Grand Gulch


By: Ron Jones


The LA riots had just begun and the National Guard was moving in, and we left. We all met at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station just south of Arches National Monument at 11am Sunday morning.

Elevation there is 6400' and it was quite cool, but pleasant. Ron prepared our permit for the BLM Ranger. Effective 10/1/91 there is a modest $5/person fee required for recreational use in the Grand Gulch Primitive Area. Questions can be directed to: Area Manager, BLM-San Juan Resource Area, PO Box 7, Monticello, UT 84535, (801) 587-2141. We arranged a 10 mile car shuttle to Bullet Canyon trailhead, and were beginning our 7 day backpack by noon. We were a total of 8, Dean & Pat Acheson, Sylvia & Ed Kenney, Jim Conley and Kevin Weinrich.

Grand Gulch is a 55-mile long canyon system with many side canyons. We entered on the east side via Bullet Canyon and exited to the north via Kane With heavy backpacks and enthusiasm high, we found our first Anasazi ("Ancient Ones") cave dwelling high upon the slope to the north. There were remnants of inhabitation and storage, including pottery sherds and tiny corn cobs (3-4" in length). There were even some faint petroglyphs chipped in the granite walls below. It was amazing to think that these people flourished between 700 and 2,000 years ago.

Further down canyon we found another dwelling high upon the canyon wall but kept on hiking. After a few breaks and 3 3/4 hiking hours, we encountered "Perfect Kiva". And it was. Approximately 100' above the trail was a series of 4 or 5 rooms, including a ceremonial, underground kiva with ladder. We all went down inside to explore and get the feeling of the past. It was tremendous. The weather looked threatening so we mounted our packs and hiked the last 1/2 mile to Jailhouse Spring. first day.

Typical time for starting our backpack for the day was 8:30. We were off after exploring Jailhouse Ruin. This was a class 4 climb to reach this dwelling that only Ron and Ed were willing to make, Monday was a day of bushwhacking through reeds, wildflowers and other various plant life. Several ruins were spotted along the way to Step Canyon, including Totem Pole. It was a nice campsite, with not so great water. We were just up stream from Step at "Two Story Ruin". It became our home for 2 nights. Tuesday morning Ron & Jim explored a granary high on the opposite canyon wall, involving some 3rd class? rock. Later, all but Leora headed down Grand Gulch Canyon passing and exploring several dwellings, side canyons and springs, to our destination, Big Man Panel. This was a pair of gigantic red Indians painted on a cliff high above the canyon. They reminded Ron of the cave paintings in Baja California. We day-hiked about 9 miles rt and were back in camp by 4pm.

Wednesday we retraced our steps back to the junction of Bullet and Grand Gulch and then turned north for our exit via Kane Gulch. We were still in Grand Gulch at this point. We met up with the BLM ranger who warned us of serious storms passing through, and the potential of hail. By 1pm it was very dark and the thunder was clapping loudly and echoing within the canyon walls of Shiek's Canyon. We found a very large overhang, less than 100 yards from the ruins and pictographs at Green Mask Spring. We all decided this was high and dry and safe in a hail storm.

Thursday we left our happy camp and continued upstream. We passed the Thumb Pour Off, Coyote Canyon, and then came to Split Level Ruin. The weather cooperated, the trail began to clear of weeds and we were the only ones here to inhabit this magnificent site. There were 3 obvious levels, or stories, of ruins. We had passed 8 horsemen from St. George and they said they had left some firewood for us to enjoy, and that we did.

Friday we made way to our last camp, Junction Ruin. On the way we passed Todie Spring and Canyon, Fortress Canyon, Stimper Arch, a nice unnamed ruin, followed by Turkey Pen, a very large overhang with 2 levels of dwellings. It began to gently rain and continued for 1 1/2 hours. We were high and dry once again under this overhang. We waited for the weather to clear, mounted our packs, and continued on 7/10 mile to Junction Ruin. Being only 4 miles from the Kane Gulch trailhead, this is the most heavily used campsite. We saw 5 people total! There were metates and manos, sherds, corn cobs and 2 ceremonial kivas in very good shape. We explored, used up more film and had one of the best happy hours you can imagine. It included tabouli, camembert cheese, sausage and wheat thins, and chips of all sorts.

Our final day up Kane Gulch was pleasant. We found switchbacks and stream crossings, nice overcast weather and the last 4 miles of our trip. Once at our cars, it began to rain, hail, thunder and lightening far worse than during the entire trip, and it didn't stop for 12 hours.

Thanks to all for a marvelous vacation and for joining us on a trip Ron has wanted to make for 20 years.

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