Level Ruin, Grand Gulch
22.8 miles (plus 8.3 miles by car)
1: 4 1/4 hours
2: 4 hours
3: 5 1/4 hours
Elevations: 1,080 ft. loss, 1,040 ft.
Gulch Trailhead (start): 6,440 ft.
Canyon confluence: 5,360 ft.
Canyon Trailhead: 6,400 ft.
Parts of the trail are primitive and unmaintained,
but the route is well marked and generally
easy to follow. Getting out of Bullet Canyon
can be tricky-especially with a heavy backpack.
Inexperienced climbers may find a fifteen-foot
length of rope useful for hauling packs
up the slickrock in a few places.
Spring, summer, fall. Spring or fall are
the ideal times for this hike. The canyons
are very hot in the summer and cold in the
winter. The road to the Bullet Canyon Trailhead
is unpaved for the last mile and may be
impassible in wet weather, but it is usually
okay for most cars. For current conditions
call the San Juan Resource Area, Bureau
of Land Management, in Monticello at (801)
Near Mexican Hat and Natural Bridges National
Gulch is the premier area in Utah to see
the ruins of the prehistoric Anasazi Indians.
Their culture flourished in the canyon between
700 and 2000 years ago, and today dozens
of cliff dwellings and other stone and mud
structures remain to remind us of their
occupancy. The most obvious ruins are from
the so called Pueblo III culture of the
thirteenth century, but more subtle remnants
of the earlier Basketmaker culture that
existed in the canyon from 200 to 700 A.D.
are also present if one knows where to look.
By 1300 the
Anasazi had deserted Grand Gulch and the
surrounding canyons and moved southeast
into the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico.
Precisely why they left is not known for
certain, but drought, depletion of natural
resources, and pressure from other nomadic
Indians probably all played a role. For
the past seven hundred years the Anasazi
homes have stood in silence, clinging to
the high canyon walls and causing the occasional
canyon visitor to stare in wonder.
known white men to see Grand Gulch were
the Mormons, who crossed Cedar Mesa in 1880.
Soon afterward a series of amateur archaeologists
begin to arrive in search of pots and other
artifacts from the ruins. Between 1890 and
1897 at least nine expeditions entered Grand
Gulch to dig for artifacts. The most famous
of these was lead by Richard Wetherill,
a rancher from southern Colorado who sold
many Anasazi artifacts to the American Museum
of Natural History in New York. Wetherill
carved his name into the sandstone at several
of the sites he excavated.
say, these early explorers did tremendous
harm to the archeological record in Grand
Gulch. Now, of course, it is against the
law to remove artifacts from the canyons
or to deface the ruins in any way. Please
do not carry out pottery shards, corn cobs,
flint flakes, or any other artifacts you
may find laying on the ground. Also, do
not climb on the ruins, and try to stay
off the middens as much as possible. If
everyone cooperates the wondrous Anasazi
ruins of Grand Gulch will be there for many
more years to come, and our children will
have the opportunity to enjoy them as much
as we do.
Anasazi granaries, Grand Gulch
From the top
of Kane Gulch the trail meanders gently
downward for 3.8 miles before reaching the
bottom of Grand Gulch. You should see your
first ruin high on the southern wall of
the Cedar Mesa Sandstone, about an hour
into the hike. This ruin is unusual in that
it is on the north-facing rather than the
south-facing side of the canyon. The Indians
generally preferred to build their dwellings
on the south-facing side where they received
more winter sun.
the bottom of Grand Gulch you cant
miss seeing the extensive Junction Ruin
slightly upstream from the confluence. This
area contains many fine camping sites under
the cottonwood trees, and if you got a late
start you may want to consider spending
the night here.
one of the largest ruins in the canyon.
It must have been home to many dozens of
Indians when they lived in the canyon, and
the number of stone buildings is impressive.
