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Grand Gulch Gyration

I have 3 openings for hardcore hikers for the Grand Gulch Gyration- an  85+ mile backpack loop of the homeland of the Anasazi Indians, who inhabited this area from 200 AD to the 13th century BC. (see below for further info)  

Overview: An 8 day canyon exploration with water available (during dates we plan). Low mileage days (10-15 miles/day) due to the amazing sites we will likely want to visit, which unfortunately means a heavier backpack (no midsupply locations). Not much elevation gain-2000 ft elevation gain total. (see   

The trail is pretty straightforward for 82 of the 85 miles, but there is a tricky bit that has some exposure along the San Juan.  

           In the spirit of April fools day-Just kidding!  But there is a bit of an exposure.

Itinerary: We fly into Salt Lake City May 9th, rent a vehicle(s), drive  6 hours to Cedar Mesa, park, hike across the mesa for 5 miles, down into the Kane and Grand Gulch canyon, down to the San Juan, along that river for 3.5 miles, then up the Slickhorn canyon for 11 miles to the road, and hitchhike back to the car.  

I have permits for 8.  5 hardcore explorers have already signed up. 

Cost: There may be other costs, depending on hiring consultant, guide, books, maps, time, etc. but would be Less than $100/person.  

Dates: May 9th to 18th

Planning to make it a 10 day travel plan -one day to get there, one day to get back home, and 8 days to explore. Leaving on Friday, coming back on Sunday. 



 Life shrinks or expands according to one's courage 
anais nin

DIFFICULTY RATING: (Strenuous=1000 ft climbed/hour)




APPROXIMATE RETURN TIME: 9:00 pm Sunday, May 18th


DOGS: no

PERMITS: Yes, and there are 3 available for qualified backpackers

CARPOOLING: RT mileage is 2400 air miles plus 500 car miles-splitting cost of gas and car rental.  Flights are on your own.

Note-this is a carbon neutral outing, $25/person from outings donation is used to offset carbon released for the trip.

  Cultural History Grand Gulch Primitive Area

(Learn about other nearby Anasazi sites)

This is a truly unique location in Southeastern Utah. Remote and rugged backcountry, the area is accessible only by pack animal or on foot. The Anasazi ("Ancient Ones") flourished in Grand Gulch between 700 and 2,000 years ago. The fact that so many sites remain--and that they are in such excellent condition--makes Grand Gulch a special area.

Throughout the mesas and canyons of Southeastern Utah, there are countless places important to Native Americans and to the non-Indians who live or visit here. During your stay, recognize how important these sites are to all of us: Native Americans, non-Indians, historians, and archaeologists. You will see dwellings, pottery, tools, and art work. Treat it with care and respect.


The earliest known Anasazi inhabitants of Grand Gulch were the Basketmakers, who lived here from A.D. 200 to 700. This culture is thought to have derived from earlier nomad hunters and gatherers, but artifacts from the Basketmaker period are the oldest yet found in the Gulch. When the nomadic people learned to plant and cultivate corn introduced from the south, they became more settled, and the Basketmaker cultured evolved.

The Basketmakers constructed dwellings by excavating a shallow pit. Then they built up walls and a roof of logs and sticks and covered them with mud. They also used flint tools and wooden digging sticks. Their name was derived from the finely woven baskets they made. The most prevalent remains of the Basketmaker culture in the Gulch are their slab-lined storage cisterns, which can still be seen on the mesa tops or on high ledges protected from the weather.

A series of droughts apparently drove the Basketmakers into the surrounding mountains. When their descendants returned around A.D. 1050, they brought with them the influence of the Mesa Verde people to the east and the Kayenta people from the south. As time passed, the Mesa Verde influence predominated in the Grand Gulch area.

The Basketmaker culture developed into the Pueblo culture, which is characterized by the making of fine pottery (some of it highly decorated), the cultivation of cotton and weaving of cotton cloth, and the high degree of skill in architecture and stone masonry seen in the cliff dwellings in the Gulch.

Checkdams and diversion canals, used in crop irrigation, have been found on the mesa tops near Dark Canyon and other Colorado River tributaries. The kiva, an underground ceremonial structure found in Grand Gulch, is still in use by the modern-day descendants of the Anasazi--the Hopi and New Mexico Pueblo Indians.

Grand Gulch also has a diversity of rock art panels consisting of petroglyphs (pecked into the rock) and pictographs (painted on with pigments). As the figures do not present a written language, their meaning is left to our imaginations.

By the late 1200s, the Anasazi moved south into Arizona and southeast into the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico, probably because of the droughts in the 12th and 13th centuries, depletion of natural resources, and pressure from nomadic Indians from the north.

    Geographical history

Grand Gulch drains most of the west side of Cedar Mesa which is a portion of a much larger anticline called the Monument Upwarp. This north-trending structure extends a distance of some 90 miles (144 km) from near Kayenta, Arizona to the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. The eastern margin is marked by the Comb Ridge monocline while the western flank gradually dips into the Henry Mountains Basin. On Cedar Mesa the crest of the Monument Upwarp is mainly aligned with Highway U-261.

