Another rain/snow storm was set to roll across the northern part of Utah so there was only one thing to do.

Go south!

David and I both took Friday off from our jobs and headed south in my Ford Explorer Thursday evening. Moab Utah didn’t have any motel rooms left so we ended up driving to Monticello Utah to get a room . Even in Monticello, we found the first two motels full but managed to snag a room at the Canyonlands Motor Inn. (If the weather had been warmer, we would have just camped somewhere… but we are wusses.)

The next day we drove into The Needles area of southern Canyonlands National Park (which is fourteen cattleguards from the main highway) and purchased a $5 vehicle day pass for Horse Canyon & lower Salt Creek. We stopped briefly to take pictures of Wooden Shoe Arch since we are rarely there when the light is right for pictures. (It still wasn’t.)

Wooden Shoe Arch

We then headed south on a gravel road to the locked gate for Horse Canyon and Salt Canyon.

Horse Canyon and Salt Wash Entrance

The last time we were in Horse Canyon was fifteen years ago. Since then, there were several years when the road had been washed out so the canyon was closed to vehicle traffic and we couldn’t drive in. Even now, they only allow 10 vehicles into the canyon per day and there is one rather tricky mud hole that you have to negotiate.

The day was sunny, warm and just breezy enough to keep the no-see-ums gnats at bay. (Actually, the wind would sometimes blast us hard but would soon pass.) For this area, the most important item was that it was not yet hot. Temperatures were between 70 and 80 degrees which was just right.

There were many wildflowers in bloom and some cactus had begun to blossom including the Whipple’s Fish Hook Cactus…

Sclerocactus whipplei

… and the Golden cryptanth…

Cryptantha confertiflora

… the Harriman’s yucca…

Yucca harrimanie

… and the Orange Globe Mallow…

Sphaeralcea munroana

… and the Stemless Woolly Base.

Stemless Woolly Base - Hymenoxys acaulis

It was a perfect day!

After the obligatory stops at Skull Arch and Paul Bunyan’s Potty Arch at the bottom of the canyon, we headed south up Horse Canyon through the deep sand that is a signature feature of Horse Canyon. (Salt Canyon is rocky.)

Paul Bunyan Potty Arch

Skull Arch

Along the way, every time we spied a natural arch or bridge in the tall sandstone cliffs, we stopped to take pictures and reacquaint ourselves. We also managed to locate a few arches that we did not remember and checked out a number of possible arches that turned out to just be alcoves in the cliffs.

Middle Horse Canyon

Anchor Arch is a small class ‘D’ arch and one of the first arches that can be seen after leaving Paul Bunyan’s Potty Arch. It is located in the cliffs west of the Horse Canyon Road

Anchor Arch

Nearby is Horse Canyon Arch, a class ‘C’ arch on the east side of the road.

Horse Canyon Arch

On of our first stops was in the west side canyon just north of Gothic Arch (a prominent class ‘C’ arch).

Gothic Arch

We walked a short distance west up the canyon to get a better picture of Box Canyon Arch, a class ‘C’ arch located on the canyon rim far to the west.

Box Canyon Arch

At the mouth of this side canyon, we noticed small class ‘D’ arches both on the north and south sides. The one on the north side we called Laid Back Arch.

Laid Back Arch

The small arch on the south side we called Curved Arch.

Curved Arch

From the mouth of this side canyon, class ‘C’ arches called Double Decker Bridges hang on the east cliff wall. Because of the way they are positioned deep in a sandstone trough, it is difficult to take a picture of both the upper and the lower arches together. Of course, the light is never right either.

Double Decker Bridges

Just to the east of Gothic Arch, we hiked eastward up a longer side canyon. Here we found class ‘B’ Beak Arch with another class ‘C’ arch called Aloof Arch, only a short distance further to the east on the same north cliff wall and in the same canyon side niche or recess.

Beak Arch

Aloof Arch

Further up Horse Canyon, we also stopped at the next side canyon heading east. Just before we hiked up this side canyon, another vehicle came by which was the only vehicle we saw in Horse Canyon all day long. The crew cab pickup stopped long enough to ask me where the “trail to the arch” was. I laughed and asked him “Which one?”. He looked confused so I suggested they drive to the top of the canyon and take the foot trail which would take them to Fortress Arch. That seemed to satisfy them and off they went.

Horse Canyon side canyon

After hiking a short distance up this canyon we found a class “D” arch high on the north (left) cliff wall, called Penthouse Arch. (If someone could climb up to this arch, they might even discover that it is larger than we can tell from the canyon floor.)

