After three days of backpacking in “The Maze” proper, Joan and I decided to hike out a day early and camp/hike in the nearby detached unit of Horseshoe Canyon.
Though Joan’s seen this place before, she enthusiastically supported the idea and the chance to introduce a new place to me.
We made the easier drive from Hans Flat to the west rim and staked out a place to call home for the evening.
A cold front moved in, and the wind picked up. Rather than futz with our tent, we opted to sack out in the camper shell of the truck. For an evening, the wind free and cozy oasis of our camper shell did the trick. And our first time using it in this way on our new-to-us truck.
We made our way down to the canyon in the morning well before anyone else—a joy to have this canyon to ourselves.
We soon encountered the first panel of some of the most famous images in the desert southwest.
We soon reached “The Great Galley,” and the display lived up to its name.
The oldest pictographs are quite possibly two-thousand years old.
Are the images for history? Religious in nature? Recorded history? Signs or information?
An honest answer to these images’ meanings makes for a direct answer: We don’t know. The descendants have various interpretations as well as historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists. There are clues that indicate the canyon’s center of a special place. No corn or similar objects found. And the hallucinogenic sacred datura growing near the panels also indicates a possible religious bent.
Though we may never know the reason, or reasons, for these images, we can still appreciate the intricacy of them millennia later.
As we made our way back, we encountered people heading down for the day, including two NPS volunteers. One of the gentlemen even pointed out a fossil trace to us.
The same volunteer also gave us the history of the invasive burros in the canyon. Unfortunately, in 2015, an outdoor person snipped the boundary fence keeping the burros out of the canyon, allowing them to make their way into this culturally important area. And causing damage to the canyon.
In particular, one burro snorted very loudly in an alcove with images and kept Joan and me out initially.
Apparently, NPS staff and volunteers formed a picket line a couple of years ago and shooed the herd (now numbering seventeen) out of the canyon. Alas, they came back. At this time, we can only report them to the NPS. As with many govt agencies, the NPS has fewer funds and people to deal with its many missions. Especially in a remote area such as Horseshoe Canyon.
Though part of me has an affinity for these short, stocky, stubborn, and loud creatures for some odd reason, these feral burros don’t belong in this canyon. Perhaps a longer-term solution can happen in the future.
Putting aside these thoughts, we worked our way out the canyon and made it back to our truck. We sat on our tailgate and enjoyed the desert air.
We later saw one of the volunteers at his truck next to ours, and we proceeded to talk for an hour about the area, his many travels, and his career path. As with us, he and his wife live simply. Recently retired as an engineer, but with an avocation for history and the outdoors, his personal story seemed to resonate with me as well. We exchanged info, and I’m sure our paths will cross again at some point.
We made our way home after some I70-on-a-ski-weekend Denver traffic at the north end of town near Arches and again grateful we do not live in the heart of Moab. Bit looking forward to things quieting down a bit, too.
Until the next desert jaunt.