April 2-4, 17 miles
Grand Gulch was everything I read in guide books and online forums. It was insanely beautiful canyon hiking, full of rich archaeological history, remote and an amazing journey for the kids. We had intended to enter at the Kane Trailhead, backpack 28 miles and exit Bullit Canyon in 4 days. Yep, that was the plan for two Western Washington kids after driving three days from Tacoma, WA to Blanding, UT (almost the border of Arizona).
After spending the night in Blanding, we (J-Hawk, Rosabell, Mel and I) headed to the Kane Gulch Ranger Station to pick up permits and watch the required video. After last minute pack adjustments, we strapped on our backpacks and headed out for four days. We left the trailhead at 11:00 am and leaving at this time would prove to be a little tough on the kids. After about an hour in the exposed sun with somewhat tough slickrock terrain, the kids were tiring fast. By the second hour they reached a good lunch spot and took a half hour break. The start time, heat, and loaded packs was proving to be too much for them after all the prior days of traveling.
After lunch, we continued down the trail through twisting and turning canyon walls and ended our day at the 4.5 mile mark. We had hoped to get to at least the 7 mile mark, but it just wasn’t going to be. The kids were just drained and really wanted to set up camp and rest. As I rounded one of the canyon corners, I could see an ancient Anasazi cave dwelling up in the rock wall and led the group to some camping spots within eyesight of the cave ruins.
Despite the challenges in our initial route, the kids were really enjoying canyon hiking. Because we typically hike dirt and granite trails, walking the slickrock was an entirely new experience for them. Suddenly they could walk straight down a sloping rock and climb almost every short rock in sight. They were really excited to see how water shaped the terrain and how different trees were in this environment. Navigation, aside from following the creek or dry bed, was completely by cairns (stacks of rocks). The kids really enjoyed looking out in the distance and finding the next rock stack in order to know the direction.
After camp was set up, we climbed up to check out some of the lower cliff dwellings. It was pretty neat how much of the homes and kivas were still in tact. The kids explored and tried to imagine life in the canyons. After an hour or so, we headed back to camp to eat dinner and head to bed. That night was our coldest night in the canyons, around 17 degrees. Even in our sleeping bags, we were cold. No one wanted to get up to go to the bathroom….yet, it still managed to happen. Around 2 in the morning, Rosabell woke me up to go to the bathroom. Had she not, we would have missed out on one of the most amazing star filled skies we have ever seen. We were shivering as we watched the sky in awe, but it was worth it.
While we survived one of the coldest tent nights we have had, we laid in our tents until 9am…when the sun had finally creeped into our campsite to warm us up. As we ventured out of our sleeping bags to brave the morning cold, we quickly grabbed our water filters, oatmeal, dishes and headed down toward a stream to have breakfast.
We had decided the evening before that we would only dayhike today instead of packing up camp and heading down canyon. We had 4 other big backpacking trips in the coming weeks and there wasn’t a need to push the kids when they seemed so weary the day before. Instead, we packed some day packs and headed through parts of the canyon in hopes of seeing some really neat landscape features and more native ruins.
We spent the next eight hours exploring the Grand Gulch area. We came to three more ruins and many walls of petroglyphs. The kids throughly enjoyed every part of this day from exploring the ruins to rock scrambling throughout the canyon.
Today’s plan was to pack up camp and head back toward Kane trailhead. With only 4.5 miles to hike. Climbing out of the canyon proved to be a little more challenging to the kids. All the descending two days before meant equal amount of climbing out. The kids took the hike out in stride, but were anxious to finish the hike. We stopped at the halfway point because the kids were sooooo tired. After dropping their packs, the immediately started running around and climbing all the rocks. So Tired! After a 45 minute stop, we packed up and headed for the trailhead. As most of the elevation gained was compete and the canyon became distant, the trail became bare and uneventful. We made it back to the car four hours later and celebrated our victory/survival.
This was an excellent first canyon hike for the kids. It was a bummer that we didn’t complete our original goal of Kane to Bullit, but in the eyes of the kids, it was three days of backpacking in the canyons of Southern Utah while exploring history and they loved it.
If you are considering this trip, here are a few tips:
- Get an early start, especially if you are not acclimated to this particular region.
- Hydration is key, you can never have your kids drink enough water
- Know your water resources in the canyons (Because we went in the spring, it was very plentiful)
- Blanding, UT is an awesome base camp location and the Visitor’s Center has the most helpful people
- The National Geographic Grand Gulch Cedar Mesa Plateau, though large and weighty for a map, is the best resource of a map.