May 29, 2016

Grand Gulch...finally

Our friends would ask us: "where you going this time?" I was embarrassed to say that were going to Grand Gulch for the first time ever. Can't believe we've both been in Utah for 15 years and had never been.

We originally planned to do an out and back, 5 day trip from Bullet Canyon Trailhead. Once we started down Bullet we were thinking about going out at Kane Gulch so we'd see the whole Grand Gulch/Bullet Canyon loop.

Day 1:

Lisa and I rolled out of Salt Lake City at precisely the most obscene hour of the day. Driving the Subaru this time cause the blazer has a throw-out bearing about to die. The Subaru is good for covering a lot of road, fast. Something the '77 doesn't do so well. We made it to Kane Gulch Ranger Station within an hour of the 12 noon cut-off time to pickup our backcountry permit and watch the backcountry ethic video. The video was produced by the same Kelly Rigby at the State Office that I took down the river a couple years ago when he and Chad produced the video for Deso.
We parked at Bullet TH and got going right away. It didn't take long and Lisa spotted a big stacked wall on the rim of the canyon, setting the tone for the rest of the trip. Pretty much every time we looked up we saw something! Unbelievable archaeology from start to finish. Within a couple hours we came to the first "popular" ruin on the map; Perfect Kiva, the only ruin that allows people to enter. Perfect Kiva has been "hardened" as is evidenced by the sheet of plywood, for the roof, edges sticking out of the dirt.

I'd have hated to haul an entire sheet of plywood all the way down Bullet. On Deso we freak out if we see corn cobs or pot sherds. Here they're everywhere! We had to step slow and careful to avoid stepping on them. It was surprising that the BLM allows people to enter the sites at all. It'll be interesting to see how/if the management changes when the whole thing is declared a National Monument. Seems that it needs some kind of protection cause people are idiots and won't follow directions. In nearly every ruin there were signs that asked people not to enter the rooms, yet the foot prints of hikers were inside. So, later when your looking at the sites from considerable distance we have the dumb shits to thank!

Nice grass in Bullet Canyon

We didn't climb up to Jailhouse Ruin, and kind of wished we would have later. The trail sort of turned into a maze in the Jailhouse area. Lots of campsites, and the spring make it a popular area, I guess. The campsites were nice, but it was early and we weren't desperate enough yet to try making the spring work. Shitty water, but water is water if your in a pinch. We weren't in that big of a pinch...yet. We went on to the mouth of Bullet passing ruin after ruin along the way. Again, the camps were nice at the mouth, but the water source was pathetic. By now it was 5pm and we were ready to be done for the day. The spring was worse than Jailhouse and smelled of cow even though there were no cows in Bullet. There was no way! Back to our packs we went, boots back on, Sheiks Canyon spring in our sights.
It's funny, but if you've ever been truly thirsty, water will rule your entire existence. I'm pretty picky about water. Depending on where we are, we carry three forms of water treatment with us when we go. A pump (that also removes taste), chlorine, and an ultra violet Steri-pen. As far as I'm concerned, my entire trip will be geared around water and I will obsess over it, here's why; I've only been out of water once in my life. During my season in the Escalante I ran out of water on Fifty-mile Mountain, a spring I was counting on was dry. I went from 4pm to 2pm the next day without water. The experience scared me senseless, and made me take water seriously. I see people in the backcountry with water bottles from the 7-11 and suspect they've never been without.
Before we left the mouth of Bullet we decided to hike out the top of Kane Gulch as we didn't want to miss the ruins further up canyon. The rangers at Kane Gulch Ranger Station commented that it was the wettest year in 15 years, which explained the jungle of weeds in Grand Gulch. On our way to Sheiks the progress got painfully slow; less than a mile an hour. The trail went through tamarisk jungle and climbed in and out of an incised stream bed sometimes 15 feet deep. Yet still, almost every time we looked up, there were more ruins hanging impossibly on the wall like birds. About 7pm we got to Sheiks Canyon and found a small campsite on a sage bench with a great view. We dropped packs and got out water gear to go find the spring. On the way up Sheiks we discovered the Green Mask Ruin, not knowing it was there. I was glad we didn't do much pre-trip, ruin location research. It was a joy to stumble upon the ruins, breathless, an entire field of vision filled with wonder. We had several firsts on this trip, and two were at this site. 1)The Green Mask is the only time I've ever seen the color green used in a pictograph. 2)The mud spirals are the only time I've ever seen this type of archaeology.
The spring in Sheiks was perfect so we loaded up and hauled the water back to camp. Lisa treated the water while I started the stove and made us curried chicken with lentils for dinner. Glad that we held out for better water, we had a wee nip of whiskey, and watched the last of the sun on the rocks high above, on our first night in Grand Gulch.  

