Thursday, April 30, 2009

Todie Canyon to Split Level Ruin-Grand Gulch

Todie Canyon is one of the five or six entry points into the 51.7 mile Grand Gulch Primitive Area trail in the Cedar Mesa area of southeast Utah.

The Todie Canyon trail head is about 3.5 miles south of the Kane Gulch Ranger Station along Utah Highway 261, and then another mile down a dirt road. The BLM charges a $2 fee for day hiking in the Grand Gulch system.

The trail starts out as an easy walk along the canyon rim for about 0.5 miles and then descends very steeply to the canyon bottom. The route is a rocky jumble for about a mile and the going is slow, before smoothing out as it approaches the junction with the Kane Gulch Trail.

The junction is about 7.5 miles along the Kane Gulch trail, so Todie Canyon is a shortcut that allows a day hiker to view this more distant part of the Grand Gulch. There are several pools of water and huge boulders that require the trail to detour away from the canyon bottom for short distances. Take careful note what the route in and out of the canyon looks like as it can be confusing, though it is well marked.

The Todie Canyon has more small Ancestral Pueblo Ruins to view in the upper section than nearby Kane Gulch, though most of them are high on the canyon walls and inaccessible. There are at least five sites, one of the sites seems to be a series of granaries side by side.

There is a canyon floor level site just past the junction with the Kane Gulch Trail about 2.5 miles down the trail. This site doesn’t seem to have a name but has a number of small structures and a red geometric pictograph high on the sandstone wall.

The site isn’t completely obvious from the trail. The Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper trees obscure the view from the main trail, and it would be easy to walk past it. There are spur trails off of the main trail that lead to this site and the Split Level site.

About 3.8 miles down the route the highlight Split Level Ruins appears. About 100 yards before this south facing alcove site there is a small petroglyph panel. This petroglyph panel has two figures that look like long snouted mountain sheep standing up on their hind legs. They resemble the popular Kokopelli figures but without any sign of a flute.

The Split Level Ruin is also not immediately visible from the trail. The alcove is visible but the view is blocked by trees and you’re not sure if anything is there until you explore closer.

Split Level Ruin is one of the major sites in this area. It seems to feature a tower pressed against the sandstone wall, overlooking the low structures in front.

It took me 2:30 hours to arrive at Split Level Ruin. I had some trouble on the way back as I tried climbing out at the wrong point. I wasted about an hour and used about 6:00 hours for this 7.6 mile hike. There were very few hikers in this part of Grand Gulch on a 65 F, day in late April.

528614_Russell Outdoor Logo 125x125

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kane Gulch Trail to Turkey Pen Ruins and Stimper Arch

The Kane Gulch Trail is a hiking and horse trail and is one of the five or six trail heads for the popular 51.7 mile Grand Gulch Primitive Area Trail in the Cedar Mesa area in southeast Utah.

The trail head is at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station a few miles south of the junction of Utah routes 95 and 261. Natural Bridges National Monument is nearby to this area. This is one of the canyons where the BLM charges a small fee for use of the trail.

The trail descends along the canyon floor with the sandstone walls gradually becoming deeper and massive. There are springs and water pools and some riparian habitat along the canyon floor and Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper and other desert vegetation along the canyon sides. A few of the narrow shady areas have some tall Douglas Firs.

In the first four miles I only saw one granary ruins high on the canyon side. Compared with nearby Arch Canyon near Comb Ridge, the canyon sides here are steeper and offer fewer sites for small ruins, at least in this upper section. The canyon floor seemed to be narrower and rockier.
At the 4.0 mile mark there is a good ruins site at the junction of Kane Gulch and Grand Gulch, known as the Junction Ruins. From the distance the upper level structures are visible. The wide lower alcove shelters several small structures.

It is a short climb up to view the low structures. The midden trash area in front of the site is more obvious than at most sites and has a chain around it to deter visitors from walking over it. The midden area has many pottery shards to view and a surprising amount of small corn cobs. I looked closely for rock art along the walls but didn’t find any here. The terrain at this deep canyon junction is wide and flat and very scenic and shady, a pleasant place to linger.

The Turkey Pen Ruins site is only 0.7 miles past the Junction Ruins. This is also a multi level site in a large elevated alcove. There is a squarish kiva like structure right at the entrance to the site, with several small structures pressed against the sandstone walls. During my visit the far half of the site was closed.

The Turkey Pen Ruins site is rich in pictographs, featuring many hand prints, with some big horn sheep and some humanoid figures. At least three colors are used here, white and red for the hand prints and brown for one of the broad shouldered humanoid figures. One of the big horn sheep was two toned in brown and white.

From the elevated area of Turkey Pen Ruins, it looked like there was a small arch visible across on the other side of the canyon, but it may have just been the light. The map I had mentions Stimper Arch 0.3 miles further around a meander on the canyon. After viewing Stimper Arch, I turned around here, at the 5.0 mile mark and returned to the trail head.

My total hike was 5:20 hours for the 10 miles I hiked. The going is uphill on the way back and I noticed the sandy sections more. The trail is a little harder to follow going uphill. Trail segments that aren’t part of the main trail can lead you astray. I carried three liters of water on a 70 degree F. mid April day and had a few swallows left at the end.

Bluff Great House

The Bluff Great House Site in southeast Utah, is thought to be at the edge of the regional culture that was centered on Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, 125 miles to the southeast.

The Bluff site is on a hill overlooking the San Juan River Valley. From the intersection of Road 3 East and Mulberry in the town of Bluff, follow the paved road that starts west and curves back north to the parking area next to an information kiosk.

There isn’t much of a hike here. The ruins site is an easy stroll across the road. The terrain here is dry and grassy with massive sandstone cliffs to the north. The San Juan River rises in the mountains to the east and flows west toward Lake Powell and the Colorado River above Glen Canyon Dam. Bluff is a launch point for rafting trips into the wild canyon areas to the west.
There is a large rubble mound that is the remains of the Great House. This structure is thought to have been constructed by 1100 AD and abandoned by 1300 AD. The interpretive information in the kiosk indicates that the Great House was rectangular with three circular kivas and about 20 rooms, with a section that was two stories tall. The University of Colorado is working on the site and there is a wooden structure that covers a trench where some of the wall remains can be viewed.

To the south of the Great House are the mostly unexcavated remains of a 45 foot diameter Great Kiva that rests six feet below the surface. All that can be seen for now is a shallow depression.

Related sites in the area are the large petroglyph panel at Sand Island, a few miles to the west and the large site at the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding about 25 miles to the north. There are also many small sites and hikes in the Comb Ridge area about five miles to the west.