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Trip Report - April, 2014 - Day hiking Horseshoe Canyon in Canyonlands National Park to the Great Gallery

Well, the Sand Hill Crack hike at Vermillion Cliffs was cutting it close but this one definitely is not Grand Canyon. It was an awesome hike though and I want to share it so I am posting it here anyway.

This hike involved going down Horseshoe Canyon in Canyonlands National Park to see and photograph the Great Gallery rock art. It was not part of the original plan going into this trip. After the trip to see the Shaman's Gallery pictographs in Tuckup Canyon (Grand Canyon) I had planned to go and seek out some rock art in Nevada, south of Mesquite, but when I got there I noticed signs all along the roads leading off of the main road stating that the areas were closed. On talking to a park ranger on the way out this was apparently because the BLM was trying to round up some cattle that were gazing on these lands illegally and they expected confrontation with the ranchers who owned these cattle and did not want any innocent bystanders to get in the way. I'd wished I had some clue that this kind of thing was even possible before driving all the way down there. The plan after this hike had been to go over to Death Valley in Caifornia for a couple days of hiking there but now I found myself rethinking that plan. I really wanted to see more rock art. Before I learned of the rock art near Mesquite I had planned to go north into Utah and Canyonlands National Park after the Shaman's Gallery to visit the rock art there in Horsehoe Canyon. It was going to be a long day of driving to get up that way now but that's what I decided to do.

I decided to go to Arches National Park too since that was part of that original plan. Luckily most of the driving heading up that way was on Interstate highway and was done quickly. I ended up getting to Arches around 2pm and still managed to get in a hike that first day to Delicate Arch. I stayed at Horsethief Campground just outside of Canyonlands that night and then went back into Arches the following day for some more hiking in the morning and then into Canyonlands in the afternoon. I really wanted to see the rock art at the Great Gallery in Horsehoe Canyon and checked with the rangers at the visitor center about the best way to do this. It turned out there were three other rock art galleries on the way to the Great Gallery and I was getting very excited about seeing it all. I did some short day hikes in the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands that afternoon and stayed at Horsethief Campground again that night. The plan was to get up early the following morning and drive over to the Horseshoe Canyon section and start the hike. I was up at 430, on the road by 600, and made it to the trailhead for the Horsehoe Canyon trail just a little after 900. I got to see a heard of antelope on the road leading to the trailhead and that was a very nice treat. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day as far as the weather went and there was still not a cloud in the sky.

I started down the trail a little before 930 and was at the creek bed in the bottom by a little after 10. The trail had once been a road constructed for oil exploration in the area and so was quite good and easy to follow. It was also only a 500' descent to the creek bed and not steep at all. I made it to the first gallery, High Gallery, less than an hour after leaving the rim.

The second gallery, Horseshoe Gallery, was very close to the first and just over on the opposite wall of the canyon. The High Gallery was nice but the Horsehoe Gallery as a lot nicer and more like what I was expecting.

The third gallery, Alcove Gallery, was a bit more of a hike down the canyon and took about 20 minutes to get to. This one was also very nice but it seems as though some of the rock was covered by a rockfall. Still there was a lot that was visiible.

The Great Gallery was even more of a hike from Alcove Gallery and took about 30 minutes to get to. This gallery was fabulous though and was everything I had expected and then some. Photos I had seen on line simply didn't do it justice and I am sure mine would be the same. Seeing it in photographs is just not the same as standing there in front of it and seeing how large the gallery really is and how much work has gone into it. There was only a Park Service volunteer and one other person at the site when I arrived so it was nice and peaceful. I had passed one other couple on the way down and I am sure there would be others there later in the day but it was still only 11:30 when I got there. I got the full history lesson of the canyon and the rock art from the volunteer but it seems no really knows how old the Great Gallery is or how long it took to produce. The general consensus is that the site was done by numerous people over a long time since many of the images are different designs and clarity. Some people however believe that it may be just one person who was experimenting with different designs over the course of his life. Unless samples of the pigments can be taken and dated somehow we will likely never know.

I spent probably an hour down at the Great Gallery talking with the volunteer and taking photos before starting the hike out. I read something about some disosaur tracks further down the creek bed from the gallery so I went to look for those but didn't find any. The volunteer told me they had been covered over by debris from a flash flood but I decided to look anyway. He also told me of a couple of other places where I could find tracks and I did manage to find those on the hike out. I had planned to camp at the trailhead that night since it was free but he also told me about a nicer place to camp that was only a few miles away and where I could like be alone if that's what I was looking for.

I arrived back at the trailhead around 2:15 and decided to head for the other camping area. I met several other people heading to the galleries during my hike out and there were quite a few vehicles at the trailhead. Given that these people were starting late and would finish late they were also likely planning to spend the night at the trailhead and I was hoping I would be alone at this other site, unless the volunteer was telling the others about it as well. Since his trailer was parked at the trailhead maybe he just wanted to get people away from his camp.

It took about a half of an hour to get to the other campsite and the view from it was absolutely incredible. I was really hoping that I would have it all to myself. It was still early so I grabbed my camera and went out to explore the area a little. I could see a small arch off in the distance and the volunteer had told me about this as well so I decided to hike over to it. By the time I got back to the car it was getting late enough so that I could start dinner. It was an absolutely beautiful sunset and then I just sat up for a while and listened to the stereo and watched the stars come out.

The official mileage that the Park Service gives for this hike is 7 miles roundtrip but for me it was probably closer to 9 as I did some other wandering around down there and also went beyond where the Great Gallery is located looking for some dinosaur tracks. The elevation gain is not significant though being only around 500'.

Larger version (1296x1728) camera Photo map

Herd of female and young pronghorn anteleope - Approach road to Horseshoe Canyon section of Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Creek bed - Horseshoe Canyon Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

High Gallery - Horseshoe Canyon Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Horseshoe Gallery - Horseshoe Canyon Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Creek bed, cottonwood trees - Horseshoe Canyon Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Alcove Gallery - Horseshoe Canyon Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

The Great Gallery - Horseshoe Canyon Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Dinosaur footprint - Horseshoe Canyon Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Camp Sweet Camp - BLM land near Horseshoe Canyon, Utah

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