Loop down through Bullet Canyon, up Grand Gulch, and out Kane Gulch. Far far too much to see in just three days. Hardly had any time at all for any off-trail exploration. Saw so many ruins that our schedule just didn't allow us time to visit. You'd need weeks just to really cover the stretch between Bullet and Kane. I'd say a trip of at least four days, minimum. Pushing 7.5 miles a day or so was too much for such a wonder-strewn canyon system. We did however stop by Perfect Kiva, Jailhouse, Bullet Junction, Green Mask, a couple unnamed sites, Todie Springs (but couldn't get up to the ruins), Split Level, Turkey Pen, and Junction Ruin. Awesome trip, but (as I said before) needed more time.
This was going to be long. Longer than any previous Utah expedition. Instead of an in-and-out Kane trip like four years ago, this was going to be a 22+ mile trip, going in Bullet Canyon, descending to the junction with Grand Gulch, and then up The Gulch to Kane and the ranger station. And it was more than just lonesome me, it was Ely, our friend Beth (Fudgesicle), her two friends from Minnesota/Wisconsin, Beth (Pathfinder), and Steph (Speedy), along with myself and Buster the Canyon Dog.
The genesis for this trip occurred on a daytrip down Kane the previous spring with Beth and Ely. Now a year to the day, nearly, we began our trek down Bullet. I kept saying nearly every fifty paces, in order to indoctrinate and inoculate them to any forthcoming hazards, that I had never been down Bullet, and it wouldn't be until the next day that we'd be in territory I'd recognize.
I did this for my own peace of mind. I'd had enough distrust on the trail previously, especially from Ely. I like to explore places new to me. Ely wants to know times and difficulties. I can look at a map and guesstimate, but that never seems good enough. Ely has always been the more pessimistic of the two of us. I cautioned all that I knew was that there were "chutes" ahead in Bullet, based on maps and trip logs I had poured over. I didn't know exactly how be or hard they'd be whenever we got to them.
After our first drop into the bottom of Bullet, we soon pulled up short to check out some Basketmaker pictographs on a nearby overhang. It would be our last unscheduled stop of the day, and an introduction to how rich Bullet was in both rock art and ruins.
We progressed further downcanyon, passing a rim-alcove complex similar to those found at Hovenweep. Pressing on. The canyon grew deeper, and still no chutes. Half-seen rock art called to us from seemingly every alcove and overhand. We halted, stared, and continued on. No time. Such a damn shame.
The Chutes. I knew immediately when we came to them. The slickrock canyon bottom abruptly folded in on itself, creating a narrow, steep chute. There was ice on it. I've got a great picture of Pathfinder surveying the scene.
There was much doubt at this point, especially among some members of our party. Pathfinder and I were undeterred. We'd passed a family with small children who were on their way back out, and they'd made it up over this without incident.
Pathfinder went first, creeping along a ledge on the right, past the ice, then stepping down onto a boulder and then the canyon floor. I followed suit. Buster, however, was relatively unwilling. In fact, I had to pull him over. The girls, realizing it wasn't as bad as it looked from the top, made their way down with some help from below. Gathered, collected, and generally ready, we headed again downcanyon.
The second chute was worse, much worse. It wasn't a nice slickrock pourover. No. Instead it was a boulder-jammed waterfall. Some of the rocks were so huge I'm sure they'd be called hills in New England. There was no trail. Usually I could care less about a damn trail being marked or not. But with thirty-five pounds on my back, a dog pulling me one way, and tricky climbs around me, I would have appreciated a trail. Ely was pissed. I think Fudgesicle was too. Spent half a damn hour trying to figure our way down out of the boulder jam, each going their own way, and if they found anything they'd call out. All we found were pourovers. I finally decided to try a hunch and crawled up the talus to the next bench on the cliff face. Sure enough, a marked trail headed downcanyon. A cry went up, and soon we'd all regrouped on the trail. Ely was pissed. I was happy to have found the way. Pathfinder was nowhere to be seen. Momentary panic, until Fudgesicle said that she'd found a way to the canyon floor. Figures.
Pushing, pushing. Burning legs. Jesus, I thought hauling those calf carcasses to the rim for ten months, that backpacking trip the previous weekend would have whipped me into shape. tarzan swinging' chutes. I check the map. Confer with Pathfinder, the only other person who has a map in our group. I have a love of maps. Cartophillia. Concur. Our first scheduled stop, Perfect Kiva, should be close at hand.