It is also located near the stream bed and
is quite accessible. Unfortunately, the
midden in front of the ruin has been extensively
excavated by amateur archaeologists and
pot hunters over the years. As a result
of all the digging, thousands of pottery
shards, corn cobs and flints are now scattered
about the grounds surface in front
of the ruin. Enjoy the patterns and designs
on them, but, again, please leave them where
you find them so others can enjoy them too.
Ruin, another large accessible site, is
only 0.7 mile below Junction Ruin, and fifteen
minutes later, if you have sharp eyes, you
will see another less accessible ruin in
an alcove above the cottonwood trees. Finally,
2.5 miles below Turkey Pen Ruin, you will
arrive at the mouth of Todie Canyon, where
I suggest you make camp.
Canyon to Bullet Canyon, the suggested camp
site for the second day, you will scarcely
be able to walk a half hour without seeing
a ruin of some sort. By my count there are
at least eleven distinct ruins sites in
the 8.4 miles between the two Canyons. Sometimes
they consist of only a small granary or
two, and at other times they will include
the remains of fifteen or twenty buildings.
The first ruin is only a five minute walk
from the mouth of Todie. Stay on the right
side of the canyon as you walk downstream,
and you will see it just as the stream bed
swings around to the northeast.
The most impressive
ruin in this section of the Grand Gulch
is Split Level Ruin, so named because it
includes a structure with two adjoining
rooms, one higher than the other. Also notice,
at this as well as other ruin sites, the
presence of many kivas. The kivas are the
low, round shaped structures, with a bench
built into the wall and a fire pit near
one side. The present-day Hopi Indians have
similar structures in their pueblos, which
leads many anthropologists to believe that
they are modern descendants of the Anasazis.
As the trail
approaches Bullet Canyon you will see the
wide, flat-bottomed canyon opening up on
the left. The trail forks at Bullet Spring.
There are no signs, however, so take care
not to miss the turn. There are several
excellent campsites within three hundred
feet of the spring as you proceed into Bullet
If you have
time after pitching camp in Bullet Canyon
you may want to spend an hour backtracking
to Shieks Canyon (1.4 miles upstream from
Bullet in Grand Gulch). There is an excellent
panel of pictographs in the back of Shieks
Canyon, 15 minutes from its mouth. There
is also an interesting ruin on the canyon
wall immediately above the Bullet Canyon
camping area, just a few hundred yards up
Bullet Canyon from Grand Gulch.
complete the loop on the third day, walking
up Bullet Canyon to the trailhead above
the rim. There are at least five ruins to
be seen in Bullet Canyon on the way up,
but the most interesting one is Jail House
Ruin, 2.4 miles from the canyon mouth. You
will know you have arrived at Jailhouse
Ruin when you see its unique pictograph
consisting of three large white circles.
The circles can be seen all the way across
the canyon, but archaeologists have no idea
what they were meant to represent. The ruin
was named Jailhouse because of a small barred
hole in the wall of one of its structures.
The nearby Perfect Kiva Ruin is also interesting.
It contains an extraordinarily well preserved
kiva with a wooded ladder leading down into
its interior. There are no restrictions
against entering the kiva, but please take
care not to damage it in any way.
As you proceed
further up the canyon it soon narrows and
becomes much more rocky. There are no ruins
in upper Bullet Canyon, at least not that
I was able to see. The canyon bottom is
completely unsuitable for farming here,
so if the Indians did build any dwellings
they would most likely be near the top of
the rim. As you approach the top of the
rim you will be walking on slickrock part
of the time, and there are some areas where
a bit of scrambling will be necessary. A
short piece of rope is useful for lifting
backpacks in one or two places, so that
you can climb unencumbered. Be sure to watch
for rock cairns in the places where the
minutes before you reach the top of the
rim look up on the north side at a square
masonry tower that was built by the Anasazis
on the very edge of the rim. Why would the
Indians build a dwelling in such an exposed
place? Perhaps it was a watch tower or a
monitoring station to keep track of who
was descending into the gulch. The parking
area is about a quarter mile beyond the
square tower ruin.