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 > Plan B - Part II (the pics keep comin'!)

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seldomseensmith

Flagstaff, AZ

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Posted: 05/08/10 12:05am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Spring trips are usually a mixed bag - winter has left the building but the door is still open, making just about anything possible with the weather. This outing proved no different.

I mentioned in the first chapter how unsettled conditions and snow bound roads kept me from my original goal, which was to conduct further exploration of the territory west and north of Dark Canyon. As an alternative, I decided instead to visit places more accessible but no less appealing.

After a beautiful day hiking in Natural Bridges National Monument I went to sleep that evening as the wind howled through the pinyon-juniper forest on the canyon rim. Naturally I awoke the next morning to gray skies and snow flurries, making a departure to somewhere warmer and hopefully drier seem like a good idea.

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I chose to head west, crossing the Colorado River just above Hite. I've written before about some of the incredible highways of southern Utah, including Highway 12 and 24, but Highway 95 has a great deal to offer as well in terms of drive by scenery. This is just a sampling - here's a stretch offering great views of the snow covered Henry Mountains looming over the upper end of Lake Powell.

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After crossing the bridge over both the Colorado and Dirty Devil rivers, the highway follows along a beautiful canyon with deep red sandstone walls.

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Along the way you find Hog Springs Rest Area, a great place to stop for lunch or just take a break.

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A trail winds its way from the picnic area up the canyon, giving road weary travelers a chance to stretch their legs.

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Highway 95 ends at the intersection with Highway 24 in Hanksville, with 24 continuing north to I-70 or west to Capitol Reef National Park. Both of my next destinations are along the northerly route, the first one heading east near where the turnoff for Goblin Valley State Park leaves to the west.

Although not signed as such, the road east is called the Hans Flat road, named for the Canyonlands NP ranger station at the other end. It is 46 miles to Hans Flat along a reasonably well maintained dirt road.

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The buttes seen in the distance are called Little Flat Top and Big Flat Top, and are the only significant landmarks along the way.
The road contours very close to the base of Little Flat Top, with some interesting chocolate drop formations.

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The country is wide open and very sandy, with several spots along the way subject to drifting.

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The La Sal Mountains rise over the eastern horizon - between them and the open country lies the hidden treasure of Canyonlands NP.

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At around 24 miles you reach a junction where the road splits in two, one leg heading southeast for 17 miles to Hans Flat and the rugged roads leading to the Maze District, and the other continuing north 7 miles to my next stop: Horseshoe Canyon.

Horsehoe Canyon (formerly called Barrier Canyon) is a unit of Canyonlands National Park located outside the main park boundaries. It is notable for its collection of Barrier Canyon Style pictographs, especially the large and well known Great Gallery panel. As a bonus, to see it you get to hike in a beautiful canyon - how can I resist?

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Once I arrive at the remote parking area late that afternoon, I pick a place to set up for the night. It looks like I've got the place to myself, although I learn later two Park Service volunteers are living in a sheep wagon on the hill above me.

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The next morning the skies are mostly clear, but a cold wind blows out of the north. As I get ready to drop into the canyon on my way to see the panels one of the Park Service volunteers tells me there is snow in the forecast (what else is new), but only a slight chance later that day.

The trail descends 750 feet along an old road built in the 1920's when oil companies explored every nook and cranny of canyon country searching for petroleum. Though the road has not been used as a road in many years and has deteriorated somewhat, I still marvel that any wheeled vehicle was able to negotiate the rocky slope.

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The upper slopes are classic cross-bedded sandstone, with rounded domes and pinnacles rising over sloping benches.

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As the trails drops lower, views into the canyon improve.

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Reaching the canyon bottom, the trail follows the dry river bed to the south. Here you experience what signs at the top warn about - deep sand that cannot be avoided. There are a few places where the intermittent stream runs close to the surface, allowing for a more hardpacked walking path.

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Despite the workout of walking through loose sand, it is a beautiful day with cool breezes in the canyon bottom, something I'll appreciate later on the hike out. Additionally there are many leafed out cottonwood trees adding a splash of green to the dark stain of desert varnish that streak the canyon walls.

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Soon after entering the wash, the first of four panels can be seen above the trail on the west facing wall (left as you walk up canyon). These "Barrier Canyon" style pictographs are thought to be nearly 3000 years old, predating Fremont and ancestral puebloan culture. They were created by a nomadic hunter/gatherer people, and their meaning are still a matter of academic debate today.

