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Grand Explorations

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Grand Explorations

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Utah, United States, North America

Object Title: Grand Explorations

Date Climbed/Hiked: May 23, 2015

Activities: Hiking, Scrambling

Season: Spring


Page By: Scott

Created/Edited: Jun 1, 2015 / Jun 1, 2015

Object ID: 941674

Hits: 1187 

Page Score: 81.84%  - 14 Votes 

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Originally, we had planned on doing some narrow canyons in Escalante, but the weather forecast was not favorable. Normally, it is starting to get pretty hot in this region at this time of year, but the weather forecast called for cool temperatures and rain.

We couldn’t do any narrow canyons, but I suggested that we hike another section of Grand Gulch since it would be safe during rains. I hadn’t hiked the section of Grand Gulch between Bullet Canyon and Government Trail, but I wanted to. The recent rains should mean that there would be some wildflowers out, and water sources should be plentiful. There are many ruins that are 800-2000 years old (some of the pictographs are even much older than this) and it is an interesting and beautiful place. Not many people hike Grand Gulch below Bullet Canyon.

A ruin in Bullet Canyon.

May 23

Shaylee, Kessler, and I met my dad, Matt, and Dani at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station in the morning. We obtained our permit and Matt and I did the car shuttle to the head of the Government Trail. We stopped 0.3 miles from the trailhead since the road got really rough. On the drive, it rained lightly at times.

We all headed down Bullet Canyon. After not too long, it began to rain heavily and water spilled off the scrambling sections. I noticed a big pictograph high on the cliffs above the gulch. I doubt many people see it. There were also several desert wildflowers about, which were a gift from the recent rains.

Hiking Bullet Canyon in the rain.

This time we missed the rim top ruin and continued down to Perfect Kiva Ruin to eat lunch while seeking shelter from the pouring rain. We had a long and leisurely lunch at Perfect Kiva. Perfect Kiva is one of the few ruins where it is OK to enter, so we descended into its dark depths via a wooden ladder.

Perfect Kiva
The Perfect Kiva ruin in Bullet Canyon.

The rain tapered off a bit and we contoured around the rock benches to Jailhouse Ruin, which is almost camouflaged and blends into the wall nicely. The ruins were really neat and we stopped to take photographs. The ruins were named after a window with cross bars that makes the ruin have the appearance of an old jail cell. There is an upper level of the ruin as well, which is accessible only by some serious rock climbing. Above the upper ruin were some big white and green pictographs. There were also some interesting pictographs near the walls of the lower ruin as well.

Jailhouse Ruin
The Jailhouse Ruin almost blends right into the cliff face. Notice the round pictographs as well.

Not that far from the ruin, I picked up what looked like a flat rock and it turned out to be a very nice looking potsherd. I put it back exactly where I found it.

An ancient potsherd we found in Bullet Canyon. It is probably 1000 year old. It was upside down and looked like a stone until we picked it up. We put it back exactly where we found it.

We continued down canyon, but Kessler and I thought we forgot something at the ruins, so we ran back up canyon to search around while the others continued down canyon. We didn’t find our missing item, so returned to the packs. It was in our packs all along. We met the others at another ruin that they were checking out. From afar, we observed another ruin high on the cliff.

Bullet Canyon
Hiking Bullet Canyon.

It rained on and off as we continued down Bullet Canyon, visiting one more ruin along the way, and observing another from afar. There was a good campsite at the junction of Bullet Canyon and Grand Gulch, where Kessler, my dad, my nephew, brother, and I had camped nine years previous, just after Kessler turned four. We wanted to continue down canyon to Green House Canyon, so we pushed on down Grand Gulch. This section of Grand Gulch isn’t hiked as often as the other sections and the going was rougher and slower. It was still raining and we had to wade down canyon and through the tall and wet grass, which soaked us. I noticed a pictograph panel of hand prints and “upside down rainbows” and I climbed up to it. The others didn’t want to make the climb, but I took photographs.

Hidden Pictograph
A hidden pictograph panel in Grand Gulch.

Grand Gulch
The typical scenery in Grand Gulch.

We continued battling our way down to Green House Canyon where we made camp. Luckily, there was a nice water source near the camp. There was also a ruin above camp which we climbed up to and explored the area.

Checking out a ruin near camp in Grand Gulch.

It was a pretty long day, but I still walked up Green House Canyon to see if there was more water available around the ruin. Incidentally, there was also a slightly murky pool just below camp that was fine for cooking.

It was a wet day and it had its challenges (mostly due to the heavy rains), but it was a good day.

After setting up camp, we cooked dinner and rested for the night.

May 24

It had rained throughout hard during much of the night, but the morning was just partly cloudy. First, we hiked up Green House Canyon to see the Green House Ruin, one of the most interesting of the trip. The ruin has been partially pained green and is in very good condition.

Green House Ruin
The Green House Ruin.

Getting to the ruin involves climbing up some rock slabs to a ledge a following a very exposed ledge over the ruin. Right at the most exposed part you duck under a wall before reaching the ruin. My dad didn’t cross the final ledge, but the rest of us did. There were also some very preserved granaries on the ledges around the Green House as well and one of them has an intact door. After returning to Grand Gulch, we packed up camp and headed down canyon. It wasn’t raining more than a sprinkle at times, but we still got completely soaked wading through the tall and wet grasses.

Green House Ruin
Kessler and Shaylee at the Green House Ruin. It is a somewhat stiff and exposed climb to reach the ruin.

The next point of interest was the two story ruin just before we reached Step Canyon. It is also very interesting a well preserved. We spent some time checking out the ruins on the ledge.

