. There was even a little thunder!

Incoming Snowstorm

We took shelter in the alcove near the rock art and waited the storm out.

Waiting Out The Storm

It wasn’t too long before the snow stopped and the sky started clearing up.

Clearing Storm

The sky was almost clear again when we continued on down the trail.

Four Faces Ruin

Enjoy the rest of my photos from the next few days of our backpacking trip!

Speaking From The Past

Speaking From The Past

Outline Sheep

Outline Sheep

A pretty cool potsherd I found.

Potsherd Design

Walkway Ruin

Walkway Ruin

Finding this colorful Fremont pictograph was one of the highlights of the trip!

Colorful Fremont Pictograph

Ruins up in a cave near the All American Man.

High Cave Ruins

I’ve been trying to find this Barrier Canyon Style pictograph for years and was happy to finally see it!

Lone Pictograph

This tall granary was built in a shallow alcove underneath a large boulder.

Tall Boulder Granary

There were corncob impressions in the mortar to the lower left side of the doorway.

Corncob Impressions

An ancient granary with the door still in place.

Ancient Granary

This was a pretty big potsherd.

Big Potsherd

Canyon Spirits

Canyon Spirits

A closer look at these Barrier Canyon Style pictographs that look like figures you would find on the west side of the Colorado River, not in The Needles.

Canyon Spirits Alcove

Nook Ruin

Nook Ruin

A colorful alcove ceiling, but no ruins in this one…

Alcove Ceiling

Cave Ruin

Cave Ruin

A beautiful evening watching the sunset in Salt Creek Canyon.

Salt Creek Evening

I was very surprised to come across these two faces when I was exploring a short side canyon. I have never heard of these or seen a photo of them before. It was a nice unexpected surprise!

Two New Faces

Warm evening light on sandstone is my favorite, especially with nice clouds in the background!

Evening Sandstone View

This was another panel that I was hoping to find on this trip.

Shield Guy Alcove

Big Shield Guy

Big Shield Guy

The real Wedding Ring Arch. The USGS map is wrong, so I don’t want to hear it!

Wedding Ring Arch

Holding Hands

Holding Hands

Looking down on a large round ruin, possibly a kiva?

Ruin Interior

Looking up at another round ruin, this time with a few pictographs above it, including a white Fremont figure with an unusual headdress.

Round Ruin & Pictographs

SC1 Camp


A different perspective of Kirk’s Cabin.

Above Kirk's Cabin

A matrix of dots above this inaccessible ruin.

Dots Ruin

Cathedral Point reflected in a pothole just before sunset.

Cathedral Point Reflection

Canyonlands Target Ruin

Canyonlands Target Ruins

Beautiful light and stripes above this ruin.

Striped Ceiling

The Masked Man Panel

Masked Man Panel

A closer look at the pictographs found to the right of the Masked Man.

Right Side Pictographs

The Masked Man is one of the most interesting rock art figures I have seen!

The Masked Man

A view of Salt Creek Ridgely Arch as we hiked back up to the trailhead on Sunday.

Salt Creek Ridgely Arch

One last photo as I slowly climbed out of the canyon.

Leaving Salt Creek

As we were hiking out we were still a little concerned that the road was going to be wet and muddy for our drive out, but thankfully we found that the road was almost completely dry and dusty when we arrived at the trailhead, so we had no problems getting back down and driving home. We had an amazing weekend exploring the Salt Creek Archeological District and I can’t wait to come back again to find a few more things I missed!

>> Heart of the Salt Creek Archeological District Photo Gallery


  1. Dianne
    Dianne April 30, 2019

    Very productive hikes for you guys. Beautiful photos. I assume you are using the
    Sony? I particularly love the sites and rock imagery. Just stunning. Thanks!

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat April 30, 2019

      Thanks Dianne! Although I don’t own a Sony camera….all these photos were taken with my Canon 6D mkII.

  2. Tom McCoppin
    Tom McCoppin April 30, 2019

    Thanks for taking the time to post your pictures and your words….outstanding! Tom McC

  3. Bob Walters
    Bob Walters April 30, 2019

    I enjoyed your adventure vicariously, as usual. Thanks for posting. Great photos!

  4. Stephanie Barnard
    Stephanie Barnard April 30, 2019

    Hi, Randy. What do you make of the white picto figure with attenae below the hands in photo below the words “The first pictographs along the trail”? I’ve not seen that style before.

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat April 30, 2019

      It looks similar to a Fremont petroglyph I’ve seen at Fremont Indian State Park.

  5. Steve Riggs
    Steve Riggs April 30, 2019

    Great photos and narrative. Thanks for your inspiring reports!

  6. Richard Romeyn
    Richard Romeyn November 22, 2020

    Hello Randy,

    I have enjoyed your 2 posts regarding Salt Creek in the Needles District. I note that on your 1st trip you hiked down canyon from Cathedral Butte to exit at the gate below Peekaboo & on the 2nd went in from Cathedral Butte and then climbed back up to also exit from there. Most of what I would most like to see is located between Kirk Cabin & Upper Jump so I am very interested in your opinion — since you have done it both ways — as to which represents the better option; the long one way pack down canyon from Cathedral Butte to Peekaboo or the in & out round trip between Cathedral Butte & Upper Jump? I’m already planning for next year — assuming no COVID surprises — and so your thoughts would be really helpful. Thank you. Stay safe & healthy! — Richard

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat November 22, 2020

      I loved doing it both ways and would recommend the full hike through as long as you can arrange a shuttle and have enough time to not be rushed. However, if you are only interested in seeing stuff between Kirk Cabin and Upper Jump, then I think an out and back from Cathedral Butte is a good way to go. Some people complain that the hike back out to Cathedral is bad, but I didn’t find it too tough…especially if you spend the night at SC1 or SC2 before hiking out early the next morning. I actually already have permits for next year to go in and out from Cathedral again, which I was supposed to do this past spring, but that trip got cancelled by the Park Service thanks to COVID!

Leave a Reply