Jailhouse Ruin
Mud Spirals: a first

The Sheiks?

The Green Mask

camp 1

Day 2:

We planned a more chill day, but the miles still clicked off with delay. Alas, we had 5 days provisions for what was supposed to be a 3 day trip. Somehow it took us 6 hours to cover 7 miles! We set our goal as Todie Canyon. Later, we learned the canyon was nick named "to die" because of the brutally steep trail that climbs out the top. After leaving Todie we entered a section where the trail follows the bottom of the stream bed, walled in by more 8 foot tall weeds, surely with ruins out of sight as we passed by. I thought Perfect Kiva was amazing, but Split Level Ruin may have been my favorite. The midden pile alone was staggering!
Once we got within day hiker range of Kane Gulch Trailhead the trail improved dramatically. Todie was another nice campsite in the cottonwoods with a nice water source a little bit up Todie Canyon.

weeds...damn weeds

Split Level Ruin

Camp 2 - Todie Canyon

Day 3:

May 27th, today, was Lisa's birthday and much of the reason we were in Grand Gulch. Today would be our most chill day with only 3 1/2 miles to go to our goal at Junction Ruin. Before setting out we would leave our packs at camp and hike up on to a ledge above camp where I thought I spied some petroglyphs the night before. 
This petroglyph panel was very interesting because it had some figures that looked like the Fremont style from up north. There was a bighorn sheep with oversized rectangular body and smaller head and legs. Also present were a few horned anthropromorphs. Both of which are distinct Fremont style in Deso. The re-patinated figures indicate that they were quite old.

We took a long birthday lunch stop under Stimper Arch in the shade of a young cottonwood tree.

Later in the day, another bug free, beautiful day in southern Utah we arrived at Turkey Pen Ruin. Each ruin we saw continued to best the one before. I'd definitely recommend going in Bullet for this reason.

Huge Turkey Pen Alcove! (Lisa in lower right)

the Turkey Pen

As we continued up canyon we saw more and more hikers along the easy trail to the junction with Kane Gulch. Two or three other groups we talked to mentioned what a great campsite there was at Junction. When we arrived there was nobody else around so we dropped our packs, claiming the prize. 
Camp 3 - birthday wine and chocolate

Day 4:

Today we would go out of the canyon. We got up early, made a pot of cowboy coffee, and took a short walk up to where we could see the cliff houses, over the trees. The morning sun slowly illuminated the wall. We had the whole canyon to ourselves. We noticed the remains of a ladder hanging from the ledge astonished that it could last so long, even a few rungs survived. How did they have the nerve to ascend and descend from there every day on such a rickety ladder? A few hours from the end of the trip there was so much I didn't know! The cliff dwellings high on the wall convinced me that I didn't need to know everything about these people to have complete respect for their nerve and skill. They had balls like I couldn't imagine. They had craftsmanship to build a ladder that would dangle from a precipice for a thousand years! We walked back to camp to make breakfast and get on our way.
On the way out we saw hoards of people coming in. The holiday weekend had started just as we were leaving. 

the cliff dwellers

Part of agreeing to a mystery shuttle is accepting both extremes of what's possible. We didn't know how we'd get back to the car, but we knew the greater extreme would guarantee us an 8 mile walk along the highway with the iconic Cedar Mesa formation called the Bears Ears always at our back.

We walked....for 8 more miles.

the mystery shuttle... not working out

1 comment:

  1. Nice post Mick! We did a variation of this (3 nights too) a few months back. Would be fun to share photos, see what you saw that we missed and vice versa. That place is amazing! We'd go back in a maybe this weekend!

    Nicole and Jesse