07 March 2016

That thing, you know, when you perceive the unseen? Part I

There is an oddity here. I've no other way to describe it. I've traveled a lot, lived in many places, I have to say I'm sure I've never lived somewhere with quite the vibe I get from Utah. It's not everywhere either mind you, but there have been some places that I've just had to stop for a minute, cease moving and thinking and just see for a moment, because something caused a sensation.

I've searched for the word but I can't find it, or any adequate substitute. The best I can do is a thing, when you perceive the unseen. It's not a sixth sense, at least I'm not chalking it up to that. Some of the trips I've made since I arrived in Utah have taken me to some places that cause this feeling. Captain Obvious says, "well of course dummy, you're staring are something someone made eons ago, a whole people vanished from here, I reckon that would cause a skinny up anyone's spine."

Captain Obvious is rarely as helpful as he thinks he is.

I pulled the jeep out of the hotel parking lot just before dawn on Saturday morning. I was amazed at the temperature difference, already in the high 40s while back home in 'Sota it was seven degrees. I pulled through the gears and accelerated up the on ramp, depressed the clutch and shifted into sixth as I merged onto an empty U.S. 15 headed south.

With the snow capped Wasatch mountains in my rear view mirror, I passed into the canyon south of Spanish Fork and settled in for the long haul down U.S. 6 towards the desert.

It's still very much winter in Utah's high country. I've wanted to get out and explore the high Unitas specifically but access is quite limited until the roads open again in May(ish). Access I'm looking for comes by way of Mirror Lake Highway which closes usually in November through to May. Another would be 35 but that's also closed. So to get into the mountainous high country I'd need snowgo capability and right now I just don't have that. Plus there's the whole desert thing which is really pulling me these days, and I sure don't want to haunt them in summer. Turns out to be a natural plan, mountains and forests in summer and fall, desert country in winter and spring. It's like the topography and climates of Utah are specifically suited to the seasons making them more enjoyable.

I cranked the knob on the stereo, Otis Taylor's 'Nasty Letter' was sounding good with the dull hum of the BFG mud terrains humming on the highway. Dropped her back into fifth on the way up the mountain and passed a Peterbuilt as it poured black smoke from the effort of the long climb.

I was heading to the San Rafael Swell area, 2,000 square miles of public land known for its scenic sandstone formations, deep canyons, desert streams, and expansive panoramas.

The drive isn't that bad at all, open highway and ever changing terrain.

A short piece of I-70 later and I'm off on 24 west. I finally get to the left I'm supposed to take and I took a pic of this hilarity. I wonder how many folks did this before they posted the sign?

Well it really was where I wanted to go.

Lots of roaming cattle on BLM land. I'm not Matthew McConaughey nor do I drive a Lincoln, they'll move.

30 odd miles later I pulled into the trail head for Horseshoe Canyon. I loaded up some extra water in my Kifaru Urban Zippy, grabbed a hat and hit the trail.

Horseshoe Canyon, formerly known as Barrier Canyon, is in a remote area west of the Green River and north of the Canyonlands National Park Maze District in Utah, USA. It is known for its collection of Barrier Canyon Style (BCS) rock art, including both pictographs and petroglyphs, which was first recognized as a unique style here. A portion of Horseshoe Canyon containing The Great Gallery is part of a detached unit of Canyonlands National Park. The Horseshoe Canyon Unit was added to the park in 1971 in an attempt to preserve and protect the rock art found along much of its length.
Human presence in Horseshoe Canyon has been dated as far back as 7000-9000 B.C., when Paleo-Indians hunted large mammals such as Mastodons and Mammoths across the southwest. Later inhabitants included the Desert Archaic culture, the Fremont culture, and Ancestral Puebloans. Occupation by the Fremont and Ancestral Puebloans was relatively brief; it is believed that the canyon was abandoned by Native American peoples by 1300 A.D.

This is some three toed Dinosaur track. Tough to make out but it's there.

I've been wearing a pair of Palladium's since I started desert walking. So far so good, I can't complain. I did put an extra pair of insoles in them and I sprayed them with a Nikwax water repellent treatment. While they are not water proof they are much for water repellent as a result of the treatment.

