By Dave Webb
(Note, I wrote this article in March, 2009)
I pushed the season and enjoyed a great backpacking trip into Grand Gulch the other weekend. We went in on Feb 27 - I think that's the earliest I've ever backpacked in Utah. We encountered a little ice and snow in spots, but not enough to cause problems. And we had the canyon's ancient ruins all to ourselves.
Grand Gulch is a beautiful canyon - it would be worth hiking there just to see the scenery. The big attractions are the many Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloan) archaeological sites. I'm fascinated by the sites and enjoy searching them out.
The Anasazi culture thrived in the Four Corners area some 1,000 years ago. The people formed large communities and built impressive rock structures in the area's rugged canyons. They also left interesting rock art.
You can see impressive Anasazi structures in many places in SW Utah along roadsides or at the end of short hikes. Why would someone want to put in the effort to backpack?
Well, I'm one of those crazy people who enjoy backpacking - getting away from civilization. Grand Gulch is pristine. As you drop down into the gorge you walk away from our modern world. There is no litter in the canyon - not a candy wrapper or coke can. No human sounds save our light footsteps. When the sunsets and the stars come out, they are unbelievably bright. It is a great experience in one of the few places you can still find solitude.
There are usually a few other people in the canyon. You have to obtain permits to hike or backpack there and the number of visitors is controlled to ensure a quality experience. If you want to go, get permits well in advance.
In Grand Gulch, most of the ancient sites still contain artifacts, and that adds to the interest. There are pottery shards everywhere. There are also ancient corncobs and grindstones and other items. More accessible sites have been stripped of artifacts - the stone walls and rock art remain but everything else has been hauled away by vandals.
It has been about 10 years now since my first pilgrimage into Grand Gulch. On this trip I intentionally retraced my original steps and photographed some of the same sites I had visited back then. I was curious to compare photos and see how much had changed during that time span.
Unfortunately, I have to report that I could not find some of the interesting artifacts I photographed 10 years ago. At one site, known as Perfect Kiva Ruin, my old photos show braided cords and a ceramic jug handle, but those items were not to be found.