Cedar Mesa Chronicles: Chapter 4
Wednesday – Sunday, March 31 – April 4, 2021
Last spring Jared, Dave and I had made plans and obtained a permit to backpack on the Navajo Nation for the first time, but because the pandemic shut a lot of things down at the time, we were forced to cancel those plans. Since the Navajo Nation was still closed to visitors this spring we had to find something else to do for our annual spring backpacking trip this year. After discussing a number of different options over the winter, we finally settled on backpacking the popular loop through Grand Gulch from Kane Gulch to Bullet Canyon. Dave and I have both hiked this stretch of the canyon before, but Jared had not, and it was the last section of Grand Gulch he had not been through yet, so we wanted to make sure he got a chance to see it before it got even busier and harder to get permits. Besides, even though Diane and I had hiked this loop back in 2015, I was sure we missed quite a bit and was looking forward to getting back and spending a little more time in this section!
I left after work on Wednesday afternoon and headed down to Cedar Mesa to meet up with Dave and Jared. Our typical camp spot and meeting location was occupied, so Jared had sent me a text message earlier in the day to le tme know that they were going to try to find a campsite along the Slickhorn Road, so that’s where I headed. It was getting dark out by the time I finally spotted their campfire and met up with them. The temperature dropped quickly once the sun was down and it got pretty cold out, so we didn’t stay up very long and got into our sleeping bags early.
On Thursday morning we woke up just before sunrise, got camp packed up and headed over to the Bullet Canyon Trailhead. I left my Jeep there and hopped into Dave’s truck for the remainder of the ride over to the Kane Gulch Ranger Station, where we began our hike down Kane Gulch.
Hiking down Kane Gulch on Thursday morning.
A small room at the Junction Ruins.
Turkey Pen Ruins
A closer look at my favorite part of the Junction Panel.
I liked this shot of Dave.
Here’s a closer look at the pictographs found behind Dave in the previous photo.
I really liked the design on this potsherd.
There had been plenty of water in upper Kane Gulch earlier in the day, so we foolishly thought that we would have no problem finding water this trip, but as soon as we reached the lower part of the canyon and Grand Gulch we found it was very dry. We had hoped to camp in Todie Canyon our first night, where Diane and I had found plentiful water on our last visit, but this time Todie was dry, aside from one very nasty pool that I would only have drank from if it were an emergency. Since it wasn’t an emergency yet, we continued on down the canyon and hoped to find some better water at the Pour Off Pool. We did find some water at the Pour Off Pool, and it was slightly better than the water in Todie, but not by much… We ended up finding a nice campsite nearby and spent the night there.
An evening view from the Pour Off Pool.
This was our campsite the first night near the Pour Off Pool. If you look closely you can see Dave’s tent in the background.
I got a great night’s sleep and the temperature overnight was very nice and not too cold, which would continue for the rest of the trip. We got an early start hiking down the canyon as the temperature warmed up quickly, so we stopped to rest in the shade a number of times today.
Morning light strikes a faint petroglyph panel.
A small ruin tucked behind a boulder with petroglyphs high on the wall above it.
Pictographs painted on the bottom of an interesting overhang. It kind of reminds me of a wave.
Painted masks or faces with blue hair.
A closer look at the masks.
Split Level Ruin
A view of the roof from above.
The Back Room
Sheep In the Middle
Two Slabs Ruin
Footprints, dots and atlatls on this boulder.
The top of this large boulder was covered with interesting petroglyphs, but it was really difficult to get a good shot of them.
Here’s a closer look at the right side of the boulder.
Fading Alcove Panel
A potsherd with part of a handle attached.
This afternoon we had hoped to find water at Coyote Spring and after talking to a couple hikers we passed along the way, it sounded like we would. After hiking up the dry sandy wash of Coyote Canyon we eventually found clear flowing water! This would actually be the best water we would find the entire trip. We found a campsite nearby and set up camp for the night.
Evening light on the canyon walls.
My second campsite of the trip in Coyote Canyon, and my favorite one, too!
Later in the evening a group of girls came by looking for water and a place to camp. With the canyon so dry, we expected someone to show up at some point looking for water, so it was no surprise when it happened. They set up camp nearby and later when I was walking by their camp after getting water I found that I knew one of them from Instagram- it was Alicia from Girl on a Hike! She told me about how they had hiked all the way from the Kane Gulch Ranger Station that morning because they didn’t have enough water and needed to find some that evening. You can read all about her trip here: BACKPACKING KANE GULCH TO BULLET CANYON
After another great night camped under the stars we got another early start to try to beat the heat. It would be another warm day with a lot of rests in the shade as we made our way into Bullet Canyon. We skipped going into Sheiks Canyon this time since we have all been into that canyon on numerous occasions, but we did hear from some passing hikers that the Green Mask Spring had good water.
Mushroom Rock Ruin
Red Deer Pictograph
Front Porch Ruin
Yellow Roof Ruin
We spent our third and final night camped near Jailhouse Ruin.
We found OK water in a pool up the canyon behind Jailhouse Ruin which was a little better than the water found closer to the trail. This had been the warmest day of the trip so far, so we spent a lot of time in the evening just relaxing around camp under the shade of some Juniper trees.
On Sunday morning we were up early again so we could beat the heat and get out of the canyon early for the drive back home. We did do some exploring along the way, but didn’t end up finding anything were were looking for. Another time!
Morning in Bullet Canyon
A parting shot of Jailhouse Ruins as we hiked past on our way up the canyon.
Bullet Canyon Scenery
Although we had a nice time in the canyon and saw some pretty cool stuff along the way, I must say that this hike has got A LOT busier in the past few years than it used to be. When I Diane and I hiked this loop six years ago we didn’t see anyone at all until we were almost out of Bullet Canyon. This time we must have seen at least a hundred or more people along the way! So unless I decide to take up winter backpacking in the future, which is unlikely, this will probably be my last time backpacking this loop.