On Cedar Mesa the predominant rock is, logically enough, Cedar Mesa sandstone with Grand Gulch being almost entirely within this layer. This light-colored rock layer, up to 1,200 feet (365 meters) thick, was formed from beach and sandbar sand that was left by a sea invading from the northwest during the Permian Era. This sandstone erodes to form vertical cliffs, alcoves, arches, and bridges. Other exposures of this sandstone form the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park and the giant spans of Natural Bridges National Monument.

You may have noticed the bold streaking on the rock. This is called ''desert varnish". It is a thin deposit of an iron-manganese solution which runs down the rock with rain or melted snow. The longer the process has been going on, the darker the streaks. No one knows exactly how the process works, but it requires a hot, dry climate, the proper minerals, and plenty of time. A dark coat of desert varnish might take 2,000 years to form.

The three natural bridges in the Monument are the product of erosion on the Cedar Mesa Sandstone, mostly by the actions of water. As White Canyon was carved down into the sandstone, it developed bends, or meanders. These meanders, with time, become more and more twisted, bending back upon themselves, until just a thin fin of stone separates them. The soft siltstone layers form a weak spot in the canyon wall which flash-flood waters periodically pound against. Eventually, water cuts all the way through the meander, forming a natural bridge. At first the bridge is thick and massive, but erosion attacks it on all sides, the bridge gets thinner, and some day it will collapse.

The reddish brown layers directly above the Cedar Mesa Sandstone are know as the Organ Rock Shale and the Moenkopi formations. These two formations are difficult to distinguish from one another because they are both comprised of fine grained mudstone, siltstone, and marine shales. The Organ Rock Shale tends to form gentle slopes while the Moenkopi usually forms walls and towers. Ripple rock is one of the more distinctive features of the Moenkopi formation.

Above the Moenkopi formation is a whitish strata known as the Shinarump member of the Chinle formation. It is comprised mostly of stream deposited shale, sand, and gravel. It also contains uranium, petrified wood, and both plant and animal fossils of a wetter climate.

The red section above the Shinarump is known as the Moss Back member, yet another member of the Chinle formation. Made up of siltstone, sandstone, and conglomerate, it was laid down by streams. A good example of this strata may be seen just under the top of the Bear's Ears, below the red cliffs.

Above the Moss Back formation is Wingate Sandstone. A very impressive stratum of reddish color, it is composed mainly of small, rounded quartz grains. It is cross-bedded, and cliff-forming. The top of Sundial Butte and Bear's Ears are capped with Wingate Sandstone.

Other strata of more recent geological time were deposited, then eroded long before the arrival of man on the scene. The area is very stable seismically, but the constant, patient actions of erosion - ice, water, wind, plant life - are at work wearing the scenery away.

The erosion of the area is an on-going process. There are at least two sites in the monument where there is strong evidence of natural bridges formed, eroded, and fallen. Likewise, there are other sites in the area of potential future bridges - Natural Bridges in the making.

In the last mile of Grand Gulch, the reddish Halgaito Shale is exposed. This layer was also formed from deposits left on coastal plains. However, the sediments came largely from the Uncompahgre Uplift to the northeast.

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  • Jovian

    Really fun experience! Outstanding team - strong, adventurous, and most importantly all members had really great attitudes and outlooks in respect to the challenges and opportunities that adventures like this present. Thank you David for creating such a wonderful adventure!

    May 19, 2014

  • David B.

    Great camaraderie, strength, perseverance! highly recommend all who participated. brilliant sites, awesome scenery, and an opportunity to witness the cutting edge of reminates from people advancing beyond the hunting and gathering society from 7000 BC to 1300 AD

    May 18, 2014

  • Jerry G.

    Also, got to ask about the April Fool's pic. Where is it? Years ago I hiked on something like that in Peru, but not quite the same level of exposure. Just did something about like that in Zion..Angle's Landing. But that isn't Zion either.

    April 3, 2014

    • David B.

      Hi Jerry, That's a place in China-google worlds scariest hikes. cheers

      April 18, 2014

  • Jerry G.

    Unfortunately, I have commitments that make it impossible for me to go. Did part 30 years ago...really great place. You might want to make time to visit the wave while you are nearby. I floated the San Juan back then too...a lovely paddle. But why are you waiting until a week before you leave to allow people to sign up?

    April 2, 2014

    • David B.

      Hi Jerry, thanks for the update. I corrected that. It was intended to be open from now until 10 days before trip left.

      April 3, 2014

  • Emma

    I did part of this hike when I lived in Utah. It's very beautiful and the ruins are amazing. It actually takes about 6 hours to drive there from Salt Lake.

    April 1, 2014

    • David B.

      Thanks Emma, have updated. What areas did you hike?

      April 2, 2014

  • Mike

    When you get near the San Juan river note the large tree trunks deposited 35 ft. up on boulders by flash floods. Very impressive.

    April 1, 2014

5 went

Your organizer's refund policy for Grand Gulch Gyration

Refunds offered if:

  • the Meetup is cancelled
  • the Meetup is rescheduled
  • you can cancel at least 9 day(s) before the Meetup

Additional notes: This just holds your place and is refundable first day of trip.

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