Ghost Panels of Barrier Canyon
Hiking Horseshoe Canyon, Biking the San Rafael!
by Rob Jones

April 25-27, 2002

(Text and Photos © copyright by Rob; Click on the images below to see a full-size view)

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One of the Barrier Canyon panels
One of the Barrier Canyon panels
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Panorama of the Great Gallery
Panorama of the Great Gallery
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Sweep of Barrier Canyon Craig and the central Ghost Figures Zig roams the Great Gallery Shaman hand picto Harry and another portion of the Great Gallery Mystical mitts Bob cooks gormet (out of the wind) Rob views a ghost panel Dinosaur footprint on access trail Internal figures in Ghost Man

    Slithering through sand hummocks in the stormy dark of open country we are headed for Barrier Canyon. The instrument panel lights blink, then blink out - nearly 30 miles from pavement and in the nearly-retired retirement van, Zig, Bob, and I thump over the bump of sandstone-studded sand, the course mostly obscured by blowing sand, to see an open parking lot dotted with a few vehicles. "Where are Craig and Harry?" we wonder aloud. Down a track that appears to lead to land's end, we see headlamps swaying and bobbing as if rocked by the wind. At the window, Craig's face appears and then Harry's, telling us to add a rock or three to our pockets before engaging the wind. We have arrived at the TH to Barrier Canyon, detached area of THE Maze District of Canyonlands NP, and we are home.
    Wrestling tents in the gathering gale, we settle in as best we can and enjoy the flap-flapping of nylon and the pelting of sand on fabric. Bob piles water jugs and a mound of equipment in his tent because it is impossible to pound tent pegs and rocks are difficult to see in the swirl of night. Then, we settle into folding chairs to catch up on recent happenings. I notice that Craig and Harry have circled their cars to block the wind, yet have also roped the tent to the wheels. In the middle of the tent is a slab of sandstone. Yikes.
    Morning is accompanied by sun, and, yes, the wind. Harry cooks an omelette while Bob sets up his blaster stove for later use. We gather gear and head into the canyon, down an old petroleum exploration trail from the 1920's. The canyon expands as we drop below the rim. Soon, pants are shed for t-shirts and shorts.
    Precious clear water springs into cool sand, harboring water boatmen and tadpoles, nourishing the luscious cottonwoods and area wildlife. Cottonwoods and tadpoles inhabit the pools in the sweeping curves of this delightful canyon. And, we soon encounter the "high panel" and learn more about these mystical paintings from 2-4,000 years ago, wow. We pause to ponder, then explore on....
    The sand walking is wonderful for calf muscles, and we wander in and out of likely-looking alcoves. Bob and I discover Shaman handprints carefully layered on the walls of a minor, unmarked panel. Then, it's the Cowboy Panel followed by the Alcove Site, before reaching THE Great Gallery, yow.
    Along the way, we encounter a delightful rangerette, who later appears as we wonder at the Gallery, and she allows us to cross the barriers and enjoy a closer visit to the panel. Ghostly figures, larger than life, perhaps the meaning of life? There is much speculation about the shamanistic representations rendered across the rocks. Later, while lounging under a large cottonwood, admiring the gallery, another ranger strolls up and we chat for over an hour in the presence of the ghost figures and rock religion.
    Back at camp, the wind is allowing a break. Bob cooks one of his fire-hot stews while the rest of us dust devils clean-up and rehydrate. Most excellent! We gaze over the canyon, eating Bob's creation and calming the heat with wine or beer. The constellations pop into view as dusk settles in.
    Morning brings Craig's pancakes and warming temperatures. Off we go to bicycle in the San Rafael.

The second day of the trip we bicycled and explored a portion of the San Rafael Swell.
Click here to see the area we biked (from a 2001 adventure).

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