Next bend. Side canyon to the north, and there it is, looming in its shaded alcove. I spot it first. Recall Speedy. Pathfinder et al. behind me. We leave our heavy packs in the shade of a Juniper. Talk with some folks making lunch below the ruins. Convince them Buster is friendly. Then up the slickrock apron. Friction ascent, Speedy et al. in front. Ely and myself bring up the rear. Running out of Poweraide, getting a headache. No good.
Over the lip. Its just like I imagined. Not that I hadn't seen pictures. Maybe they edited out all the bootprints. Oh well. First things first - into the kiva.
Dark. Musty. Goddamn lot of rat shit piled against the west side, below the roof. Stupid-ass camera doesn't want to function correctly. Why this trip of all trips? Fudgesicle comes down too. We spend a few minutes looking around. We are quiet. Later she tells me she felt something there. Maybe I did too.
I leave Fudgesicle to the kiva, and go to the structure aback of it. Restored in the 1970's, its still a nice example of Anasazi masonry and gives a good idea what this place might have looked like in the late 1200's. It'd be nicer if people didn't screw around with the potsherds, piling them on the deflector, the rear niche. Sigh.
Outside again. Still have that damn dehydration headache. Totally out of Poweraide. Water back at the packs. Next water just past Jailhouse, our next stop. Slow down, enjoy the ruin, the crazy pictographs on the back wall. Maybe it isn't just how I imagined it. Pictured it bigger, maybe. More intact. Oh well. It is the Canyon Country, what should I expect?
Down by a different route, Pathfinder down first. Of course. Load up. Drink up. Downcanyon.
Bullet widens, then constricts. Around a fin, and there on a point is Jailhouse. Enigmatic circular pictographs over the buildings. Not what I imagined either, exactly. Better. Headache still with me, like someone's bouncing rocks off my skull with every step. I need to recuperate. Ely and I (and Buster) sit across the way, admiring the ruin, drinking water, eating trail mix and jerky while the others check out the ruin. I'm jealous, but I'd rather not feel like shit for the rest of the day. By the time they get back, I feel 95%. I've done more in worse. To the spring.
If we can find it. The creek is flowing again, but no sign of the spring itself. We've all used a lot of water today. tarzan swinging' chutes. No choice but to fill up at the stagnant pools. Done. Iodine in the mix. Onward.
Canyon widens again, and a grassy glen appears. Daylight getting short, but we take a rest break anyway. Well deserved. Fudgesicle lays down. Doesn't want to get back up. Don't blame her at all. Time for movement again. "Trail on!"
Ruins pass by, observed. Longed after. No time. Sun dipping below the rim. A few hours of daylight left. Cooling off now for sure. Ely and others unsure. Ruins passing. Conference with Pathfinder and our maps. Damn close, we agree.
Precipice. Arroyo cutting gone wild. Sediment drops out from below us. Excellent view of the canyon ahead. I state that we're almost at the junction. General dissent. Down the sandy slope. More ruins, higher up. Getting darker. Panic creeping into some voices. "We're camping at the next good spot," states Ely, "I don't care. I'm too tired to go much further." Surrender, but damn it does feel good to get that damn thing off my back. Set up tents on opposite sides of a cottonwood. Voices downcanyon. Dogs barking. Running loose?! Assholes. Read the rules. Campfires in the distance. They obviously didn't read them. Boil water. Dinner in a bag - chicken and mashed potatoes. Best damn dinner in the world. Stars overhead. What planet is that to the west? Into the tent with Buster and Ely for the night, cottonwoods swaying overhead in the gentle breeze.
Day two. Up before light hits our camp. Sky's already robin's-egg blue, the emerging sun pinkening the two lone clouds over the western cliff-horizon. Some damn mad Great Horned Owl set up camp in the Cottonwood last night. Ely and I heard its booming cry for a while. Apparently the girls were too tired to hear it, fast asleep. Begin boiling water, that scummy pool-water from yesterday. Oatmeal and dried fruit for breakfast - the roar of the stove a welcome companion. Everyone takes turns using the "bathroom" around the bend. Daylight reveals ruins previously unseen, almost directly above us, in the darkness of the last evening. Everyone's in good spirits, including Fudgesicle, despite her blistered heels. Mole Skin and duct tape should do the trick. Chilly. Buster's got his little coat on, and eats ravenously. The assholes downcanyon are coming to life too. We agree we need to put some trail between them and us. Its all uphill from here. Break camp, shoulder packs - on the trail.