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Continuing along, the next site is located just upstream. These images display a broader array of unique figures. Notice the curly tailed canine (at least I think it's a canine - or maybe a pet mountain lion?)

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The rock art is remarkably well preserved, considering the exposure to sun, wind, rain, snow, etc. for thousands of years. I mean, a car's paint finish fades after 10 years, yet these ancient artworks are still recognizable after centuries - maybe Detroit should look into whatever pigment these people used.

Walking further into the canyon is a delight, with every bend showcasing another stunning scene.

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The third panel is located in an alcove carved out of the canyon wall - when I first saw it I thought "what a great place for an ancestral puebloan ruin".

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This particular display has not fared as well as the others in terms of exposure. Many of the drawings are faded and nondescript, making them harder to distinguish.

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Finally it's on to the granddaddy of them all - the Great Gallery. Still about a mile further in, the trail continues to wind its way through the canyon bottom.

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Along the way, I see Godzilla was here (or one of his smaller cousins).

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The Great Gallery is known for the life sized figures - one of the largest displays of its kind in North America. So large in fact I can see it from several hundred feet away.

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You get an idea of scale from the people standing in the foreground of this picture.

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There is a variety of figures here, with intricate shapes appearing within the armless representations.

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Notice the herd of animals in this detail of the above picture.

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This image is probably the best well known of the Great Gallery figures - known as the Great White Ghost, it is stylistically different from the others.

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This petroglyph of bighorn sheep appears below the main figures.

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There was a small group of hikers at the Great Gallery when I arrived, and in talking to them I learned they were from Price, Utah which is not far from Horseshoe Canyon. With some obvious civic pride they told me that near their home is a place called Nine Mile Canyon that contains more rock art than anywhere else in the country. You know I'm going to add that to my list.

After a leisurely lunch, I head back down canyon for the hike out. It's just as pretty going this way as it was coming in.

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Once I hit the rim, it's time to hit the road again - Next installment: I'm looking for a Lucky Strike!

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Happy Trails!

* This post was last edited 05/08/10 01:17am by seldomseensmith *   View edit history


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silversand

Montreal

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Posted: 05/08/10 04:04am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Nice follow-up!

I'm going through slowly with coffee in hand as I write.

Cheers,
Silver-


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dodgebob08

Mississippi

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Posted: 05/08/10 04:11am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

cool, thanks for posting the info and pictures.


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TheCanuckian

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Posted: 05/08/10 04:41am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

A whole new meaning to "Rock and Roll". Fantastic Pics. Thanks for posting.


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HookupAndGo

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Posted: 05/08/10 05:34am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Outstanding.... it just really reinforces my thinking that I really need to get out there and do some real hiking... One of these long trips I will make it that far west!


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Go Dogs

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Posted: 05/08/10 06:28am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Since at this point in my life, it's unlikely I will be able to see all that in person (unlikely not impossible!), I really appreciate your amazing photos. Thanks!!!





DonCurley

La Sal, Utah

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Posted: 05/08/10 08:42am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Another really nice report and pics Eric for your part 2 write up.
And looking for a "Lucky Strike"? Hmmmm ... as in Strike Valley? (but that would probably be in the wrong direction).


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Blackoctaupus

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Posted: 05/08/10 07:43am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Ho well there we go again, you know how to make a person suffer. I wish I was retired, so I will be the one taking those really beautiful picture and enjoying myself doing it. Looking forward too that day.

Anyway Thank you so much for those really nice pic and to make us realize to get out and enjoy life.


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weymard

NORMANDY

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Posted: 05/08/10 11:59am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Great report, very interesting and nice pictures. Thanks for sharing.


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TwoMaineiacs

Near Freeport, Maine

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Posted: 05/08/10 07:21am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Incredible photos. I hope all of you who live out west and can get to these sites often know how fortunate you are. It's about impossible to find such isolated spots in the east.

Watch going into Nine Mile Canyon. It's actually about 35 miles long on the road and narrow. It's a passage for trucks carrying crude oil out of the oil fields and they don't give way at all. We didn't make it very in as you count the sites by mile marker and we didn't get a base mark going in. Stop at the Price tourist center which is now a restored 1920s house. They will give you a map of the canyon and some hidden gems along the way.


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