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Backpacker Magazine – August 2008

Canyon Confidential: Utah's Grand Gulch

To discover the best-kept secrets in Utah's Grand Gulch, you need to start at the bottom.

by: Greg Child, text and photography

Hikers ascend slickrock benches in Grand Gulch.
Hikers ascend slickrock benches in Grand Gulch.
Guide Vaughn Hadenfelt in a moment of repose.
Guide Vaughn Hadenfelt in a moment of repose.
Floating the slow and easy San Juan River.
Floating the slow and easy San Juan River.
Vaughn pumps water from a pothole.
Vaughn pumps water from a pothole.
A rainbow emerges over Grand Gulch.
A rainbow emerges over Grand Gulch.
Kim Brandeau follows the trail through Shaw Arch.
Kim Brandeau follows the trail through Shaw Arch.
Hikers follow the dry creekbed to a bend in the canyon.
Hikers follow the dry creekbed to a bend in the canyon.
Map by International Mapping Associates
Map by International Mapping Associates
May by International Mapping Associates
May by International Mapping Associates

Plan It
Grand Gulch, UT

March through mid-June and September through October are primo. July and August bring monsoons and heat. Guides Far Out Expeditions (435-672-2294, and Wild Rivers Expeditions (800-422-7654, team up for this trip annually from September 8-18.

Pack Trails Illustrated #206 Grand Gulch Plateau ($12; Permits Required ($8/person/trip). Reserve up to 90 days in advance (435-587-1510), and pick them up the day of your trip at Kane Gulch Ranger Station.

Call (435) 587-1532 for road, trail, weather, and water conditions.

The Way From Mexican Hat, take US 163 four miles north to UT 261. Drive 29.4 miles to Kane Gulch Ranger Station.

Online Extras
For more photos and non-guided trip itineraries, go to

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Jan 23, 2013

I am looking to do a trip to the escalante/glen canyon area. I was wondering if anyone would be able to compare the two. I am interested in hiking Coyote Gulch (Escalante) and Grand Gulch (Glen Canyon), and I was just curious about the differences between these two hikes and or regions. If you had to chose which one would it be ? I'll have 8 days so I think I'll have enough time to check out both regions.

Thanks !

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desert rat
Dec 19, 2012

i think every one is missing the point of the article, first of all article starts with the word art, its and art form, i think the writer did a great job, i have been to the grand gulch over 20 times in my life, from the first time as a 16 year old student of colorado timberline academy in Durango, where i hiked there upper and lower at least 7 times , and all throughout out my adult life,i have hiked it from kane gulch to just bout every exit point there is and all the way to the san jaun, there are some loose facts in the article,more so about distance hiked but for the most i think he really captured the beauty of the place in words, i have heard of this vaughn and there id mixed feelings about him through the world of guides but one thing is for sure the man is intelligent and respectful of the environment so he's cool with me, outdoors man your a nazi, you need to relax , he was taken by the place, and so was i, I'm going back in september for my 8th trip from kane gulch to bullet canyon, a small trip but i do it in 4 days so i can spend 2 days at junction ruins relaxing , i love the cottonwoods there and the moon rises between the canyon walls at just the perfect spot to light up the ruins there turing them into ghostly color that gets my blood flowing and makes me feel like a native resident, don't be a hater outdoor man, your both passionate about the place it seems , and for whoever reads this if you get the chance to go there don't even think twice, do it!!! the kane gulch to bullet canyon is a great hike , not hard , some technical spots going in and hiking out but smooth sailing otherwise , enjoy life !!!

GG Hiker
Mar 21, 2011

The distance from the San Juan River to Collins Spring Trailhead is actually just under 18 miles, not 40. As for Grand Gulch being the "Everest of the Southwest?" Not sure what that is supposed to mean...

Jan 27, 2011

It is quite unfortunate that on his last journey into the wilderness, Outdoors Man got all that sand in his vagina. Good luck getting that out; in the meantime, we'll just have to deal with your impassioned ramblings and archaeology lessons. Lighten the f up man.

Outdoors woman
Jan 20, 2011

The lower part of Grand Gulch is a wonderful get away. My husband and I have hiked the canyon from Kane Gulch Ranger station to the SJ River (many different trips, various routes). Since the crowds really thin below Collins Springs, the lower Gulch is my favorite part. Even though backpacking for weeks at a time often is a romanticized and fantastic adventure, that's what makes it fun. If I had to be serious and accurate all the time, living wouldn't be worth the bother.

Dec 06, 2010

I'm no expert as I have only hiked Grand Gulch five times, but going from the river and out Collins Canyon, they missed most of the Grand Gulch. All they saw was from the narrows to the river, considered lower Grand Gulch.

I prefer going in at Collins and exiting at either Bullet Canyon or Kane Gulch. Then you will see most of the cultural resources that they Grand Gulch holds. The route they took covered about 1/3 of the canyon.

bob sneider
Jun 17, 2009

good lord - there are some first class snobs responding here. do you have nothing better to do than to read articles and trash every other word...I'll bet your wives are sick and tired of you...

Oct 13, 2008

Since when is it a crime to write well and excite the spirit for those who are only reading about it and who were not there to take it all in. For those of us who have been lucky enough to spend some quality time in the desert we know that every time we go out we experience something new, something that changes us just a little and stays with us long after. The writer may be new to the desert southwest and much of what he describes actually occurs fairly frequently but that only highlights how special it really is. It's about the essence of being there, and I think the writer captures that. Great to learn that the canyon is good coming up from the bottom.

