Trip Reports: Grand Gulch Loop Hike, Utah - October 2009

Over three days and two nights this October I went on a ~25 mile loop hike from Cedar Mesa in southeastern Utah. I hiked down Todie Canyon, to Grand Gulch, then out Bullet Canyon. Most of the way the hike passes through dramatic canyon scenery with vertical cliffs and dramatic rock formations. But the highlights were without doubt the numerous ancient ruins and pictographs along the way.
The Thumb, Grand Gulch, Utah, canyon, Bears Ears National Monument, photo

The Thumb

Grand Gulch, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

This scene about halfway through my journey in Grand Gulch is typical of the terrain and scenery during the trip: steep canyon walls and interesting rock formations, with cottonwoods, sage, and other brambly bushes in the flat canyon floor in between. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Pictographs, Grand Gulch, Utah, Bears Ears National Monument, photo

Sheiks Pictographs

Grand Gulch, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Pictographs on the canyon wall. Keep in mind that these are basically in the middle of nowhere, in the desert wilderness, so it’s really something to see this here and to imagine people living in this area. Don’t quote me on the specifics, but the various pictographs in this long inhabited location near a reliable spring range in age from 2000-600 years old. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Pictographs, Grand Gulch, Utah, Bears Ears National Monument, photo

Sheiks Pictographs 2

Grand Gulch, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Some of the imagery on these pictographs has faded away with time; supposedly the human figures used to have heads with elaborate headdresses. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Sheiks Canyon, Grand Gulch, Utah, stars, Bears Ears National Monument, photo

Sheiks Stars

Grand Gulch, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Stars above a high canyon wall over my campsite. I took this 60-second exposure while laying comfortably in my sleeping bag. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Grand Gulch, Utah, ruin, cottonwoods, canyon, Bears Ears National Monument, photo

Hidden Ruin

Grand Gulch, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

A hidden ruin overlooks colorful autumn cottonwoods on the canyon floor. I saw at least a dozen ruin sites during my hike, and who knows how many more I missed along the way. Many of the ruins are perched high up on inaccessible canyon walls; others like this one are more easily accessed with a bit of slickrock scrambling. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Kiva, Perfect Kiva, Grand Gulch, Utah, ruin, Bears Ears National Monument, photo

Perfect Kiva

Grand Gulch, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

This was my favorite ruin site I saw during my trip in Grand Gulch - a perfectly preserved kiva set in an overhanging cliff amphitheater. I’d imagine that the overhanging cliff site not only provided safety from attacks from above, but also provided natural shelter from the sun, and occasional rain. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Kiva, interior, Grand Gulch, Utah, Bears Ears National Monument, photo

Kiva Interior

Grand Gulch, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Supposedly this kiva was discovered intact in the 1890s, but by the 1970s the roof was starting to collapse. Restoration efforts were undertaken to reinforce the roof so now you can go down inside. It felt calm, cool, and comfortable in there, and interestingly it smelled really good too! Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Grand Gulch, kiva, Utah, moonlight, Bears Ears National Monument, photo

Kiva Dusk

Grand Gulch, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Moonlight illuminates this ancient kiva near Grand Gulch. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Grand Gulch, kiva, Utah, night, Bears Ears National Monument, photo

Night Kiva

Grand Gulch, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

It’s strange enough just being in the desert canyon wilderness to begin with, but when I was at these kiva ruins this evening I could feel the mysterious caveman essence of it all.  I tried some interesting lighting effects to try to portray the scene as it may have looked if people still inhabited the site.

I got the foreground glow by shining my headlamp on the cliff wall behind me – during the 60 second exposure the indirect light provided nice bounce light to softly illuminate the scene. I combined that exposure with another one where I climbed down the ladder and shined the lamp around the interior of the kiva to provide that glow, as if people were inside.
Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

This was the second backpacking trip I’ve done in Grand Gulch; check out photos from my previous Grand Gulch trip here.