I'd done my homework on this one: somewhere between easy to moderate: mostly class 2 with maybe a little class 3 scrambling and nothing technical. It could also involve some shallow wading. The slots were supposed to be magnificent, heavily traveled, and the whole 8-mile loop to take a mere 4 hours. Oh sure, we can do that - no sweat.
They were right about the slots: they are killer. Heavily traveled? Maybe it was time of year but other than 4 casual hikers who took one look at the first obstacle and turned around, and 2 well-equipped trekkers whom we're certain did not make it over obstacle #2 we saw no one for those entire 8 miles. Four days of heavy rainstorms earlier in the week made standing water and mud a soggy but minor complication. And they were mostly spot-on about difficulty: a couple tough spots but generally easy. Four hours? It took us six what with slogging through a lot of deep sand and gravel, circumventing the obstacles and playing with the camera.
The thing about slots is that they change: flash floods can shift dryfalls and make traversing them easier. They can also move chockstones around and leave new debris piles that create bigger challenges. A short person like me will have a different perspective that a tall one, too. Whatever the case, a few scrambles over/around took a little effort and I had to slide off a couple sizable pouroffs into plunge pools of uncertain depth and hidden rock piles. And yes, a number of other cold, muddy pools to wade through but only one of them hip-deep (on 5' 2" me).
But this is a 5-star hike if you like slots and enjoy some scrambling - which we do. Little Wild Horse winds through several miles of gorgeous slots in ever-changing widths, textures and colors, and while Bell is not as dramatic it is beautiful enough to have been happy we tacked it on. And don't let a few little challenges put you off: people often hike this with their youngsters and the kids love it. Hell, some do it with their dogs although I wouldn't recommend it. You can (usually) retreat the way you came if the going gets too tough, and deep pools are likely to be the exception rather than the rule. Just don't try this with rain in the forecast as it is one very dangerous place to be in a downpour.
See my next tip for more on this loop, and my warnings and dangers concerning slot canyons.
One of the primary reasons we came to Hanksville was to hike the Horseshoe Canyon unit of Canyonlands National Park. Other than the Maze, this is the most remote section of Canyonlands to access, is a detached piece of the park some 120 miles from Island in the Sky near Moab, and the last 32 miles of that is dirt road: it is a long way from anywhere. But along the walls of this canyon are some of the most stunning and archeologically important pictographs on the continent so it's well worth the effort.
This is a 7-mile RT hike down into the canyon and then in/along a usually dry creekbed. There are 4 important pictograph sites along the way with the biggest and best of them - the Great Gallery - at the very end. There is no water, food, gas or any other facilities at the trailhead (there is a vault toilet) and pets are not permitted. There is also no park fee for the hike. Staying in Hanksville shaved about 140 miles off trying to do it from Moab so see my hotel tip for a good place to book a room.
For more information, see my Horseshoe Canyon tips under my Canyonlands pages:
And do reference my Canyonlands warnings and dangers for good stuff to be aware of when visiting the park in general.
Music from "Tales from Topographic Oceans" was humming through my head as what I was seeing looked like the cover of a Yes album. Or a sci-fi movie - which indeed at least one has been filmed here. Stretched below me was a barren, alien landscape of eerie hoodoos and melting pinnacles around a field of enormous, misshapen mushrooms and grotesque creature forms. The rising sun cast long, dark fingers onto scorched red earth; dead silence unbroken by the song of even a single bird. It is hideous, spectral, lifeless, bizarrely whimsical and altogether fascinating.
Descending into the valley we spent a morning wandering this desolate terrain like Martian explorers: around capstone mazes, into small caverns and to the tops of soft, crumbling peaks. Too early for all but a couple of shutterbugs at the overlook, we had it all to ourselves, which only added to the aura of weirdness.
In summer it'll be ridiculously hot; after heavy rain, outrageously muddy; after nightfall, positively creepy. The kids will love it. Bring the camera.
Facilities: visitor center, drinking water, restrooms, picnic pavilion, camping: see the website for more info
Fee as of 2011: $7 per vehicle, $4 for seniors
Park Hours: 6:00 AM - 10:00 PM
Ah, so I see you've read my previous post and are all set to do this: you're in for big fun!
