Thursday, May 22, 2014

Riding Our National Park Systems: Horseshoe Canyon

Riding Our National Park Systems

by Lenice Basham

PairADice Mules, Belle, Mo.

*If you have a National Park System you would like to see featured in this segment, or have photos of you and your family riding in a National Park System, send your photos/suggestions to

Horseshoe Canyon

Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah

Maze Overlook - Photo by National Park Service

Great Gallery - Photo by National Park Service

The Canyonlands National Pak is located within the Colorado Plateau which is a section of continental crust. It was established in September 1964 when President Johnson signed public law 88-590. Horseshoe Canyon is a detached unit of the Canyonlands National Park that was added in 1971. It is located in Southeast Utah near Moab. This southeast area is part of the high desert region that experiences wide temperature fluctuations. The spring and fall seasons have temperatures from daytime highs of 60-80 degrees and lows from 30-50 degrees. In the summer the temperatures reach over 100. The geology and climate of the Canyonlands have created unusual landscapes. One reviewer said she felt that she was driving onto another planet – maybe Mars. There are maze-like canyons, sheer cliff, faces, strange rock formations, crevices and alcoves.

The Canyonlands National Park is a 337,570 acre park and is separated into three different districts by the Green and Colorado Rivers. It has an average annual visitor total of around 376,000.

There is no overnight camping allowed in Horseshoe Canyon. However, the Bureau of Land Management has a trail head in which you can take your horse trailer and your stock. It is located on the west rim. Pack and saddle stock may be taken on all backcountry roads and in Horseshoe Canyon. Pack and saddle stock includes horses, burros and mules only. You must have a backcountry permit that you can get at the visitor center. Group size is limited to 10 animals and 10 people. Stock must be fed pelletized feed 48 hours in advance and during a trip in order to prevent the spread of exotic plant species. The trail is 6.5 miles round trip with a trail that has a 750 feet descent. The trails are well marked. Lack of water is a limiting factor – take plenty of water with you for the daytrip and take plenty of water with you in the trailer for your stock. There are no facilities and no potable water sources. There are also excellent trails in the Maze and Orange Cliff areas in the Canyonlands National Park.

Horseshoe Canyon has some of the most significant rock art in North America. Native American rock art in Horseshoe Canyon is painted in a styled known as Barrier Canyon believed to date to the late Archaic Period which was from 2000-1000 BC. The art includes pictographs (painted figures) and petroglyphs (figures etched in the rock with sharp stone). The Horseshoe Canyon houses the Great Gallery. There are almost two dozen huge figures of which most are life-sized. It contains the “Holy Ghost” which is a 7 foot tall figure.

Outlaws like Butch Cassidy made use of Horseshoe Canyon in the 1800’s. The final scene of Thelma and Louise was filed in this area and actor John Wayne shot Hollywood western’s in what is now the park.

This area of Utah is absolutely beautiful. As you are riding along the trails you feel like you are in those John Wayne westerns. It is an amazing area to ride in. Each turn in the crevices finds a more beautiful view than the one before. Permits are difficult to obtain as only a limited number are given during the spring and fall. Make plans now to see this beautiful area of the United States. For information about obtaining a permit, you can contact the National Park Service Ranger office at 435-259-4712.

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