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Four years prior to this trip I had finished the 1000 foot (or so) ascent up to Cathedral Butte trailhead after finishing a four-day backpacking trip in Salt Creek. I knew I’d be back to the area in which I was completely floored – as a spectacular desert oasis. In 2010, I spent four days inside the drainage stretching between Cathedral Butte and Angel Arch. Despite that I had seen much, I left with a hunger for more. Full of water, numerous sandstone arches, hoodoos, ancient Puebloan ruins and pictographs, wildlife and those classic Needles District views, Salt Creek is a desert backpacking must.

Fortunately or unfortunately, much has been documented about this area. I may have not been interested in the place had I not seen the trip described in a guide-book four years ago. Prior to my trip this year I googled Salt Creek. I came across a blog which lended a map with pinpoints where archeological artifacts could be found. That was prior to the NPS finding it. There are stories that the Park Service has threatened fines for those who post photos and/or coordinates of some of the more delicate (and little known) archeological sites in Salt Creek. I found it disappointing that the area had been so exposed. The park ranger at the station confirmed my suspicion that this place is becoming more and more popular.

I of course say this all tongue in cheek; I’m about to post a trip report about this fragile area after all. I will just aim to report on the same content which are all already well documented and open to the public. This also means that I’ll be leaving out a lot of sites we got to see.

Back in the 1980′s you could drive a Jeep nearly the entire way to Angel Arch from Peekaboo trailhead. I can only imagine the type of artifacts that disappeared from that area back then. Back in 2010 I  met a team of archeologists that were studying the Salt Creek canyons. I knew from then on that there is much more to see beyond the trail. Part of my mission for my second trip was to explore the small folds of the canyon and pick up on the things that I had missed, this time with three sets of eyes as opposed to just one.

Our first day hiking plans vanished by that of a completely blown out tire on our drive to the trailhead on the lengthy Beef Basin road. We drove a long drive back to Moab on a donut to buy a new set of four. No need to go into anymore detail on that downer. We began hiking around 5:00 pm later that night. A short hike to our campsite, but a way too early end on our first day of exploring canyon pockets.

The Canyonlands Park Service only allows for four primitive campsites which sit along an eight mile stretch between the Park boundary and the turn-off for Angel Arch to the north. We had reserved SC-2 and SC-4 for two separate nights.

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Dan and myself both posing for Crystal’s camera and pointing to the sights.

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A film of dense clouds block the bright for the remainder of the evening.

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The first of many small cascades near the trail. This one not far from Kirk’s Cabin.

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According to Wikipedia, Kirk’s Cabin is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The cabin built in 1890 still supports an impressive build by a carpenter who crafted his structure to last.

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A few of the above here and there, but with it being early April, the majority of foliage remained dead or dormant.

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We awoke to some clouds the following morning, but the filmy haze that had plagued the sky the day before disappeared.

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One of many arches; this one up close near the trail.

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Amazing to think about the age of this squash plant and the human hands that planted it near this ancient site.

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Blue skies to our north.

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Moisture forming in the far-off hills to our south.

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That stretch of plains where the rock walls you’re submerged in are far off and the walk is always flat.

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Look far up the rock wall in the right corner and cliff dwellings hang insanely high.

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Perhaps the most famous rock art in all of Salt Creek.

Controversy has surrounded the All American Man pictograph in southeast Utah since its discovery in the 1950s. Its coloration, similar to the flag of the United States of America, has led to questions regarding its authenticity. We have obtained two radiocarbon values on a single sample comprised of pigmented sandstone fragments from one small area of this pictograph. They suggest the pictograph dates to the fourteenth century and indicate that it is an authentic, prehistoric pictograph, probably Anasazi in origin. 

Scott D. Chaffee, Marian Hyman, Marvin W. Rowe, Nancy J. Coulam, Alan Schroedl and Kathleen Hogue. American Antiquity, Vol. 59, No. 4 (Oct., 1994), pp. 769-781.

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After visiting the site which is much more than just a pictograph, we determined to keep moving quickly in order to reach campsite number two with enough time to wander off the path. Too little time to explore too much.

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A personal favorite.

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My interpretation of the woman in the family.

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Upper Jump.

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After arrival, setup, and dropping gear at SC-4 we back-tracked to some cliff dwellings we spotted above the trail to wander. Angel Arch we would have to skip.

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The form of fingers which made this structure a long time ago.

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Back at camp now while Dan exercises his dance floor routine.

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A low temperature of only 40 degrees the second night. It was a far cry from the 26 degree night we had prior. The sleep system I brought with suited the second night way better.

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A reward for our early morning scramble on the way out of creek drainage.

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One of the tallest dwellings we had seen the entire trip.

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“Is that one?” … “There’s one” … “We should have brought binoculars”

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The only real elevation of the trip, yet again, is the climb out to Cathedral Butte trailhead. The best day for weather out of the three. With so many areas to discover, I haven’t been known to frequent areas over and over again, but this is one that I could come back to again and again. There’s much more to be seen in the side canyons that retract from the main canyon which is Salt Creek.