Canyonlands National Park
All Photographs © Brian & Nancy Morganti
Horseshoe Canyon Pictographs
Horseshoe Canyon Unit of Canyonlands National Park
September 30, 2015
There are four main pictograph sites within the Horseshoe Canyon Unit and a 7 mile round trip hike to see them all takes about 5 - 6 hours if one doesn't spend a lot of time photographing each one. These are among the finest rock art galleries in the United States and are believed to be from 2,000 to as much as 8,000 years old. The first gallery, known as the "High Gallery" can be reached in a little over an hour after a 500' descent from the parking area trailhead. This is a sometimes steep descent into the canyon via a mostly gray slickrock trail that is marked by cairns leading the way. The dry river bottom is filled with deep sand and this makes walking rather difficult, especially with the abnormally high temperatures we were experiencing for late September. The Horseshoe Gallery is fairly close to the High Gallery and is found on the opposite side of the river bed. A 20-30 minute walk then takes you to the Alcove Gallery and the last of the four galleries is the Great Gallery at 3.25 miles from the trailhead. We were already somewhat beat from our hike the day before along the Chesler Park trail in the Needles District, and another day in the hot sun didn't make things any easier. I left Nancy rest and cool off at the Alcove Gallery and then proceeded alone for the last 35 minutes to the Great Gallery, as this was the main event and the most impressive of all the galleries at 200' long and 15' high!
We saw no other hikers the entire day except for one female ranger who was escorting an older gentleman. The hike back out was brutal as we had to climb back up that 500' incline first over a very steep trail with deep sand, and then over the slickrock and rock ledges. We finished up the last of our water supply by the time we reached the parking area and found ourselves rather dehydrated. The hike and the pictographs were well worth the effort though and made memories that will last a lifetime!
Barrier Creek River Bed - Horseshoe Canyon: A cooler spot along the Barrier Creek river bed that leads to the pictographs. Although most of the creek bottom is dry, parts remained filled with stagnant water from previous storms.
High Gallery - View From Trail - Horseshoe Canyon: The first of four galleries is the high gallery and the only one on the east side of the Barrier Creek River bottom.
High Gallery - Horseshoe Canyon. A zoomed in view showing more details. This gallery is the least distinct of the four galleries and is situated 20' above the sandy slope below. Any ledges that were once used to reach these pictographs are long gone.
Horseshoe Gallery - Approach View - Horseshoe Canyon: Horseshoe Gallery (aka Horseshoe Shelter) is found nearly opposite the High Gallery and is located on the west side of the Canyon.
Horseshoe Gallery - Closer View - Horseshoe Canyon: The pictographs of Horseshoe Gallery are much crisper and painted on a band of white rock which makes them stand out much better than those of the High Gallery.
Horseshoe Gallery - Detail View - Horseshoe Canyon: A much closer view of the pictograph paintings reveal that they are in remarkable condition, given the thousands of years they have been weathering the elements.
Alcove Gallery - Horseshoe Canyon: The third gallery on the hike is located about 2 miles from the start. Alcove Gallery gets its name from a huge cave like overhang on the west side of the canyon wall. Many of the pictographs here are faded and some have damaged by early 20th century graffiti.
Great Gallery - Horseshoe Canyon: The Great Gallery is located at the end of the 3.25 mile hike, and is by far the grandest gallery of them all! Dozens of detailed and mysterious pictographs in shades of brown, red and other colors...some up to 8' tall extend across the canyon wall for over 200'. Most are in excellent condition, but a few are incomplete due to canyon wall collapses.
Great Gallery - Pano View - Horseshoe Canyon: Many of these ghostly armless effigies (anthropomorphs) display intricate decoration in their upper torsos, while others include animals, hunters, and other abstract shapes. A small fence blocks off the base of the gallery, but the gallery itself is located about 10' above the rock rubble below and thereby keeping them safe from the casual observer.
Great Gallery - Great Ghost Panel View 1 - Horseshoe Canyon: The highlight of the Great Gallery is the Great Ghost Panel which features the 8' tall effigy known as the "Great Ghost".
Great Gallery - Great Ghost Panel View 2 - Horseshoe Canyon: A closer view featuring the 8' high "Great Ghost".
Great Gallery - Anthropomorph Details 1 - Horseshoe Canyon: Intricate detail and well preserved color is displayed in these armless effigies along with smaller drawings of humans and animals.
Great Gallery - Anthropomorph Details 2 - Horseshoe Canyon: Various designs, patterns, and animals are displayed in the upper torsos of these life size anthropomorphs, including what appears to be a small bird sitting on the shoulder of one of them.
Great Gallery - Anthropomorph Details 3 - Horseshoe Canyon Anthropomorphs share this smooth rock wall panel with what appears to be a small herd of animal-like figures. Also notice the decorative bird sitting on the shoulder of one of the effigies.
Great Gallery - Anthropomorph Details 4 - Horseshoe Canyon Another view showing a large ghost-like figure surrounded by smaller figures of various sizes and shapes.
Great Gallery - Pictograph Pano 1 - Horseshoe Canyon A panoramic view featuring several of the fascinating pictographs that are located to the right of the "Great Ghost" gallery.
Great Gallery - Pictograph Pano 2 - Horseshoe Canyon: This panel is found to the left of the "Great Ghost" gallery and features some very colorful pictographs and animal etchings painted in white. Also of interest is what appears to be a very long line of the "ancients" lined-up and waiting for something...but what!?
Great Gallery - Departure View - Horseshoe Canyon: I took this last image on my way back out from the Great Gallery. This image shows what you are greeted with as you approach the Great Gallery. The dry Barrier Creek river bed is on your right, and a sandy path leads directly to the Great Gallery, made evident by the bright white cut in the canyon wall to the left of the foreground trees.