Pass through the camp of assholes from last night - much politer than expected. Run out of trail after crossing the stream. The "assholes" inform us we're actually at the Junction w/ Grand Gulch. We did make it after all! Thanks to them, we head upcanyon.
Medium-sized ruin, west canyon wall, not very far from the Junction. Stop and look. Take pictures. Discuss going up. Looks a little tricky, but I'm in favor. Pathfinder's ambivalent. The rest are against. Too soon for a break. There'll be others. True. One last photo, and we're under way again.
We finally break into the sun, thanks to the cliffs and the motion of the earth. Shuck our cooler-temp gear. Rest on a small, sculptured, slickrock bench. Mouth of Sheik's Canyon up ahead - 1st scheduled stop of the day. Spring and rock art. "At least today won't be a death-march," someone says.
Sheik's. Hike a little ways up, veer left, and pictographs begin to appear under a shaded overhang. Drop the packs and tie up Buster with some water. Quick snack break. Up to the panel.
!!! My skin tingles - this is amazing. So much stuff. Headless figures, nearly life-sized, with spotted bodies and bare breasts. Birds. Shields? People. Strange things I can't identify. White. Purple. Red. Brown. Yellow. Orange. Wild headdresses. "This is wild," I say over and over. Agreement.
Clamber onto some boulders, get a better look at a strange zig-zag figure painted on the ceiling. Ely especially loves it. Suggests making it her next tattoo. Group of guys appear cross-canyon from us, shout their greeting. We return it. "Looking for the Green Mask? Its down there at the end." Jerks! What, you think we can't find it on our own? Take away our joy of discovery! Thanks buddy.
We get info on the spring - thankfully they depart downcanyon, leaving the gallery to ourselves. We continue to explore in wonder. More strange headdresses. Birds (turkeys?). Strange strange things. Green Mask is at the exact opposite end from where we entered. Highly climactic. Smaller than I thought. Strange position. Hard to photograph. Way cool none-the-less.
Back to the packs. Dump the nasty water. Upcanyon to the spring. Very nice clear running water. Fill everything up. Add iodine. Back downcanyon. Reshoulder the packs. Back to Grand Gulch, and upcanyon again.
Ruins all around! Every corner seems to have some ruins. Some large, some just a granary tucked under a lip. I spy two large Basketmaker â€˜graphs from the trail. Worth investigating? Put it to a vote. Consensus is yes.
Cross some low lying sage and a slickrock dome. Up a small drainage. Neat stuff! Patterned handprints, my 1st. Speckled humans. The most detailed turkey I've yet seen. Tucked between two boulders is a perfect jacal room. Probably storage, really, on the back of a main room. Delicate walls still masoned to the cliff-ceiling. Door still intact, scarcely larger than this open journal. Ely's waiting for us below the site with Buster. We want to see just around the bend. One more minute! She doesn't seem thrilled.
Worth it, though. Several more complete rooms, granaries against the cliff. Small section of Moki steps. Lots and lots of pottery (especially for being in this part of the Gulch). Time to head down.
Pick up packs stashed by a boulder protecting a dripping spring. Down the drainage. Meet up with Ely - she's mad. We've been up there an hour. Shit! Time flys.
Try to get back to the main trail. Sea of sagebrush higher than my head. Cottonwoods and junipers. All grabbing. Snatching. Smacking. Blocking. Can't find the tarzan swinging' trail. Ely's really pissed. We put on a scene. I'm embarrassed. Goddamnit, where's the trail? Swearing a blue streak. We all get separated. "Got a good lead?" "No." Damnit. Find the main arroyo. I'm tempted to jump down. Ely doesn't like that idea either. tarzan swing. Pathfinder calling out. Found the trail - no surprise. Bushwack some more. All cut up. Finally we get to her. We went in happy and full of energy. Now we're tired and pissed. Ely's not even talking to me except to chide me for going in the first place. For taking so long.
The canyon goes on forever. Our next planned stop is Split Level. Ruins every which way. Some of them in two levels. I've never been to Split Level, but I've seen descriptions and pictures. Supposed to be big with a grassy bench around it. Try to make it there by lunch. Slow going. Up, down, up, down. Trail cuts off meanders. Up, down. Sometimes you're on a bench for a quarter mile, sometimes for 100 feet. Never can tell if it'll be worth it from the arroyo bottom. Up, down. Legs don't like this much. Thank god I've got my hiking pole. Ely's got Buster attached to her waist, pulling her up inclines. He's the only one not complaining. The canyon stretches on forever. Map is little help. We're where it switches from front to back. No real side canyons. Lots of guesswork. Keep hiking. Speedy's lost to us, somewhere way out ahead. Pathfinder's barely in view. Fudgesicle brings up the rear close behind with her injured foot.
Finally stop for lunch. No Split Level yet. Hot out. Find the only shade in sight. Hunger gets the best of us. Bagels with peanut butter. Trail mix. Powerade. Good to be off our feet for a bit. Damn that Green Mask water is good. Gotta make time. Load up. Back into the heat.
More ruins appear, slide by, disappear around bends. Trudging along. Ely wonders if this isn't a death march after all. No choice but to keep going, I tell her. Bend after bend. Up, down. Wish we were spending a week down here. No time to see it all. Catch up with Speedy. A grove of green grass and tall Cottonwoods ahead. Is this it? Walking up, I see ruins. This is it! Finally. Not too far from our evening camp. Everyone's tired. Drop packs by some junipers. Water. Stretch. Two strange guys are up in the ruins, shirtless, talking to each other in a chained-off area.
I don't like Split Level very much. Compared to other sites. Its almost all chained off. Lots of modern damage. Damn display rocks. Plus I'm tired. Don't spend much time there. Moving on.
Up, down. Light is begining to be questioned, especially by Ely. "Are we going to get there on time?" "Are you sure you know where we are?" I wish I had a mute button. Rude thought. Sun is still up. Most of the canyon is shaded. Sharp bend and a big fin. I think we're getting close. I hope so. Low on water.
Campfires! What the hell? But just beyond, the mouth of Todie Canyon, our campsite. Plenty of light. Japanese backpackers with a campfire. Speedy gives them a talk. Another group just down the trail has a roaring bonfire. Give them our schpeel. What is it with people down here? Are they all idiots? They don't take to kindly to our suggestion to douse it. They don't have enough water to douse it with! They point down the ridge where a trail leads. Spring's down there. Their camp's in the middle of the trail. Assholes. Walk through the middle of their camp - no choice. They're not too happy. Their own damn fault. Spring isn't too great looking. Fill up in a clear-ish running pool. Back out. Through the camp. Cross the canyon and into Todie. Nice sandy bench with some logs. Time to drop our packs for good today.
Begin setting up camp. Pathfinder wanders on upcanyon to find the spring marked on the map. Fudgesicle's blisters are worse. Size of my thumbs. Dinner 1st. Change into some non-trail clothes. Fire up the stoves. Tie Buster to a tree with our found rope - lots of room to explore. Mountain House Chili Mac for us. Discussion on Fudgesicle's blisters. Consensus - drain them. Ely is the surgical assistant with tissue and bandages. I sterilize my pocket knife scissors in the camp stove. Lots of fluid. Heavy calluses, hard to get to the blister itself. Lots of fluid! Fudgesicle's not thinking this is so much fun. Can't blame her. All promise she'll feel better soon. Done. Bandaged up.
I've been hauling around a deck of Uno cards, at Ely's insistence, and tonight's our last night out. We damn well better play! Didn't haul them for nothing!
Play by headlamp light. I lose every round. Damnit. Stare at the stars. Bright planet overhead. We're all very tired. If some owl comes to our tree tonight, doubt I'll hear it.
Day three. Dawn's light hitting the top of the cliffs sheltering us. Dull brown-tan flashing to tawny blond and rust. Water. Ely and I hike up Todie to a deep, clear pool, filling our bottles. Last of our iodine! More Anasazi ruins loom across the canyon in their predawn shadowy alcove.
Back at camp. Oatmeal and fruit again, the roar of the stove. New bottle of gas - old one finally empty. Roll up, pack up, dress up. Fix Fudgesicle's feet one last time. At least now we're on familiar ground as we hike out of Todie.
Half-lit hoodoos sprout along the canyon walls and rims. More ups and downs, not like yesterday. More scattered ruins.