The path down into Horseshoe Canyon starts out on slick rock, proceeds to sand, back to rock then ledges and then some pretty steep downhills into the wash at the bottom.

The plan was to hike the 3.8ish miles up canyon past all of the rock art galleries, and explore the northern most section below the west rim, then the 3.8ish back out and up to the jeep. Then drive the 32 miles back out and up to Temple Mount where I'd camp on BLM land that night.

The below is the first panel I came to. I've seen rock and cave are before but all of it was of animals and hunting of said animals for the most part. I haven't seen this style before. In this panel there isn't a single animal. Not one. Is it a family portrait of sorts? Does it reflect those they lost and were gone? Something else entirely?

Unlike the hunting scene a couple images above, this one isn't about hunting anymore.

It'll make you stop and think, what is being said? Note the same color tan between the skinny figure left with the squiggly line running to the figure on the right with the arms spread, clearly they were done at the same time, so what is being said?

Another strange set, note at times figures have distinct legs and feet, and others just taper out.

In the image below you can see the person standing at the entrance to that alcove, everything about this country makes a human look small.

In the next several images I tried to provide a sense of scale but I wasn't truly successful. This opening in the wall was truly magnificent, rising a couple hundred feet, with a 6' high ledge in front of it, perhaps 400' wide across the front and at the deepest point probably 100'. Rock art can be found along the back wall.

Looking at the center of the image below, there is a group of 6 or 8 people sitting on the rocks. They are adults, helps give a sense of how large of an area this is.

Again, in the left of the image below there are six people having lunch.

Leaving this area I took a picture looking back on it from up the canyon on the way to the Great Gallery.

Heading up canyon, a couple hikers passed by going back to the trail head, in the image below they are near the creek. The sheer size of this place is amazing.

Below is an image of the 'Holy Ghost' pictograph.

The next image was again taken to present some scale. In the lower right is an average adult.

At this point I went ahead and hiked up to the west rim and then turned back and retraced my steps back out of the canyon. My intention was to then drive back out of Horseshoe Canyon and then up Temple Mountain where I'd camp for the night.

Shout out to 'Infidel Leather' from BCUSA forums, I've been using this sheath to carry my Skookum Bushtool for a while now and couldn't be happier. It came to me by way of Pastor Chris also at BCUSA, while it originally carried a Gossman Polaris.

Once back to the jeep I hydrated up and hit the road for Temple Mountain.

The run out to Temple Mountain was uneventful though clouds were building on the horizon. Rain was coming.

Turns out I ended up setting camp after dark but it wasn't difficult. I was using my Kifaru Megatarp for shelter, with a Bear Paw 1.5 net tent as an interior. This combo I've written about before and absolutely love it for an occasion where I don't want unexpected visitors in the shelter during the night. Not knowing what creepy crawly or slithering denizens might want to share my shelter I opted to use it.

I also wanted a fire and ended up getting it going after dark as well. Finding dry stuff wasn't hard and a fire steel fire was easy to get going.

Food was Kung Pao Rice, it was okay.

 Post supper I managed to take some reasonably good nighttime pictures.

I bedded down somewhere past 10, clouds were moving in thicker and the stars disappeared. I think this might be the quietest place I've ever camped including Alaska's Brook Range. There was absolute silence which in itself was deafening.

I awoke to the sound of rain hammering the shelter at around four in the morning...

Part II to come later this week. Thanks for reading!


  1. I've been following your blog for about close to 3.5 years now and check it regularly. I moved to Utah about 3 years ago for school. Beautiful state with a lot of great places. You should definitely check out The Nebo Loop once it opens up along with the chain lakes up in the Uintas because you will find Mirror Lake isn't really conducive to solitude once the summer months come. If you want some more places, let me know and we can figure out a way to exchange information! Enjoy Utah. It's a beautiful state and lots of opportunities await.

    1. Thanks for the tip and would certainly be open to talking more. americangrouch@gmail.com

  2. I have been following you for quite some time and have been fascinated with blog. I moved from Idaho to Utah about ten years ago and have fallen in love with this state. You nailed it when you mentioned the diversity of landscapes we have here. Driving from north to south can almost feel like your going to another planet. I look forward to your take on the wilds of Utah!