Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
Canyoneering with the ancients
Overview: A technical canyoneering trip in a tributary of White Canyon.
Warning: Do not enter this place if rain is predicted anywhere in the area! This is a technical trip and will require helmet, harness, rappelling device and biner. Add 2x50 ft ropes, a wetsuit (shorty in summer, more otherwise) and possibly a GPS for navigation.
Special Considerations: The exit route is through an area of cryptobiotic soil. Ensure you stay on the trail and don't bust the crust.
History: Beta was obtained from several websites, with Tom Jones' canyoneeringusa site perhaps being the most useful.
Hike: From Cheesebox rd, hike to the head of the side drainage which will allow access into a fork of the upper gravel canyon complex. Follow the drainage down until it reaches intersection with a large fork coming from the north. While direct descent of the drainage would require a rappel, an easy route exists by staying high right and downclimbing into this larger fork along a YDS class 2 scramble down. Continue the nontechnical canyoneering down this fork. The going is more gravelly/muddy and some large boulders sometimes obstruct your path. As you approach the intersection with the main fork of Gravel Canyon, the situation is again the same. While direct descent would require a rappel, an easy route exists by traversing right and walking down into the main fork. More gravel is found in the main fork along with even more boulders.
Eventually you will reach a place where the canyon slots up. Don your wetsuit here and traverse left underneath a hanging boulder above a pool. Rap about 20 ft from the anchor into the pool, which is of varying depth but likely requires some swimming.
After this my memory is poor, but you will continue down canyon dealing with boulder obstacles, swimming, and walking. I think there is one other short rap just after a side canyon comes in. (This section could stand to be improved by a future co-author).
Towards the end you will be swimming in a very narrow slot and looking up you will encounter an amazingly well-preserved Anasazi dwelling about 80 ft above you. It took my breath away - amazing and unexpected. Access from the canyon bottom seemed unlikely. After a bit more wading, the canyon widens again and you will hike down the beautiful and fairly flat canyon until you encounter a group of trees on a sandy low-sloped bench on canyon left (LDC). This is your exit point.
If you wish, try to climb up to the ruins, but be careful and know your limits. Concerned about ominous looking clouds (weatherman didn't predict THAT!) coming towards me from the distance, I didn't make a heartfelt attempt and decided to make a hasty exit.
From the sandy bench area with trees, route find up a bit and begin to head back upcanyon, gradually gaining elevation as the terrain permits. A few times I ascended too high and was forced to downclimb a bit. Looking at the other side of the canyon you will see that while in the canyon you passed another less-well preserved Anasazi dwelling - masters of hiding their location from view.
The route is not distinct, but if you persevere you will eventually come back to a large side drainage that will permit you to climb the last 100 ft out of the canyon and get onto the plateau. Unfortunately you are still on the wrong side of Found Mesa. Stay on the excellent trail (don't walk on the crypto) and follow it back several miles north towards Cheesebox rd. At the very end the trail disintegrates but you may locate a BLM carsonite marker identifying the "trail" path back to the rd.
Water Sources: I didn't see anything I'd want to drink. Bring plenty.
Camping: Several options along Cheesebox Rd.
Check out the Official Route and Triplog.