Horseshoe Canyon

Horseshoe Canyon is listed as a “remote extension of Canyonlands National Park”. We were excited to find the rock art that’s listed as some of the “most significant in North America”. It’s a 7 mile out and back hike, from the trailhead. It is “moderately strenuous” on most sites hosting information, and begins and ends with a 780 foot steep climb.

The rock art, and the canyon itself, are the main events on this hike. The view from the top and bottom of the canyon is breathtaking.

We did get to have a bonus sightseeing experience on this hike, when we came face to face with about 7 of the elusive wild burros. They’re not very popular with hikers, naturalists, or park rangers, as their presence is destructive. Down in the bottom of the canyon, there were infinite piles of burro poop. I can imagine that it’s a far worse experience to encounter it in warmer temperatures. The snow cover muted the stench but we came in contact with plenty of it.

There are 4 main rock art panels that we marked on the map. Without Shannon’s bionic eagle eyes I never would have noticed any of them. They’re all a little ways off the main trail, and only one of them was at all visible from where we were hiking. You had to know where to look for them.

High Gallery/High Panel is the first one you come to on the hike. It is way high up on the rock. Hard to imagine how on earth they got up there to paint it.
Horseshoe Gallery
Alcove Gallery
Alcove Gallery

Last but not least, was the most prominent and well known panel, Great Gallery. It’s one of the largest and best preserved collections of Barrier Canyon style rock art. It was believed to have been produced by a desert archaic culture, which was a nomadic group of hunter-gatherers. It was also believed to pre-date the better known Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan cultures, who lived in this canyon until about 1300 AD. Until recently, it was believed to have been made between 9000 and 7000 BC, however, recent research submits doubt about this theory. All of that to say that it doesn’t seem like they really know how old it is or exactly who it came from. It is a panel that is about 200 feet long, and has life size figures, the largest of which measures about 7′ tall. There’s a smaller, well known section of the panel known as “Holy Ghost panel”.

Great Gallery
Holy Ghost Panel
Guest book at Great Gallery

There are many different opinions about what these figures may represent, some scientific, and others theorized. We had several opinions of our own on the 4-5 hour hike, based on nothing more than imagination and curiosity. Some believe the pictures were drawn by aliens, and others believe they’re religious symbols. They may have been drawn to scare and intimidate neighboring tribes, or perhaps they’re the work of energetic children?

Back in 2005, a visitor to the Great Gallery discovered a leather pouch. The visitor recognized it as potentially significant, and reported it. The pouch was recovered by a park ranger who was concerned about the “unlawful removal” of the item from the park. The Navajo Nation Archaeology Department obtained the bag shortly after it’s removal from the ground, in order to conduct an analysis. They were able to date the pouch to between 770-970 AD. The pouch contained some seeds, an antler flaking tool, and some bits of rock. Here’s a detailed article if you’re interested.

Another interesting thing that Shannon found out about this hike before we went, is that there’s a dinosaur print on the trail. He’d loaded the coordinates in the GPS, and on the hike back out of Horseshoe Canyon, he found it! Some previous hikers were nice enough to encircle it with rocks so it would be easier to find – helpful, again, because of the snow on the trail.

By the time we got back to the car, a powerful hunger had taken hold. We made our way out of the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness in the opposite direction we’d come. The closest town, was Hanksville. I was praying to Jesus for a Del Taco or a Waffle House. I would have eaten juuuust about anything at this point, but was not one bit disappointed by the one and only restaurant that was open in Hanksville, Utah; Stan’s Burger Shack. It was absolutely Outstanding in every way, down to the soft serve chocolate shake.

I didn’t get this. Wish I had.

From Stan’s we set out for Capitol Reef and a night in a Hotel! That’s up next!

2 thoughts on “Horseshoe Canyon

  1. So beautiful and a wonderful time to go with the snow. I have only been in the area when it is hot, looks like a winter trip is in order. The burros remind me of Hackberry Canyon, so much cow dung my hubby joked we were in the “fecal forest”. Thank you for the trip report!

    Liked by 1 person

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