San Rafael Reef, Utah, Mar 28-31, 2006

Third day of the trip.
Little Wildhorse Canyon.

K's friend RJ was with us.

Location: Bell & Little Wild Horse are one of several pairs of short, narrow canyons that cut into the southeast corner of the San Rafael Reef - others include Crack & Chute, Ding & Dang, and Cistern & Ramp. All are reached starting from the paved Temple Mountain Road, which leaves UT 24 at milepost 137 and heads due west, across a flat, desert plain then through the reef where it becomes unpaved then forks several times - one branch is the Chute Canyon Road (also known as the Behind-the-Reef Road), which can be used to reach the upper end of some of the canyons. The main route though is to take a turning south before the reef, onto the Goblin Valley Road then turn west on a side road just before the state park. This is an unpaved track, the surface of which is generally good but there may be a soft sandy section at a dry wash crossing after 1.5 miles (the course of Wild Horse Creek).

Description: The main narrows can be reached after just 10 minutes walking up from the trailhead, though they are easily missed - the entrance is a concealed slit in the side of the canyon. This description though starts from the upper end - a continuation of the loop hike up Bell Canyon. Upper end of the canyon At first, the streamway is wide and stony. Another branch joins from the left then the way ahead remains open for at least a mile; the wash meanders along as the cliffs at either side gain height gradually. Eventually there is a short stretch of narrows, with a 3 metre dryfall, then another wider part before the walls finally close in - from here the next mile or so is very narrow and exciting; at times the floor is just curved rock with no sand or stones, and has cavities that fill with water after flooding but they are at most 2-3 feet deep. Wading through these potholes can generally be avoided by straddling the rocks above. This part of the canyon is deep yet still quite open; later the rocks become more curvy and the cliffs above overhang - the passageway from here onwards is darker and more mysterious, and sometimes just 1 metre across. Occasional pretty patterns of light and reflections filter down into the canyon although this part is aligned east-west, and is sufficiently deep to be in shadow most of the day. In several places the floor drops by a few feet but there are no difficult obstacles. Little Wild Horse is as good as the famous Antelope Canyon in places, just not as well lit. It ends in a long straight section, after which there is just few hundred metres more to the Bell Canyon junction then a short distance back to the trailhead. The hike - or at least the lower part of the narrows - has become quite popular yet the environment remains unspoilt, with no litter.

quick time movie: