April 2, 2011

Dead Donkey Trail

Steve's plan for the day was to locate an historic trail, the "Sand Slide" going into Horseshoe Canyon. In reading an interview with an old-time cowboy, Ned Chaffin, Steve learned that the Chaffin family drove cattle back and forth from Robber's Roost to Horseshoe Canyon via the Sand Slide, proceeding on through the Green River corridor (cliffs shown in photo above) to their ranch in Green River, Utah.  Since Horseshoe Canyon and the Green River corridor are both hemmed in by sandstone cliffs, there are only a few ways in and out, and the Sand Slide is one of the few.  Outlaws used this same path to and from their Robber's Roost hideaway.
By studying maps and Google Earth, Steve thought he knew where the Slide was, and since the cowboys could get there, he figured we could, too.
Easier said than done!  This is very rough country with lots of sandstone (also known as slickrock, for good reason). We found a "trail" of sorts, which seemed to lead in the right direction.  After due consideration and a good look at the steep descent, Steve proceeded on foot while I stayed behind with the horses.  Maybe the cowboys took horses and cows down to the Slide that way, maybe not.  But this "trail" was definitely risky for equines.  We weren't taking any chances. 
One of the wild burros found the slickrock a little too slick, apparently.
From the condition of his teeth, he was young.  And foolish.
He took a wrong step in the wrong place and suffered a nasty and fatal fall. (The dead burro rests in a hole at the bottom of the photo, out of sight except for the tip of one bone.)
No, Daisy. Don't swim there!
Here's a nice pool for you.
With Daisy refreshed, Steve kept going.  Anyone who knows him, knows he wasn't going to give up easily.  He found a way down the slickrock, and located the Sand Slide below that, leading directly into Horseshoe Canyon.
The tracks going through the sand were made by feral cattle.  Their ancestors were brought in by early ranchers, and they've been living and breeding in upper Horseshoe Canyon since the early 1900's.  You can see 3 of them as pinpoints in the center of the photo above, with a wily old bull in the lead.  When Steve approached within 1000 yards, they skedaddled.  Here they are, enlarged:

The Sand Slide was found.  Mission accomplished.  Except we didn't really believe the cowboys reached the Slide by way of Steve and Daisy's Dead Donkey Trail.  There had to be an easier, more horse-friendly trail through the slickrock.
Conclusion?  We had more exploring to do!


  1. Such an awesome adventure. I don't think I'd have even walked down that slick rock. Sure hope you find the right path.

  2. Not only do I love the photos showing these magnificent trails you go on, I also love to read all about their history. Thanks Janie and thanks Steve for researching them so thoroughly.

  3. Janie what a wonderful post. As I mentioned PBS had a special on Canyonlands two nights ago and it is wonderful to read your post and actually know some of the history and have you add your first hand experiences. Thanks so much for sharing your amazing experiences and photos.

  4. P.S. I love your header photo, the colours are soooo beautiful.

  5. Poor burro. No that doesn't look like a place where men drove cattle!

    Magnificent scenes!

  6. Now that really does look like the back of beyond.
    I hope you didn't come across too many more skeletons . . .

  7. wow yall have such great adventures...

  8. I was able to catch up on the month of posts you made while we were on the road. Oh I miss your slickrock country. I see now the benefit of horses. You are able to see a lot more country than I do on foot. Neat find on the unlucky burro.

  9. That's a great post! Took me a good minute to find those feral cattle. Those pools must be refreshing once it warms up ... assuming they are still there? And good eye about the fallen donkey not being long in the tooth. I thought they had better footing than that, but maybe that rock is very slick.

  10. I truly think you should write a book on all of this!!!!

  11. There is no stopping Steve from accomplishing his mission.. he's a western style 007 and Mission Impossible all rolled up in one.
    You two have become quite the historians, Janie.
    I have learned a lot from your adventures into the unknown.. Thanks!

    Happy trails
    you two be well and stay safe

  12. Steve is a determined man isn't he??
    My heart hurts for the young and foolish burro!
    Great views!

  13. I really like the colour of the sandstone and soil here. The stone does look slick!

  14. I have never before heard of feral cattle. Why not we have feral horses, pigs, and dogs.

  15. wow--that was an interesting ride today.

  16. Look at the photos that accompany the NPS.org interview with Ned. The spot with the burro skeleton is in one of them I believe and if I'm not mistaken, taken from nearly the same vantage point as your photo looking back up the hill. 3 men ascending, on horseback. :)



Blog Widget by LinkWithin