Stretching my arms upward as I scan the horizon, I’m getting excited to hike into Horseshoe Canyon. I’m back at Crystal Geyser, and enjoying the view overlooking the Green River. Its early morning and the sun is dancing above the horizon and beginning to dispel the cool air that night brought to the area. Cattle are grazing on the grass just south of the geyser, and I notice the geyser has burped a few splashes onto the surrounding rock and steam has started to form.
While the geyser throws water high into the air, I poach some water and brew up some coffee using my Olicamp micro stove and my GSI coffee pot for those gear fanatics. I’m really getting excited about today. My last day in Utah and my hardest challenge on this trip. Horseshoe Canyon will be a tough hike, but seeing the Great Gallery will be the pinnacle of this adventure.
After a brutal off-road trek through the desert landscape, and arriving at Horseshoe Canyon trail head, I go over my gear and pull a few things from my pack. I put on my new hiking shoes, that have truly performed on this trip, and head onto the trail leading into the canyon. The temperature is quickly rising and I double-check my water as I have a full gallon plus a 16 ounce water bottle. My pack is about 20 lbs, and that includes the water.
I make my way down to the base of the canyon and am in awe at the rock formations that surround me. The canyon floor is a bed of sand and hiking is slow going at best. About an hour into the hike my calves are on fire, as I am battling to find hard ground to walk. I settle for hiking on wet sand as I endure not only the soft river bed, but the scorching sun as well. I play leap-frog from one stand of cottonwoods to the next in a feudal effort to keep cool.
I spot a couple pictographs on the canyon walls along the trail, and pass several hikers on their way out. The trail back to the Great Gallery is 3.5 miles making the round trip 7 miles with a 750 ft descent into the canyon. Around the two-mile point I am struggling to stay hydrated and have to stop and give my calves a break. What seems like an arduous task has pushed my limits and takes me back to when I was in the military. I am having to dig deep to find the motivation to pull myself through this situation and complete this journey.
After two and a half hours hiking I reach my destination, and immediately my pain and tiredness vanish as I am caught in a daze while standing before this huge wall of pictographs. My mind races as I try to digest what is before me, and my eyes trace every contour, every line, every symbol, and every shadow.
I catch my breath and sit humbly in front of this huge gallery as I finish my bottle of water and drop my pack and kick my legs up. As I scan the area, I realize that I am alone, and have the whole gallery to myself. I begin dissecting the rock art into groups and look for the oddities that sometimes don’t appear to belong. The irony is that everything looks to be very similar, there are no additions or anything taking away from the main theme and style. It even looks to be all done within in the same time period. Is this the holy grail of pictographs, held in a protected stasis under the watchful eye of our National Forest Service? I am in awe.
I remove my shoes and socks and press my feet into the sand. I refill my water bottle, check my pack, and grab my camera. In a kind of trance I am drawn to the pictographs. I’m picking out details and faded images, and take notice of specific scenes and there positioning. One in particular catches my eye as I see crystalize before me, three figures that I thought were only two, but the third figure appears smaller and more distant than the other two. The composition of the figures are interesting and seem to use the golden rule of spacing. The three figures at the bottom appear to be dancing or performing a ceremony, and are depicting a kind of order. What am I looking at, is this the holy trinity, or other religious context?
I spend an hour or more consuming this sacred space and begin to feel small. Perhaps a student on their first day of class filled with both excitement and anxiety for what is to come. This site is truly majestic, and is so revitalizing that after a few moments I am completely rested and full of energy. Is this an attribute of this place, a ceremonial place, where people would congregate to fill their spiritual bucket?
As I am pondering the area I hear as plain as day a soft spoken voice cut through the air, “Hello”. I turn and see in the distance a figure emerge from a stand of cottonwoods more 40 yards off. A park ranger, perhaps a caretaker of this site, approaches and offers to answer any questions. We speak for a few moments and trade a few tales and ideas about this rock art. He mentions that he has seen several astral alignments with these petroglyphs, and says that each of the groupings of sheep are positioned to be touched by the sun during certain times of the year. He points out several different petroglyphs that I hadn’t previously noticed.
He also mentioned that he camped out in the canyon here during a full moon. He stated that some of the images not pronounced in the sun are almost dominant under the moon’s light. I shared with him my experience at Natural Bridges and how the images became more clear once the sun fell behind the rim of the canyon. We talked for a while longer, and both brought interesting points to consider. I checked the time, and decided to begin the trek back out of the canyon, now that I have found a wealth of energy within myself.
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