Penthouse Arch

On the rim of the south wall, we could see an interesting three legged class ‘C’ arch called Grand Ballroom arch.

Grand Ballroom Arch

On the same rim, a short distance to the east was another class ‘C’ arch called Anteroom Arch.

Anteroom Arch

I hiked a distance further up this side canyon to check for other natural arches but only found a lot of interesting slickrock sandstone. I would love to be able to see all of this country from the top.

Our next stop was to hike another eastward side canyon (running to the southeast really) called Trail Canyon. The name comes from the fact that it is possible to hike to the head of the canyon and take an old trail up and out of the canyon, possibly to access Davis Canyon to the east.

Trail Canyon is a very interesting side canyon. A short distance to the southeast is a large bowl on the north with large alcoves weathered into the cliff walls. One of the larger alcoves facing south, has several Indian ruins and granaries in it. (The climb up to that level looked easy enough but we choose not to make the climb.) To the southeast, just around the corner from this bowl, there is another alcove high in the cliffs with another granary positioned on an “impossible to access” ledge. A tall pine tree with ladder steps attached would give climbers access to this ledge but to reach the level of the pine tree ladder would require another pine tree ladder three times the height. I have no idea how anyone could get up that high!

Trail Canyon panorama

From the canyon floor, it was impossible to tell if the pine tree ladder was an original Indian creation or a more recent addition. Still, it was interesting.

Trail Canyon granary

Near the pine tree ladder alcove was Trail Canyon Arch, a prominent class ‘C’ fin arch on the north side of the canyon.

Trail Canyon Arch

Slightly further up the canyon, we could see a class ‘C’ natural bridge high in the cliffs and mostly hidden in the sandstone fins. This turned out to be a double set of bridges though we could only see the bottom bridge. These arches are called Stacked Double Bridges.

Stacked Double Bridges

Trail Canyon

Back at the vehicle, we were now within a mile of the road end near Fortress Arch. Towards the end of the road, there is one spot where it is necessary to navigate under an overhanging cliff and jump a mostly buried boulder. Different colors of paint scrapes on the cliff indicate how tricky this is for some vehicles. My Explorer was low enough to avoid the overhang and I just let the sand “fishtail” me around the buried boulder. (Coming the other way can be trickier.) I wondered how I drove a Ford 4X4 full sized pickup through there years ago.

There were two more natural arches on the east cliff walls as we approached the end of the road which now becomes quite rocky. The first class ‘C’ arch is called Parapet Double Arch and can be seen in the south wall of a cove on the east side of the road.

Parapet Double Arch

The other arch is located only a short distance further to the south. However to see it, it is necessary to continue south on the road until you can view the next cove and then look back over your shoulder. This class ‘C’ arch is high in the north cliff wall of the next cove on the east side of the road and is called Conical Arch.

Conical Arch

At the end of the road, we ran into the crew cab pickup that had passed us earlier. We stopped to talk to the two young couples to make sure that they have found the arch they were looking for. Apparently the trail to Fortress Arch satisfied their needs. We then found out that they were from Vernal Utah. I immediately said that I had never heard of the place and they began to explain where it was. We then had to stop them and explain that we were born and raised in Vernal. When we mentioned our last names, one of the young ladies asked if we knew one of our nephews and his wife. She apparently worked with our nephew’s wife at the recreation center in Vernal.

It is a small world sometimes.

After we left them, they headed out of the canyon and we hiked up to Fortress Arch. The late afternoon shadows didn’t make for good pictures.

Fortress Arch

The light was a little better for taking pictures of class ‘C’ Scout Arch (or double arches) which is located in the same bowl as class ‘A’ Fortress Arch but lower on the south wall.

Scout Arch

Top of Horse Canyon

On the way back to the vehicle, we took a side trip to explore one of two side canyons northwest of Fortress Arch. We didn’t find much up the one furthest to the north but it was a nice area to explore.

Second side canyon to Fortress Arch

Once back at the vehicle, we stopped not far down the canyon so we could hike around a canyon to the west for a view of Castle Arch. Again, the late afternoon sun was messing up any pictures we tried to take.

Castle Arch

We decided that we needed to come back the next day and spend another day in Horse Canyon.

Salt Canyon sign

We headed back down the canyon, back over fourteen cattleguards and then back to Monticello Utah for another night at the Canyonlands Motor Inn. We just missed Taco Time for dinner and ended up at Subway which had also supplied our breakfast and lunch. (These small towns close up early even on weekends.)

