pictographs in Horseshoe Canyon
7.4 miles (round trip)
time: 4 1/4 hours
540 ft. gain/loss
Canyon Trailhead: 5,340 ft.
Gallery pictograph panel: 4,800 ft.
The descent into the canyon is made on a
slickrock trail with rock cairns. Inside
the canyon a vague trail winds along the
bottom of the sandy wash. There is intermittent
water in the canyon, but it is usually stagnant.
Spring, summer, fall, winter. The canyon
is quite hot in midsummer, so carry plenty
of water. For more information call the
Hans Flat Ranger Station, Canyonlands National
Park, at (801) 259-2652.
Horseshoe Canyon Detached Unit of Canyonlands
National Park, near Hanksville
Canyon contains what is probably the finest
display of prehistoric Indian rock art in
the United States. The famous Great Gallery,
largest of several Horseshoe Canyon sites,
is 200 feet long, 15 feet high, and contains
dozens of intriguing red, brown, and white
pictographs. The paintings are at least
2,000 years old, and possibly as old as
8,000 years. Rock art is notoriously difficult
to date accurately, but from the style we
can be reasonably certain that the work
was done by the so called Archaic People
who lived in the area before the arrival
of the Anasazi and Fremont Indian cultures.
Archaic clay figurines that closely mimic
the pictographs have been found about nine
miles away in Spur Fork, a tributary of
Horseshoe Canyon, and the figurines have
been dated to about 4700 B.C.
archaeologists have struggled to interpret
the strange anthromorphs that are depicted
on the Great Gallery. In addition to many
smaller figures, the huge panel contains
about twenty life size human shapes, all
of which have a strange mummy-like appearance.
They lack arms or legs, and often have huge
insect-like eyes and bucket-shaped heads.
Most intriguing of all is the figure known
as the Holy Ghost. This seven-foot-high
painting stands out among the others because
of its size and its ethereal appearance.
Perhaps it was intended to portray a revered
ancestor, or a mythical deity.
the car parking area, the trail proceeds
into the canyon along an old jeep road originally
built by an oil exploration company. A barrier
has been erected across the trail about
0.2 mile from the car park to keep recreational
vehicles out, and another barrier has been
placed 0.5 mile farther down to keep cattle
out of the canyon. The trail finally reaches
the canyon bottom 1.3 miles from the trailhead,
then turns south along Barrier Creek. There
is seldom running water in Barrier Creek,
but the canyon is rarely completely dry
As you drop
into the canyon you can see another jeep
road descending from the opposite rim. This
primitive road meets the trail at the canyon
bottom, and for a while you will be walking
on it. The road ends 0.6 mile upstream,
just beyond the intersection of Water Canyon,
where the Park Service has erected another
barrier to keep vehicles out of upper Horseshoe
As you approach
Water Canyon be sure to watch for the first
two pictograph sites, one on each side of
the canyon. The trail passes right by them.
These sites, like the other two that you
will see later, were painted by the Archaic
People between 2,000 and 8,000 years ago.
The third site is situated in a huge alcove
on the west side of the stream, about 0.6
mile up-canyon from the first two. Unfortunately
the alcove site has sustained substantial
damage, both natural and man-caused, and
it is not as impressive as the others.
miles from the alcove site, or 3.7 miles
from the beginning of the trail, you will
come to the Great Gallery. This display
of rock art has been called the Louvre of
the Southwest, and, indeed, it is a phenomenal
relic of the past. Dozens of intricate human
and animal figures decorate the panel, mostly
in red, with some brown and white. The pigments
were made from finely ground minerals, and
then mixed with a liquid base, perhaps animal
tallow or vegetable juices, to form a crude
paint. After thousands of years all traces
of the base have disappeared, but the mineral
coloring still adheres to the rock and the
paintings remain preserved in astonishing
If you have
sharp eyes, and if you are willing to walk
just a little further, this hike will reward
you with another unexpected bonus. About
0.2 mile upstream from the Great Gallery,
Barrier Creek flows over a small slab of
flat sandstone that appears harder and darker
than the surrounding stone. Look carefully
at the dark, flat surface near the west
side of the creek, and you will see the
tracks of a three-toed dinosaur that passed
this way between 50 and 100 million years
ago. The imprints are about ten inches in
diameter, and there are at least three of
them, spaced about four feet apart.
provided by David
Day of utahtrails.com. Click here to
order his book Utah's
Favorite Hiking Trails.