Saturday, September 11, 2010

Whiskers Draw Trail

The Whiskers Draw area in the Manti-La Sal National Forest can be accessed by turning north on the well marked South Cottonwood forest road, 6.4 miles west of Blanding along Utah Route 95 in southeast Utah. After about 8.3 miles there is a forest road Y junction where I continued left for 2.6 miles to a vague jeep trail that heads south.

I started my hike at the jeep trail, which headed for a sandstone canyon rim and turned east. There are good views at the trail head area of the Abajo Mountains. The south facing canyon wall has many alcoves, some of them sheltering Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites.

Following the jeep road east was the wrong way to go for the relatively well known site I was looking for. The site I wanted to find is slightly west, near the head of a narrow side canyon, and is only visible from the long peninsula of rock that extends into the center of the canyon. Walking back west along the rim, there is a good view of the side canyon to explore.

After 2:00 hours of exploring the east end of this area, I arrived at the overlook of the double alcove site. It is feasible to get down closer to the site. There isn’t a marked trail that I could find, but walking further out along the rocky finger, there are trail segments through the forested sections, down to the canyon floor.

There are two smaller alcove sites about 300 yards down canyon from the double alcove site in the vicinity of the route down. Without any wandering, it should take less than an hour to get in position to visit these three sites.
The trail up to the double alcove site is along the creek bottom and the vegetation in this area is very thick. I think the thick vegetation here is mostly Hackberry trees and there were quite a few of them. Further down the canyon, there are Cottonwood trees and wide sagebrush fields.

The soil is very deep in the wider parts of the canyon, and there are deep eroded drainages. The mesa top areas and canyon sides has Pinon Pines and Utah Junipers. There is a trail segment that leads to the right side of the site.

There are several rooms and wall sections intact, lots of black soot on the sandstone walls, some timbers lying around. There isn’t a good view into the upper alcove from below.

The sites I visited had a variety of rock art, including a large red zig zag. There were also some red crescent figures that I thought were sheep and some red hand prints toward the left side of the site. I only visited one of the two small sites that were 300 yards down canyon. The small alcove I visited had two rooms and with several petroglyphs, including a human figure with a duck on its shoulders instead of a head, and a corn stalk figure.

I saw two more alcoves about 0.5 miles to the east of the double alcove site that had ruins in them, for a total of five in this area. This was the exploring I did first, before I found the site that I was actually looking for. At the end of the jeep trail there is a relatively gentle slope down and a vague trail up stream to an obvious large alcove on the west side a narrow side canyon.

Around the corner back downstream and west toward the main canyon, there is another large alcove with some rubble and minor wall fragments, and several examples of rock art, including some red side by side broad shouldered figures. This site also had some horse and cattle figures, and some of the artwork appeared to be done in black charcoal.

The hiking looked easier along the mesa top than down in the canyon bottom, due to the thick vegetation and very deep eroded washes, so I visited these two adjacent areas with separate fairly easy descents. My total hike in Whiskers Draw was 3:45 hours on a 74 F degree early September day. I carried 3 liters of water.