October 12, 2015

Water is the Desert's Gem

On the rim, Horseshoe Canyon.  The Great Gallery is about 5 miles down the canyon
On an early October trip to southern Utah's San Rafael Desert, we began a ride  the Horseshoe Canyon Unit of Canyonlands.  Horseshoe Canyon (sometimes called Barrier Canyon) features the world famous Great Gallery, a panel of ancient native American petroglyphs. The trail into the canyon follows an old roadbed blasted out of the sandstone  in 1929  This time, we followed the road out of the canyon to the east, where it is mostly washed out, but enough of it remains for a horse or hiker to follow.
Faint trail crosses the arid landscape
After crossing Horseshoe Canyon, we rode 15 miles across old 2 tracks and trailless desert to reach what is known as the Spur.
From the air, the bends in the Green River create what looks like the rowels (points) of a spur.
One of the rowels of the Spur as seen from the Moab (east) side of the Green River
From the Moab side of the river (east), each rowel looks like a peninsula sticking out in a river bend. Last week, we were on the west side, up on one of those peninsulas.
As we neared southernmost rowel of the Spur, the horses were ready for a drink.
Light Green Tree Marks Water
The lighter green tree, a cottonwood, in the left middle of the photo shows us where to look, although Steve had already scouted out the waterholes on Google Earth.  We needed to be fairly certain water was out there before making the ride.
Desert Gem
Here's that tree, close up, where a pool of water awaited us.  Boss and Coco enjoyed a nice long drink.  Shortly after this photo was taken, Boss moved on into the pool, reaching belly deep in a few steps.  He intended to go swimming, but I was able to turn him around before he got carried away and soaked his saddle.
view of Green River from the Spur (west side of the river) 
We rode out onto one of the rowels of the Spur for a view of the river.  We dubbed the area Pothole Spur, because it was covered with potholes filled with water from a recent rain.
Boss looked at one of the potholes, then at me, as if to say, "How the heck do you expect me to go swimming in this?"
Some of the potholes were more sizeable, but not deep enough for Boss to get his belly wet.
Some areas have good grass.  No cows graze on the Spur, and even the burros don't venture out there very often, possibly because the water holes are so scarce.
We did see quite a few jackrabbits, and as we explored a small canyon, we surprised a large owl, probably a Great Horned Owl, which are said to be fairly common in the Canyonlands.  The land between Horseshoe Canyon and the Green River, known as The Spur, encompasses well over 50 square miles.  All of it is nearly untouched, lonely and wild.


  1. I learned of another great use for Google Earth. How to find water. That looks like a spectacular ride Janie. Thank you for taking us along.

  2. Thanks for taking us along with you on your ride through this spectacular part of your world. We have yet to make it to Canyonlands, but I hope we get there one day.

  3. I sure like your mode of transportation in this amazing landscape. Boss takes after Daisy when it comes to swimming.

  4. What an amazing ride you took. You sure have to know what you are doing out there I would think.

  5. The landscape is lovely and so different from anything here north of Toronto!

  6. Most interesting. I think I'd be afraid to wander off in the desert. It's an environment I'm very unfamiliar with....

  7. Beautiful scenes. Not only is water a gem, but the life-blood of the West.

  8. lovely - as usual! 3 of us are off to Escalante and bryce for a week - horseless but hiking. CAN'T WAIT!!!!!!
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  9. This place has a beauty in itself. Nice journey and nice pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Oh you were right in our backyard! We love going out on the swell. I really enjoyed your post.



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