Deadman Trail to Horseshoe Canyon

I’m way behind on writing trip reports. This trip took place the first weekend of November, 2018. My hike was spurred on by a comment by a National Park Service ranger that I’d read in the 1990 Utah BLM Statewide Wilderness Final Environmental Impact Statement, which mentioned a habitation site and petroglyph panel in the section of Utah State Trust Land just south of the Horseshoe Canyon unit of Canyonlands National Park. I figured that wouldn’t be very difficult to find. If I just hiked the canyon bottoms in that one square mile section, I’d be sure to spot it, right? I drove down to the area on the evening of Thursday, November 1, and camped at the Deadman Trailhead. Along the way I saw 22 wild burros at the road junction on the north end of Robber’s Roost Flats. I also saw three healthy-looking deer just north of the Hans Flats Ranger Station, and a very bright meteor that streaked across the sky for more than five seconds. I had to use 4-low in the Jeep to get past one gnarly spot in the road. I found a geocache at the trailhead shortly after arriving, spent the rest of the evening reading a book, and then slept comfortably in my Jeep.

Wild burros
Wild burros


These two burros were very curious and walked right up to my Jeep
These two burros were very curious and walked right up to my Jeep


Deadman Trail turnoff
Deadman Trail turnoff


I was awake well before sunrise and started hiking down the Deadman Trail shortly after 7:30AM. While descending the trail I watched the Henry Mountains glowing pink in the distance while the sunshine started hitting the opposite side of Horseshoe Canyon. The Park Service has a radio facility on the south rim of Horseshoe Canyon that they tried to camouflage with a pile of dead junipers, but I noticed it and had to take a short side trip to investigate. I also caught a long view of the Great Gallery before hitting the upper end of the constructed portion of the Deadman Trail.

Jeep at the Deadman trailhead
Jeep at the Deadman trailhead


Trail register
Trail register


Upper end of the Deadman Trail
Upper end of the Deadman Trail


Canyonlands National Park boundary
Canyonlands National Park boundary


Pink glow on the Henry Mountains
Pink glow on the Henry Mountains


NPS radio equipment
NPS radio equipment


The Great Gallery (left of center)
The Great Gallery (left of center)


Route to the constructed portion of the Deadman Trail
Route to the constructed portion of the Deadman Trail


Several years ago I’d hiked the Deadman Trail up from the bottom, but only the heavily constructed/blasted portion. It still awes me the lengths the old cowboys would go to get their livestock into an area with water. I hiked upstream in Horseshoe Canyon while keeping an eye out for any rock art I might find. Almost immediately I found a couple of Barrier Canyon Style pictographs, one of which was rather creepy looking, especially considering this was in the days after Halloween.

Top of the Deadman Trail
Top of the Deadman Trail


Rock work holding up a portion of the Deadman Trail
Rock work holding up a portion of the Deadman Trail


View up the Deadman Trail
View up the Deadman Trail


Reflection in Horseshoe Canyon
Reflection in Horseshoe Canyon


Carpet of leaves
Carpet of leaves


Faded (headless) pictographs
Faded (headless) pictographs


More pictographs, one headless and one with head
More pictographs, one headless and one with head


Mud streaks and a very cool pictograph on the left
Mud streaks and a very cool pictograph on the left


Bat(?) pictograph
Bat(?) pictograph


Gravelly watercourse in Horseshoe Canyon
Gravelly watercourse in Horseshoe Canyon


As I continued ascending Horseshoe Canyon, the sun came out and I saw some wildlife. There were four deer near the southern park boundary. I crossed over the fence at the boundary and, after a little while, started up Bluejohn Canyon. I was disappointed not to find any inscriptions or rock art at that confluence. I thought I heard a bighorn sheep baaing in Bluejohn, but the only animals I saw were another six deer, some of which may have been the same ones I saw earlier. There were more signs of humans here, probably from canyoneers doing the full Bluejohn and out Horseshoe route. I hiked up Bluejohn Canyon until reaching the SITLA-BLM boundary without seeing any rock art or habitation sites, then returned back down the canyon.

Horseshoe Canyon pool
Horseshoe Canyon pool


A pair of deer
A pair of deer


Four deer
Four deer


Two deer separated by ledges
Two deer separated by ledges


Fence at the southern boundary of the Horseshoe Canyon Unit
Fence at the southern boundary of the Horseshoe Canyon Unit


Hiker fence crossing
Hiker fence crossing


Confluence of Horseshoe Canyon (left) and Bluejohn Canyon (right)
Confluence of Horseshoe Canyon (left) and Bluejohn Canyon (right)


Plenty of hiker footprints in the mud in Bluejohn Canyon
Plenty of hiker footprints in the mud in Bluejohn Canyon