Sep 27, 2008

I have to agree with Outdoors Man for the most part. Myself, I read the articles for entertainment and ideas for my next hike and/or backpacking trip. This area is awesome - well worth the trip!

Outdoor Man
Sep 26, 2008

First, I would like to apologize for the want-to-be statement about Mr. Vaughn. I am fully aware of Mr. Vaughn and his company in Bluff, Utah since I live in the four-corner area. He truly believes in what he does and I have never heard anyone complain about his services. My intent was not to attack the man but the methods of the writer to mislead the reader and the poor souls that fall to the romanticism of it all.
Mike, it is clear you didnít have a clue what I was even talking about concerning romanticism, and the misleading environmental information movement. So, I think I will put my archaeology degree to use and take a moment to educate those that welcome knowledge. I need to begin with a little archaeological history. The romanticism era of archaeology moved archaeology forward at a Snellís pace until the mid 20th century at which time a new archaeology began to come on the scene.
Archaeology began to be based on science not myths, legends, and stories told around the camp fire. Unfortunately there are those still claiming to be archaeologists that perpetuate the misguided information and stories of the romanticism era. In a nutshell, if you begin reading something and the writer is spending the majority of his time convincing you of the sacredness of the land, how an artifact must be ceremonial, or how these ancient peoples were one with the land and lived in harmony with it. You can rest assured you are being led down the romanticism path to nowhere, which is great entertainment but means absolutely nothing. This article is a great example of that.
It touches your imagination and those emotions that make you feel good, but what do we really walk away with after reading it? To keep this short here are three things I learned;
1. That Grand Gulch is ďthought to be the most densely populated area in the pre-European United StatesĒ (This is not true). The writer should check out the Mississippian Mound Cultures, or the Hohokam Cultures, etc. Yet with this misleading knowledge the writer has become a archaeology junkie.
2. ďGrand Gulch is the Southwest of EverestĒ. Wow, how do you respond to that valuable piece of information?
3. That hunting for potable water is hard after a fresh rain and flash flood in the desert. All the potholes and pools of water from the rain and flash flood are speckled latte brown and that you donít want to drink them because the dirt hasnít settled. My question is why not? After living in the desert for weeks at a time, and surviving on the natural water, dirt in the water is no big deal. There are actually several ways to combat dirt in a pothole or pool and the easiest is to drinking it through your bandana or some cloth. It works great and you stay hydrated.
4. It was inspiring how they passed up all the dirty water and how their trusted guide found a secret spring that isnít on any map for them to drink from. I was inspired to read that their guide used a hand pump to fill his nylon (Petroleum based material developed by DuPont) bladder. Great story and it tugged at my heart strings and made me feel good. The reality is that Iím sure the guide had used that spring a hundred times before and it wasnít quite the mystical experience that the writer portrayed.
5. The guide enforces strong ethics; no one grabs even a twig as a souvenir, and no campfires. Iím sure his efforts make a big difference to the environment. What would happen if people threw their trash out the front of their tents, built fires, and picked up sticks or souvenirs? Well it would be a lot like when the Anasazi lived in the canyon since they used fire every day, they threw their trash out the front door of their house, defecated in the corner of their houses, buried their dead in the trash piles in front of the house along with inside their houses, and depleted the resources in the area over time. At which time they would move to a new area to do the same thing. It has always been amazing to me that this land has survived thousands of years of mans inhabitants without a leave no trace policy in place.
Anyway, the point is that we read for entertainment and education not to be filled with partial truths, mystical legends, and totally misleading information. Especially when reading about an actual adventure like the one in the article. As a result of the misleading an untrue information in this article you now have a vast majority of people becoming misguided because they donít know any better and believe the romanticism.
The romanticism fills their minds with thoughts of a mountain man with a bump getting his much needed water, or of a secret canyon, and the mystical ancient inhabitance of this mystical land. As a result they will come to the west to find adventure and to experience the romanticism first hand.
There is nothing wrong with that if they are open to the change in cultures and norms, many will come believing everything they have read and heard. As a result their ability to think outside the box when they come to the area will be lost and we will all suffer. People need to demand more than a story and romanticism in articles like this one.

Sep 22, 2008

Outdoors Man,

You're really showing your ignorance. Vaughn - who you have obviously never met but feel qualified to judge - is an internationally known hiking guide with serious archealogical credentials. He is a "real" outdoorsman, not a wannabe poser on an internet chat board. If you are as stupid as you sound, you won't be around too long. It's all part of evolution.

Outdoors Man
Sep 19, 2008

It is amazing to me what you people will believe and buy into. This article is nothing but Fantasy Island crap, and is full of so much romanticism that I don't know how the reader keeps from throwing up. This perpetuated romanticism by ignorant, incompetent people is what is perpetuating the misleading, uninformed environmental movement fairy tale about the outdoors. Leaders like this Vaughn are nothing more than a wilderness want-a-be. Just like those that come to Utah and claim to understand the so called desert environment and call themselves archaeological junkies. Stay in the cities because you donít understand the smallest concepts of true archaeology.
All I could hope for is that you all continue to follow guides that don't carry maps and is pretending to be an outdoors man with his water filter, short pants, and so on. You will all soon be dead and the canyons will be safe again. It's all part of evolution.

Sep 05, 2008

Child's discriptions paint pictures of the memories I have in my mind of journeys to Sand Canyon, Chaco, Canyon de Chelly. Thanks for the memories. I look forward to many more and hope to be back in the West before too long.


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