You'll come around a short bend in the canyon and you'll be able to see some of the figures. Walking to the copse of cottonwoods hiding them the anticipation builds. There is a small container with information (a 74 page booklet also available online on the park website) and sign in sheet. And then you see the huge rock wall covered with the figures at least 2000 yrs old. They have been preserved because of the dryness of the climate and the remoteness of the area. We spent about an hour enjoying the area, looking at each figure, amazed at the detail and the style. There is a feeling here that was hard to describe but mystical would be a good start. We were early, so no other visitors yet, but a ranger came eventually. It was a holiday weekend so maybe more people were expected. But it would be easy enough to be here alone if you time it right. Many of the figures are life size or larger, they have no arms or legs and either no eyes or large empty eyes. Though there are animals depicted, I had the feeling was hunting was not the aim of a pilgrimage here. The ghostly figures are higher up on the wall than today's floor would allow you to reach...did they build ladders? Has the wall collapsed? What was the paint made from? Did they make it here or bring it with them? How long would it have taken someone to plan and produce one figure? And of course the big one,,,,why? What do they mean? So many questions and very few answers.
There are two ways to drive in. The long dirt road way from Green River, or the shorter dirt road way from hwy 24. We took the shorter dirt road way from hwy 24 near Goblin Valley State park. This is also the road into the Maze district of Canyonlands National Park and the Hans Flat Ranger station. At one point that road goes right and the one to Horseshoe Canyon goes left. I'm remembering this from a few years back but pretty sure there was a sign. It looked like mostly a ranchers road, some sand, some rocks, but mostly graded and maintained. Though a passenger car might make it, I would rather have all wheel or 4x4 drive. It is a 30 mile drive though so come prepared with extra water, food and a repair kit for if you need it. Check weather first as you don't want to be out there in a storm.
The 6.5 mile round trip hike begins at a signed parking lot with an information panel. We camped here (no charge, but not a real campsite either) so we were ready to go early the next morning. There is one vault toilet- not a bad idea to have your own paper.
You start off down the side of the Barrier Canyon wall. Near the top there is a single dinosaur footprint. When we were there it had tiny rocks all around it so it was easy to spot. It is down about 750 feet to the canyon floor, a little over a mile to the bottom. It isn't real steep, but steep enough when you are ready to climb back up.
Then turn to the right and it is simply a matter of following the usually dry river bed another mile or two down the canyon. There are some cairns along the way. There are also several other panels to see,,High Gallery, Horseshoe Gallery and Alcove Gallery. These are all very nice and a good build up to the main Great Gallery.
On a side note, it was to the left further up that Aron Ralston got caught by a boulder and cut his own arm off to escape. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2XLoQ1xYB0
The hike into this requires a 750 ft descent into the canyon. This is easy hiking but you need to come out the same way. This hike would be brutal in July/Aug. Try to plan for Spring, Fall or a warm Winters day.
The total distance is about 7 miles, a lot of it in sand. Hydrate before the hike and carry ample water. My wife and I used 96 oz. on a cool May day.
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