Directions on how to reach the trailhead are below. This is very close to Goblin Valley State Park so it's easy to combine two entirely different landscapes into one great day in the boots. You'll drive about 38 miles from Hanksville to the trailhead.
I don't want to belabor every single little twist and turn in the route as once you're in the slots it's a no-brainer. Critical directional points are also signed and you might see some cairns here and there so it's not difficult to follow.
Starting at the parking area, follow the wash about .6 mile or so to the first obstacle. You do not have to try and climb over it; get around by ascending to the shelf on the right or left - whichever looks easiest - and then climbing down. It can be a little tricky so be careful and look for that path of least resistance. Shortly beyond, the canyon splits: to the right is the entrance (look for the sign) to Little Wild Horse and to the left is Bell. We'll go right as LWH is the best of the two and the one to choose if you can't do both. Just follow along as the canyon narrows into a series of slots for the next 3 miles. They are astounding: serpentine waves of textures and colors that narrow in places so tight you'll need to remove your pack and squeeze through sideways. If there are standing pools, some can be easily 3-pointed around or stemmed over but you'll just have to plow through the wide ones: we brought water shoes along.
When you reach the end of the canyon you can turn around & return the way you came or make the loop through Bell. There will be a sign for the latter: go a little over a mile and 1/2 on trail/jeep road and into the canyon (look for signs). You'll traverse the next mile and 1/2 through another series of slightly less dramatic but entirely worthwhile slots (we slogged through some pools here too, and over the biggest pouroff) and arrive back where you first entered LWH. From there retrace the .6 mile to the parking area.
This can be a very hot adventure during summer/early fall so bring lots of water and I recommend closed-toe shoes or boots with a good tread. Do not do this with rain in the forecast, OK? As mentioned, we saw no one after the first 1/2 mile but I guess that's rare: LWH is one very popular hike in high season and often very busy. No fee.
Hanksville took its name from one Ebenezer Hanks: an original Mormon founder of the town in 1882 when it was a sparse settlement known as Graves Valley. He was a busy individual: one-time mayor of Provo; entrepreneur in cotton, lumber, mining and freight businesses; judge...and polygamist. He was also prolific, having 10 children with wife #2. You'll find Ebenezer on a lonely, windswept hill just outside of town along with a daughter, son-in-law and some other early pioneers of Hanksville.
But it's the memorial of a more recent local celebrity that draws lovers of western lore. A.C. Ekker was another busy fella: rodeo rider, businessman, cattle raiser, river runner, guide and considered one of last of the genuine cowboys. His great-grandfather was buddies with Butch Cassidy when the Wild Bunch was laying low in a remote area nearby known as Robber's Roost. He inherited the ranch - also named Robber's Roost - homesteaded by his grandparents and grew up range-riding the red-rock mesas and canyons of southern Utah. A.C accompanied actor Robert Redford into the Roost area for an article about the Wild West Mr. Redford wrote for National Geographic magazine in 1976, and appeared on the cover of that issue. Redford also wrote a book, "The Outlaw Trail", inspired by his role in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" in which his time riding with A.C and his dad figures prominently. He appeared in numerous other documentaries about life on the range as well.
Mr. Ekker, cowboy-ing by air, was looking for stray cattle in his Cessna 174 when it crashed near his ranch on March 16, 2000.
I am including the link to a delightful article by Jen Jackson recounting a interview with a member of the Ekker family, with some interesting family/local tidbits. My thanks, Jen.
A disintegrating wreck of a motel on the highway is guarded by a menagerie of fierce creatures of unknown ilk; it looks like Invasion of the Killer Trash Heap. Venturing within 10 feet of them requires a tetanus shot.
For a post-hike brew, this is as close to one of those as you're going to get for 50 miles or so. 3.2 beer is available at Stan's Chevron and Hollow Mountain gas stations. Otherwise, it's strictly BYOB.
Some neat old buildings and a camera can kill an hour or so. Some of the local canines will probably come along too. They're all very friendly and enjoy a little scratch about the ears.