Meet some hikers coming down from Kane. Must have gotten an early jump on things. Sun hasn't even reached the canyon floor here at the mouth of Fortress. God but its beautiful down here in the raw heart of the earth. Decaying Cottonwood leaves underfoot make gentle soft noises as we hike on.
Spirits are high - its our last day. Singing songs that reverberate on the canyon walls. "This canyon is a gift from the earth/ and what's from the earth is of the greatest worth/ so if you burn it you are a jerk/ and for the fireman you make much work." To the tune of Ben Harper's "Burn One Down." Dedicated to our pyro-inclined neighbors from last night. Ely leads to chorus.
Ruins again. No time to investigate, but I recall them from my 2004 trip. Tumbledown structures not far from Stimper Arch and Turkey Pen. Been wanting to get back to Turkey Pen especially for some time now.
Round the bend, Stimper Arch. Like a needle's eye on the far canyon wall. A lone juniper guards its aperture. Break time in the stream bed below the arch, against a boulder. Buster finds shade in its solar lee. The rest of us...deal. Trailmix. Water. No more Powerade. Power bars. Ely asks how far it is to Turkey Pen. Tenth of a mile. Onward.
Bending left, then right with the stream bed. Upper Turkey Pen appears in a crook of the next bend. Vertical wall borders the stream bed, throwing the canyon bottom into shade. I turn and see Speedy, Pathfinder, and Fudgesicle coming out of the sun, into the shade behind us. Silhouetted against the bright canyon wall. Reminds me of a sidecanyon scene from a place I've never been. Before the dam. I snap a picture.
Drop packs in the shade again. Up the sandy slope to Turkey Pen. The chained-off midden and collapsed kiva to the left. Not much has changed. Buildings are still there. Large corncobs and small potsherds litter the dust. Lots of foot prints. Even the lighting seems the same from last time.
Somehow, thought, its not as impressive as on first blush. Not many structures you can access. Not as much rock art as other sites. I think my continued exploration of Anasaziland has exposed me to a plethora of sights and experiences. Sites better preserved, larger, with more rock art, less visited. Not that Turkey Pen isn't neat - it is, and I've found some stuff I missed on my last trip. Its just that compared to places like Moonhouse, like the little site from yesterday, like many other unnamed places Out There...Have I been spoiled? Maybe. Do I enjoy going to sites that aren't "Top Tier?" Oh hell yes.
Upcanyon. Getting close to the home stretch. Past an empty alcove. Spirits still high. Even Fudgesicle with her damaged feet is upbeat. One more bend, and we're at The Junction, our destination from last spring's dayhike. Ely and I (along with Buster) rest in the Cottonwood grove where I camped in '04. The push out, the Big Push, is up ahead and I want to be well hydrated for it. Plus we were up at Junction Ruin last year and I was saddened by all that had changed since '04. Fudgesicle leads Pathfinder and Speedy up.
Its still early and we're gassed up, ready to go. Back on the trail. Making good time. Pour-off. Shit. Ely and Fudgesicle say it looks steeper than last year. Especially on our third day. Lunch break in the shade. Speedy's away first, us Following Four get to our feet a minute later. Upward. Slow going. Leveling out. Even though Ely and Fudgesicle know the end is close, they don't mind saying it feels like its taking forever. I agree.
Utah Canyon Glacier. Last gasps of the canyon, and under a few overhangs in the creek bed there's frozen-solid ice. We relax, enjoying the natural air conditioning. Smiles.
Suddenly Buster freaks out, falling on his side and kicking his legs. Oh shit! He's having some sort of seizure, or he's slipped on the ice and broke his leg. I'm going to have to carry him this last mile or so.
Then he rolls onto his back, kicking his legs, and making happy dog sounds. Snow's flying in all direction. Damn! He's cooling himself off! Smart dog. Moving on...
Behind the crack-in-the-wall. Canyon walls barely fifteen feet tall at this point. Trailhead is "just around the corner." Damn endless tamarisk and willow flats. Meandering back and forth. Radio antenna from the Ranger Station on the horizon. One more big down and up. "Ugh, why now," someone complains. Slickrock benches. Speedy's waiting for us at the gate. "Wouldn't want to end this without you all." All smiles. One more up and down. Damnit. Then the road! The Jetta! Ranger station is still open. I'll be damned, we did make good time! Let's get the hell out of here and head for dunch at the Sonic in Kayenta. Hot damn. Hell of a trip.