Thursday, March 23, 2017

Horse Canyon

On an overnight backpacking trip to Canyonlands National Park with Jan, a wrong turn led us down the right path.
Jumping back and forth across Salt Creek.
The original goal was Angel Arch, largest arch in Canyonlands. Ambitious mileage, especially with the sand. But we missed our turn to Salt Creek Canyon where it splits from Horse Canyon. By the time we realized our mistake, we were already at an arch named Paul Bunyon’s Potty. Naturally, many jokes were told and hilarity ensued.
Paul Bunyon’s Potty is a large pothole arch.
A short detour took us to an Ancestral Puebloan site that invoked wonder and contemplation. Despite my initial reluctance (which took the form of my insisting we backtrack before I realized the error in my ways), finally the poorly conceived original plan was abandoned in favor of our organic and delightfully spontaneous new route down Horse Canyon. Checking of maps revealed several intriguing sites, side canyons, and arches. How could a singular ambitious goal make sense in the face of lollygaging and discovery? Especially with Jan, who is the master of lollygaging.
Built by the ancient people.
The reason that we’d not even considered Horse Canyon was that our maps showed this as a jeep route. But we couldn’t see any signs that vehicles had been this way for a long time (we’d later find out this area was still closed to jeeps this time of year). And once we passed the turnoff to Tower Ruin, there weren’t any recent human footprints either. Another win.
Jan leaves behind the first human footprints for a while.
Best of all, our backcountry camping permit was for the entire Salt/Horse Canyon zone, so we were free to camp anywhere. Perfect!
Gorgeous cottonwoods. 
Chasing mourning cloaks.
Exploring washes.
When the washes get rocky, it’s a pleasant break from the tough sand walking.
Canyon walls seem higher the further up the canyon we venture.

Climbing down is always more difficult than getting up.
Finding a suitable campsite away from trails takes some time. We roll out or sleeping bags on top of a rocky perch and wait for the sky change.
It’s early so Jan reads us a bedtime story, part of an ebook by Keith Foskett. 
Finally the sky turns subtle purple and slowly grows darker.  (photo by Jan)
I feel completely restored and happy to be surrounded by rock and spires, waiting for the full moon to rise. The night is quiet and we wake to the soft hooting of an owl in the predawn.
Castle Arch is the most stunning arch I’ve seen- so fragile-looking and so very out of the way. The canyon is choked with plants and we have had enough bushwhacking for the day so decide not to push on further for a closer view.
The next day, we visit Castle Arch and Tower Ruin, which Jan thoughtfully suggested we save to the end. Truly the icing on the cake of our fantastic trip!
Full of wonder at the people who lived at Tower Ruin and what their lives would have been like.
More Information

Permits are required for all overnight trips in Canyonlands National Park. In this area, bear canisters are required and all human waste must be pack out to protect this incredible place.

What’s so special about this canyon is that water has brought people here for the last 7,600 years, and there is a rich history of the Ancestral Puebloan and Fremont peoples here. The Salt Creek Archaeological District, of which Horse Canyon is a part, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Do your part to help protect the archaeological sites and incredible pictographs by staying off them and not touching them.

Read more about Tower Ruin here.


  1. Oh Canyonlands, how this takes me back! Gorgeous, simply gorgeous.

    1. This trip took us sort of near Peakaboo. I remember how nervous I was on that trip going over that sketchy section with the exposure and how I contemplated hiking out via the road (that I hiked this time), and how you carried my pack across when I got scared. What good memories, Renee!

  2. What a great post, such a fun adventure! BTW, the author of the book is Keith Foskett, and the title is Travelled Far.

    1. Such a fabulous trip with you, as usual! And what a cool thing to have a bedtime story. Will have to do that again.