Right after my last river trip, my friend Chris and I started thinking about squeezing in another before the season ended. He’d never been on a canoe trip and we’d actually talked about doing one for the past couple of years, but this time we were more determined to make it work. Being this late in the season we waited until the weekend before to make the decision. The weather forecast looked mostly good and the river flow seemed doable, so the trip was a go! Chris couldn’t get enough time off work for a full Labyrinth Canyon float so we opted for a short trip from Spring Canyon to Mineral Bottom, only about 15 miles on the river. We didn’t leave my house until after 6PM on Wednesday, so we drove down the Mineral Bottom switchbacks in the dark and left his Ridgeline at the takeout, then took my Jeep to Spring Canyon. We arrived after 10PM and set up our cots and fell asleep under the stars.
We packed up on Thursday morning and drove about a third of a mile to the river. I wasn’t confident we’d find a spot to easily launch the canoe but we found a trail which we could use to shuttle it and the gear right down to the water. We were floating by 8:50AM and only went about half a mile before landing on the opposite bank for a short hike to the cabins at Bowknot Bend. We had to walk through someone’s camp, but they were friendly and didn’t mind.
Next we got back on the river and paddled to the mouth of Horseshoe Canyon. The morning was cool and calm, the water was glassy, and it was just a very pleasant and peaceful float. We landed after noon, shuttled all our gear from the canoe about 100 yards through a break in the tamarisk to our camp spot, and then set out for a hike.
I’d been here three times before, once in 2017 and two times in 2019, searching for an alcove I’d read about with some Barrier Canyon style pictographs inside. On that last trip there were some alcoves in the Frog that we saw but didn’t have time to explore, so Chris and I were back once again to check them out. We hiked up Horseshoe Canyon a short distance before climbing atop the bench above the watercourse, then followed a trail up to the downstream side of the Frog. We climbed up into each of the alcoves that were missed last time but didn’t find much of anything. Chris wanted to see the dynamite I’d visited on my previous trip, but it was fairly warm outside and I was tired from scrambling up to all the alcoves, so I waited at the bottom of the Frog Trail while he hiked up and back down. Since we’d gotten a late start we ended up hiking back to camp in the dark.
We had initially planned on two nights at Horseshoe Canyon, but since we ruled out all the alcoves in the Frog the previous day, we packed up camp on Friday morning. The plan now was to hit the river and look for any other alcoves near the mouth of Horseshoe Canyon. After just a mile we spotted one high above the opposite side of the river. Chris beat me to the alcove, and by the time I got there he had something to show me. He’d found a wooden scoop, formed from a small log, with charring and some sort of residue on the inside. What a cool find it was! It had been tucked away in a crevice between rocks, and we re-hid it there better than it was when he found it.
After descending from the alcove we hiked upstream on the bench above the river bottom for about a mile. Below us were some bighorn sheep grazing but they didn’t really pay us any mind. I found a broken arrowhead and we got buzzed by three airplanes, but we didn’t see much else up on the bench. We scrambled down through a break in the cliffs and returned to the canoe. Along the way we spooked the bighorns and they climbed up the hill to the base of the cliffs. They stared at us and we stared back, then we moved along and let them be. Almost back to the boat we saw a rock wall and a couple of inscriptions, one of which had been completely obliterated.
We paddled for a couple more miles and found a camp spot fairly early, at only 4PM, after a grand total of three miles on the water for the day. It was nice to have a more relaxing day, since most of my river trips involve paddling and hiking each day for most of the daylight hours. There were still fire restrictions in place so Chris and I sat in our chairs around an LED lantern all evening, watching mice occasionally scurry past on the outer edge of the light. Despite the mouse problem I decided to sleep on the ground under the stars, and thankfully they didn’t bother me or my food during the night. We got up the next morning and loaded the canoe and decided to get off the river that day, since it was supposed to rain that evening and into the next day.
We made a quick stop at Hell Roaring Canyon, then pulled out at Mineral Bottom and loaded Chris’ truck with the canoe and our gear. After checking out an old uranium mine near Mineral Bottom, we returned to Spring Canyon and retrieved my Jeep, then climbed back out of the canyon. I hadn’t made any plans for an extra day off the river, though I remembered reading about an old inscription at nearby Jug Rock. I didn’t know exactly where it was, but Jug Rock isn’t very large so we walked around the whole formation, a little over a mile in all. We found the inscription, plus a lot of rock art I wasn’t aware of.
Next we decided to drive into Moab to pick up some beer. However, traffic was backed up four miles outside of downtown! After waiting in the traffic jam for 15 minutes and only moving three quarters of a mile, I flipped a U-turn and we got fuel and some weak beer at the Chevron near the UT-313 junction. Then we cruised up 313 and found a place to camp near Little Valley above the Dry Fork of Bull Canyon. The forecasted storm started rolling in and we parked our vehicles to form a windbreak. We slept on cots and luckily it didn’t rain on us at night.
The weather looked threatening on Sunday morning. We quickly packed up camp and hit the road, but made one last stop before heading home. Just off US-191 we parked near Valley City Reservoir and hiked to some rock art. I had a pretty good idea where it was but it still took a lot of searching and scrambling to find the main panel. We finished up there around 10:30AM and hit the highway just as it started raining. It rained much of the way home but it was clear in Price. We heaved the canoe off Chris’ truck and he continued home to SLC. We were able to dodge the weather for this late-season trip, and the only bad part about the whole thing was the low water level. We had to get out and drag the canoe across sandbars many times, but it was a small price to pay for getting in one more river trip.
Photo Gallery: A Labyrinth Canyon Quickie