Two Story Ruin
The two story ruin in Grand Gulch near Step Canyon.

Just up Step Canyon is a really nice petroglyph panel. It is unique since it has green paintings, which are rather rare. There were also yellow and red paintings. Most paintings are only red or black. There were many ancient hand prints as well.

Pictographs in Step Canyon.

After Step Canyon, we hiked down Grand Gulch to Dripping Canyon. There are some good pictograph panels in Dripping Canyon as well and some look like birds. There were also some interesting white painted handprints. Some of the Barrier Style Pictographs were rubbed partially off. Barrier Style Pictographs are much older than other sites in Grand Gulch and are thought to be 3000-8000 years old. It is also thought that the Anasazi themselves may have rubbed off some of the old pictographs.

Some of the petroglyphs in Dripping Canyon.

Dripping Canyon
Pictographs in Dripping Canyon.

Not far down Grand Gulch was Cow Tank Canyon, which has yet another interesting pictograph panel. After exploring Cow Tank, we continued down canyon. Around a bend in Grand Gulch, there was a panel under an overhang high above the floor of the gulch. Many people walk right under it without seeing it. Below Cow Tank Canyon, the vegetation in Grand Gulch thins out and walking becomes easier.

Around lunch, it began to rain hard again, but luckily the rains were short lived.

Sunshine at last!

Not far down canyon was a ruin known as Long House. It looked great from afar, but was well guarded by a huge cactus field. It is known that the Anasazi use to cultivate cactus for their fruits, but over the millennia, this one had grown to monster proportions. I think all of us got pricked at least a few times. Alas, we didn’t find Long House to be quite as interesting as some of the other ruins and it wasn’t as well preserved.

Cactus Flower
A cactus flower in Grand Gulch.

Artifacts in the Long House in Grand Gulch.

The next major stop is Big Man Pictograph, but we saw one more ruin along the way. To find Big Man, you are supposed to look for an arch and then reference to down canyon, but we never saw the arch before seeing Big Man. I was looking at the walls for an arch, but saw the pictograph itself.

We climbed the steep route up to the Pictograph, but my dad was too tired to make the climb, so he observed the pictographs from below. This was definitely the best pictograph panel of the hike.

Big Man Panel
The Big Man Panel in Grand Gulch. The two huge figures, which are about eight feet high are 3000 to 8000 years old. Some of the carved figures are nearer to 1000 years old. This is one of the best pictograph panels in the world.

Big Man Panel
Shaylee stands next to the Big Man Panel to show the scale of the pictograph.

Rock Formation
A rock formation in Grand Gulch above Pollys Canyon.

After finding Big Man, we continued down canyon, hoping to reach Pollys Spring for camp. The weather was good now and we didn’t have any rain. We did observe one ruin along the way, but we didn’t climb up to it. There were also some interesting rock formations and a small arch.

Once we were at the mouth of Pollys Canyon, we found a great campsite. We set up camp and stocked up on water. I noticed a big arch not that far up Pollys Canyon and when I told the others about it, they hiked up to it was well.

Kessler and I also hiked down Grand Gulch to locate the Government Trail. We thought we’d look for it now rather than waiting until the morning when we had heavy packs on. There were a lot of pretty pools in the slickrock of this section of the canyon and many were filled with tadpoles.

May 25

At night, it rained a few drops, but nothing more and the morning was dry and somewhat overcast. It was going to be an easy four mile day. We hiked down Grand Gulch and made our way up the Government Trail. The trail is steep at first, but we got to the top faster than expected and it was a pretty walk. The weather was perfect for the hike and we were glad that there was cloud cover.

Government Trail
Part of the Government Trail into Grand Gulch.

Government Trail
The lower section of the Government Trail.

Government Trail
The Government Trail at the rim of Grand Gulch.

Government Trail
The top of the Government Trail.

Although we were now out of the canyon, the walk back to the trailhead was still pretty and had many distant views. We could see as far as Navajo Mountain and the Henry Mountains. The Bears Ears and other cliffs in the distance were also impressive.

Cactus Flower
A cactus flower along the Government Trail.

The hike back was uneventful, but we did pass some nice flowers, including cactus flowers. Once we reached vehicle near the trailhead, we packed all six of us into my Outback and did the car shuttle. The rest of the group commented how well behaved the kids were, which was nice.

It was a great trip! On the way back we also stopped at the Dinosaur Museum in Blanding before heading home.


Big Man PanelPictographsBig Man PanelCactus FlowerCactus FlowerSunshineRock Formation
Government TrailNear the TrailheadPictographsGovernment TrailArtifactsGovernment TrailRuin
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Viewing: 1-4 of 4    

Scott M.The Old Ones

Scott M.

Voted 10/10

Enjoyed this. Reminded me of Dave Roberts' book "In Search of the Old Ones".
Scott M.
Posted Jun 5, 2015 4:53 pm

ScottRe: The Old Ones


Hasn't voted

Yes; good book. I've been to many of the places mentioned in the book.
Posted Jun 7, 2015 12:06 am

AbneyGreat photos!


Hasn't voted

Great trip report, Scott, and I gotta say I love the photos. Haven't been to such historical places yet in my life and I'm mighty jealous right now.

P.S. Those pictographs freak me out so much.
Posted Jun 7, 2015 3:31 pm

ScottRe: Great photos!


Hasn't voted

Thanks for the comments! I do wonder what those pictographs mean.
Posted Jun 8, 2015 6:14 pm

Viewing: 1-4 of 4