The next morning we headed back to the Needles Visitors Center in south Canyonlands National Park and picked up another $5 day pass for vehicle access to Horse Canyon. (It was still fourteen cattleguards from the main highway.) A number of permits had already been taken but we only passed two vehicles in Horse Canyon. They were leaving the canyon just as we were passing Paul Bunyan’s Potty arch. The weather forecast was for high winds so people may have bailed after reserving a permit. As it was, it was a bit breezy but still a wonderful, mostly clear and warm day in Horse Canyon.

We made a quick stop at Tower Ruins for some morning sun photographs.

Tower Ruins

Tower Ruins

We then headed to the end of the road in Horse Canyon so we could get pictures of Castle Arch and Fortress Arch while the sun was shining directly on them.

Castle Arch

Fortress Arch

Top of Horse Canyon

We then explored the side canyon immediately to the northwest of Fortress Arch (the side canyon between Fortress Arch and the north side canyon we explored the previous afternoon) where we found Kilroy Double Arch, a fantastic class ‘B’ double arch. I had never seen this arch before so I was pleasantly surprised at the size and shape of this unique set of arches.

Kilroy Double Arch

Further up the canyon, after a lot of brush wacking and bolder climbing, we were able to catch a glimpse of Perilous Rock Arch. This class ‘C’ arch was hidden in a high pocket behind a rather precariously perched stone tower. It looked like the huge tower stone could topple at any moment and I would hate to have been anywhere in the narrow canyon when it did. The fact that the rest of the wall on the left of this tower had “recently” fallen, was a good indication of how unstable that area of cliffs was.

Perilous Rock Arch

Side canyon NW of Fortress Arch

I wasn’t content to leave this side canyon until I had seen the “backside” of Fortress Arch but this required quite a bit of rock climbing to get up the end of the canyon and walk back on the rock shelves for a view. This positioned us almost immediately under Perilous Rock Arch. I tried the rock shelf on the west side and David tried the rock shelf on the east side where we could both get decent pictures of the west side of Fortress Arch.

Back side of Fortress Arch

Side canyon NW of Fortress Arch

We were exhausted by the time we made it back to the Explorer and I still had one more side canyon hike that I wanted to hike before leaving Horse Canyon. Two days of hiking and climbing were causing major pain now but I still wanted to hike the .6 mile path up a west side canyon to visit the Thirteen Faces pictographs.

Thirteen Faces pictographs

One of Thirteen Faces

Thirteen Faces Alcove

It was good to see that the pictographs were pretty much like I remembered them fifteen years or so ago. Even then, I could only make out nine faces with some remains of an tenth.

Back at the vehicle again, we were completely finished with any more hiking in deep sand. However, I had one more stop that I wanted to make before heading for home.

Back at the mouth of Horse Canyon where it joined with Salt Canyon, the road up Salt Canyon is closed at Peek-A-Boo Springs. We took the mile long road to the gate that closes the jeep trail that used to continue another nine miles to Angel Arch. (Sadness…)

Closed road at Salt Wash

We stopped to take pictures of the class ‘C’ Peek-a-Boo Springs Arch and the surrounding pictographs. Some of these pictographs were from the Archaic time period, between 1,000 and 3,000 years old.

Peek-a-Boo Springs Arch

Peek-a-Boo Springs pictographs

Peek-a-Boo Springs pictographs

Peek-a-Boo Springs pictographs & sign

Peek-a-Boo Springs pictograph sign

Peek-a-Boo Springs hand prints

There were two other vehicles at the end of the road and two gentlemen from Ohio stopped us to ask directions to Angel Arch, some nine miles away. I assured them that if they would stay in the bottom of the main wash and follow the (now closed!) jeep trail, it would take them directly to Angel Arch. It was late in the afternoon and they didn’t have much gear to carry so I wondered if they knew what they were getting themselves in for. We climbed up to the arch and I later noticed them on the other side, again checking their hiking map though they had gone less than a quarter of a mile. I hope they made it.

Prince Plume blooming in Salt Canyon.

Stanleya pinnata

As for us, it was time to begin the long drive home again. We stopped briefly at the Needles Outpost just outside the park boundary near the entrance, but they were closed for the evening. (Their gasoline was running $5.00/gallon with prices in Moab running at $3.19/gallon. That’s a bargain when you REALLY need gasoline. We didn’t.)

Needles Outpost

Though the use of significant amounts of Mountain Dew Throwback (no more “high fructose corn syrup” for me!) we were able to navigate our way back to Utah valley again.

(NOTE: It snowed three inches the following Monday, May 24th, in Utah valley.)