Colorful cottonwoods in Bluejohn
Colorful cottonwoods in Bluejohn


Wide spot in Bluejohn Canyon
Wide spot in Bluejohn Canyon


Western tributary to Bluejohn at my turnaround point
Western tributary to Bluejohn at my turnaround point


I returned to the Bluejohn-Horseshoe confluence and headed farther up Horseshoe Canyon. I reached a spring surrounded by thick tamarisk and, while peering at the cliffs through binoculars, I was scared nearly to death by a strange sound. I’d apparently gotten too close to a wild burro, and he noticed my presence before I did his. He brayed loudly and jumped out of the thick brush, thoroughly startling me. I took a few photos of him, and then he headed up-canyon and put some distance between us–thankfully. I noticed some large cairns on the east side of the canyon nearby, but using my binoculars I couldn’t see anything worth making the climb up to check them out.

A wild burro that gave me quite a startle!
A wild burro that gave me quite a startle!


Rocky slope with several cairns
Rocky slope with several cairns


Cairn above the rocky slope
Cairn above the rocky slope


I continued up the canyon and exited on a burro trail toward what I’d identified as a constructed stock trail on the east side of the canyon. I arrived at a cliff band and found that it was indeed a constructed trail. In the sand I spotted some relatively recent human footprints–one pair of running shoes and another pair of Merrells not unlike the shoes I was currently wearing. There were a few inscriptions along the trail, the oldest of which was made by a C.E.G. in 1912. Perhaps the builder of the trail? Part of the trail had been blasted through the sandstone, while another part had steel pipes driven into the sandstone that held up logs and probably sand/rocks to fill in some ledges. I’d hoped to find an old cowboy camp near the top, but no such luck.

Trail through a sandy slope
Trail through a sandy slope


Spring below the trail
Spring below the trail


More sandy trail and a constructed stock trail through the sandstone
More sandy trail and a constructed stock trail through the sandstone


Recent human and burro tracks in the sand
Recent human and burro tracks in the sand


Nearing the constructed portion of the trail
Nearing the constructed portion of the trail


Blasted sandstone
Blasted sandstone


C.E.G. 1912 inscription in eight inch tall letters
C.E.G. 1912 inscription in eight inch tall letters


Final stretch of constructed trail near the top
Final stretch of constructed trail near the top


Panorama from the top of the trail
Panorama from the top of the trail


Farther up Horseshoe Canyon I went, all the way to the SITLA-BLM boundary, but I didn’t see any rock art. On the way back down the canyon I even checked out a couple of side-canyons that I’d skipped on the way up, but they were fruitless. Surprisingly, I passed two groups of younger people backpacking their way up Horseshoe Canyon. I didn’t stop to talk to them–just gave a quick “Hi, how’s it going?” as we passed–but I would guess they were part of some university group working on recreation management majors.

Cottonwood with yellow leaves
Cottonwood with yellow leaves


Narrowing canyon
Narrowing canyon


Climbing over a narrow ledge to avoid water that filled the entire canyon bottom
Climbing over a narrow ledge to avoid water that filled the entire canyon bottom


Short side canyon that I peeked into during the hike out
Short side canyon that I peeked into during the hike out


More yellow cottonwoods
More yellow cottonwoods


Pool below a dryfall
Pool below a dryfall


Backpackers hiking up the canyon
Backpackers hiking up the canyon


Colorful cottonwoods
Colorful cottonwoods


Back in the park, I climbed up to a petroglyph panel that I’d noticed on the way in. I had skipped earlier it to save my energy at the time, but decided to make the climb up on the way out. The panel consisted of three petroglyph figures high above the canyon bottom. I continued down the canyon and then up the Deadman Trail. Back at the Jeep my GPS had registered 12.5 miles. It certainly wasn’t a wasted day, but I didn’t reach my goal of finding the petroglyphs in the SITLA section south of the park. Perhaps those cairns really did mean something…

Petroglyphs high on the canyon wall
Petroglyphs high on the canyon wall


Starting up the Deadman Trail
Starting up the Deadman Trail


View of Horseshoe Canyon from above
View of Horseshoe Canyon from above


Mountain bike tracks on the trail
Mountain bike tracks on the trail


Almost back to the Jeep
Almost back to the Jeep


12.5 miles on the trip odometer
12.5 miles on the trip odometer


During the drive out I recorded the trip on my dashcam. It took me just over an hour to get from the Deadman TH to the Hans Flats Ranger Station, getting up to 1,200 MPH in this video (sped up 16x).


Photo Gallery: Deadman Trail to Horseshoe Canyon

1 thought on “Deadman Trail to Horseshoe Canyon

  1. Nice report! I was there 8 days after you, on that little used deadman side. I saw the mouse (?) eaten trail register also. It took us over twice as long to get there from the hans flat station! Short days that time of year, too. You were hauling it!

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