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Gouged by an Arrow
Overview: Slot canyons are not common in Nevada and this hike takes you through a truly impressive one. Instead of the usual sandstone, Arrow Canyon is carved through limestone, with tilted beds of deposited sediment clearly visible. The geology and marine fossils are amazing, not to mention the petroglyphs and potential for bighorn sightings. Since you are unlikely to encounter anyone else, the feeling of solitude can be overwhelming. Hiking in a 15 foot wide, 200-300 foot deep canyon can make you feel very small.
Warning: Do not hike in any slot canyon when there is a threat of rain. Pahranagat Wash, which forms Arrow Canyon, drains thousands of square miles, so check the weather carefully before heading out. Hunting is allowed throughout the wilderness area at all times of year, with big horn season especially popular. Be careful out there.
History: Arrow Canyon is considered sacred by the Paiutes. The petroglyphs found in the canyon were likely carved by both the modern Paiutes and their historical precursors, possibly as far back as the Desert Archaic peoples. The area is considered so sacred that Ghost Dance ceremonies were held nearby. As an aside, the Ghost Dance, now most commonly associated with the Lakota and the Wounded Knee Massacre, was originally introduced by Wovoka, a Paiute spiritual leader, as a message of peace and harmony for all native peoples.
The Paiute hold that Coyote formed the Arrow Canyon Range when his arrow skipped across the land surface, gouging out the canyon and pushing up the mountains. Legend also has it that the Moapa and Pahranagat Paiute bands formed a peace treaty over the course of many years. To confirm their commitment to the treaty, members of both bands came to this sacred canyon and shot arrows into an inaccessible crack high on the canyon wall. Long after Europeans had settled the area, it became a popular game to use rifles to shoot down arrows from the inaccessible crack in the canyon wall. Eventually, all the arrows had been removed and only the story remained. Either of these stories may have given rise to the site's English name of Arrow Canyon.
In the 1930s, the CCC built a concrete dam at the head of the canyon, presumably for flood control. In 2002, congress designated the 27,530-acre Arrow Canyon Wilderness, with Arrow Canyon forming its eastern boundary.
Hike: From your parking spot at the canyon mouth, hike up-canyon. Initially, the canyon is fairly open as you follow the old jeep trail. Forests of barrel cacti decorate the tilted slabs of limestone, and scores of fossils can be spotted by even an untrained eye. As the jeep trail fades into the gravel, the canyon narrows abruptly after an especially wide section. This is the start of the wider of the two main sections of narrows. After approx 1.7 miles of hiking, the wall on the southwest (left) side of the canyon opens to a narrow outlet wash - this provides a route to hike up and around for a good view down into Arrow Canyon. Continuing ahead, the side wash marks the start of the second section of narrows. Past this point, you will spend more time dodging cat claw and mesquite, although it never becomes impenetrable. Soon, you reach the CCC dam, which is a good place to enjoy a snack and turn around. Many of the petroglyph panels are more easily noticed on your way back down-canyon because of the orientation of many of the rock slabs.
If you wish to continue up the canyon, backtrack a short way down-canyon, then use the ledges along the canyon walls to bypass the dam - the ledges on the east side looked easier and safer. Above the dam, the narrows continue for a few meters before the wash opens into a typical desert wash full of tamarix. From this point, you can turn back or continue hiking up-wash, which eventually meets up with the unpaved Deadman Wash Road.
Camping: As long as you do not block the road, dispersed camping is allowed throughout the area. However, it is good practice not to camp in a slot canyon - you may experience unexpected rain.
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