Snake Gulch

Vermillion Cliffs 5

                                                  The Vermillion Cliffs. US 89A is the highway just above the lower shadow.

Sitting on the porch at Cliff Dweller's Lodge enjoying my dinner and a couple of much anticipated and appreciated beers, I looked eastward to the red cliffs beyond and a ¾ moon high in the sky. As I sat gazing and admiring the early evening quiet, the last vestiges of the setting sun broke through clouds and set just the upper peaks of those distant cliffs aglow with intense brilliance. With the moon high overhead, it was a moment in time that captured the tranquility I was feeling after one last day of another exploration in the wilderness.


 Before I checked out and shortly after awaking on Monday morning, I thought of what I might like to explore today before heading back to Phoenix. One choice was to go toward Page, AZ and try to find some odd hoodoos/toadstools and/or go to the slot canyons there. Another choice was to see about finding the Indian rock art in Snake Gulch, back up on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Snake Gulch is one of those places in this part of the country where ancient Indian pictographs and petroglyphs can be found. And even though the total hike into and out of Snake Gulch is 20 miles I read that much of the art is not at the end but along the way, so I could just do a partial hike and then decide when to return. Upon leaving the Redrock Country Inn in Kanab, I spoke with the manager David about Snake Gulch and a couple of other places. He had not yet visited the Snake Gulch area, but was very willing to go sometime if I decide to explore there and several other places. He told me about a few other places that would interest me and asked me to call him if I decide to come up and go exploring. 


With that, I decided my day's goal would be to investigate Snake Gulch and followed the directions from an online article. The directions were spot on with mileages, being 34.6 miles from Kanab. Getting my gear together, including extra water and some snacks, I hit the trail at 9 a.m. With negligible changes in elevation, this was proving to be a much easier hike that the days before in Bryce Canyon. In Fairyland Canyon, the hike was 8 miles which I completed in 4 hours. That would average out to 2 miles per hour (and that is with many photos stops along the way and a moderate to easy pace. A human being averages about 2 ½ to 3 mph walking, so if the total distance into Snake Gulch was about 10 miles, it probably would take me 5 hours one way. Obviously the complete hike would be impossible in this one day. My goal then was to attempt a 3 hour hike in and (hopefully) 3 hours back. With that set in my mind I hiked along, feeling very upbeat and able to tackle the world. (Never mind I had just managed to hike 8 miles the previous day and that, as a result, my muscles may not have totally recovered). But being on level ground the exertion felt minimal.


About 1 hour into the hike I found my first examples of the rock art. These seemed to be the earlier types with little colorations. Getting back on the trail I continued along and found other examples as I kept to the often barely visible trail. It appeared that at least one person, maybe two had walked this path a few days earlier. Those tracks stopped after about an hour and a half into the Gulch. By 11 a.m. I had found a few more examples, some higher up on a cliff, which was easily accessed. I climbed up for a closer look. By about this time, my feet were a bit sore, but not blistering, just sore from all the walking over 3 days. My legs seemed to be holding out fairly well, at least no knee pains, just some tightness in the upper legs and a small ache in the left hip. But none of that would stop me. 

This canyon, which might be a quarter mile across, at most, also narrows somewhat in places. Along it's length, a wash (think ditch or stream) runs through the canyon. The canyon side  walls did start to get higher the further I went, but I still was not finding what I recall from internet photos of the best art. At noon, the 3 hour mark and my supposed turn around point, I decided another half hour would still be doable and get me back to the car by 4  p.m. At 12:30, seeing nothing was likely to pop out at me, I did follow my revised plan and turned back. Thunder had also been sounding behind me as dark clouds, there, filled the sky. I did not want to get caught back in this wilderness with rain, so another good reason to abort and leave this lonesome valley. 

I mentioned that this trail often nearly disappears. That was most certainly the case, but being in a rather narrow valley (gulch), I still would not get lost. All there was to do was forge ahead and follow the wash that ran through the middle of it. The wash was sometimes 3 feet deep and at others over 15 feet deep. From the evidence of debris caught up in the sagebrush and other plants where I was hiking, I saw that the water had flowed out of the wash and over the landscape sometime in the past, but not too far past. Seeing the evidence of the water's height over those plants, I would have been up to my chest in water. Hummm, that is a whole LOT of water flowing through, as obviously the wash could not always handle the rainfall. I did NOT want to get caught in that kind of torrent. But, the storm had passed and a nice breeze with clouds provided a comfortable temperature. 


With no real threat of getting rained on or washed away in a flood, I slowed down my pace a bit and kept on trudging along, and trudging and trudging. I was a whole lot more tired that I thought I might get on this return hike. And mind you, absolutely NO ONE was back in this lonely place. Heck not even a snake, despite the gulch's name. Though I was aching more that I liked, I kept a slow, steady pace. Along the return, I spotted some other rock art, one several hundred yards across the wash. As I looked across the way, I really could not see anything with my eyes, but with binoculars, my suspicions about that cliff proved correct. So down into the up the other side of the 8 foot deep wash across the open area and up to the cliff. Quite a few drawings were there and worth the detour. 

Soon, back to the other side of the wash, I then spotted a few other drawings that I missed before. And at least one that was now in sunlight, which I thought might show up better in new photos of those examples. I rested and drank water frequently, ate some snacks to help fortify me and sat at times to get the pressure off my aching feet. 

Keeping an eye on my watch I figured I might get back to the car by 3:3o but planned on 4. Looking for landmarks as the time and I marched on, I seemed to not be getting any nearer to the start point. I'd look at the cliffs and slopes jutting into the valley, hoping that was the one with the old stone house around the bend, which would mean I was much closer to the car. Alas, not that bend, or the next, but then a fence I passed through, and I knew I'd be a mile or so to the finish. The ruins of the stone house appeared , and not long after I saw my car. Almost on the dot, it was 4 p.m. as I reached the end.

A seven hour hike, 3.5 in and 3.5 out. At an average of 2 mph walking (that includes the stops), I figured I went  at least 14 miles today. That was a WHOLE lot of walking and my feet were ready for fresh air and to be out of the shoes. A little washing of the dogs also felt good, then sitting to keep further pressure off my feet. Not wanting to linger much longer I again rehydrated, slipped on my sandals and got on my way out of Snake Gulch. 

Taking a shortcut up the Kaibab Plateau and driving through rain in the forest going to Jacobs Lake, I soon was back on US 89A and headed to Cliff Dwellers Lodge. I've stayed here several times in the past and knew I'd find a very comfortable room, and an excellent meal at the restaurant. 

Which brings me back to my reverie sitting on the porch enjoying my meal. As I hiked in to see those ancient examples of Indian rock art, I wondered what stories they were conveying. What meaning do the paintings have? If only we could interpret meaning. And, why did they paint art in the places they chose? It is a mystery, but the kind I like to see and think about my standing in the same places where the artists stood over a 1000 or more years ago.

 Today, I took a big bite out of my endurance, and accomplished that feat with some aches, but am otherwise none the worse for wear. As I sat thinking about this trip, I have seen incredible scenery and beauty and had some adventures along the way. The rainbow at the end of the day as I approached Cliff Dwellers, was a good sign, for me. I think I found my pot of gold in all that I was able to do on this trip.


The rainbow, coincidentally, ended at Cliff Dwellers Lodge as seen from this view. 

See the photo album I created for today's photos. You may choose to see them as a slideshow or individually. © Donald E. Kline 2012                                         Disqus Comments