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On the Trail: Bullet Canyon

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Joined: 03 Mar 2005
Articles: 2
Comments: 3
Location: Page, Az.
 Posted: 5/5/2007, 7:05 am

This was going to be long. Longer than any previous Utah expedition. Instead of an in-and-out Kane trip like four years ago, this was going to be a 22+ mile trip, going in Bullet Canyon, descending to the junction with Grand Gulch, and then up The Gulch to Kane and the ranger station. And it was more than just lonesome me, it was Ely, our friend Beth (Fudgesicle), her two friends from Minnesota/Wisconsin, Beth (Pathfinder), and Steph (Speedy), along with myself and Buster the Canyon Dog.
The genesis for this trip occurred on a daytrip down Kane the previous spring with Beth and Ely. Now a year to the day, nearly, we began our trek down Bullet. I kept saying nearly every fifty paces, in order to indoctrinate and inoculate them to any forthcoming hazards, that I had never been down Bullet, and it wouldn't be until the next day that we'd be in territory I'd recognize.
I did this for my own peace of mind. I'd had enough distrust on the trail previously, especially from Ely. I like to explore places new to me. Ely wants to know times and difficulties. I can look at a map and guesstimate, but that never seems good enough. Ely has always been the more pessimistic of the two of us. I cautioned all that I knew was that there were "chutes" ahead in Bullet, based on maps and trip logs I had poured over. I didn't know exactly how be or hard they'd be whenever we got to them.
After our first drop into the bottom of Bullet, we soon pulled up short to check out some Basketmaker pictographs on a nearby overhang. It would be our last unscheduled stop of the day, and an introduction to how rich Bullet was in both rock art and ruins.
We progressed further downcanyon, passing a rim-alcove complex similar to those found at Hovenweep. Pressing on. The canyon grew deeper, and still no chutes. Half-seen rock art called to us from seemingly every alcove and overhand. We halted, stared, and continued on. No time. Such a shame.
The Chutes. I knew immediately when we came to them. The slickrock canyon bottom abruptly folded in on itself, creating a narrow, steep chute. There was ice on it. I've got a great picture of Pathfinder surveying the scene.
There was much doubt at this point, especially among some members of our party. Pathfinder and I were undeterred. We'd passed a family with small children who were on their way back out, and they'd made it up over this without incident.
Pathfinder went first, creeping along a ledge on the right, past the ice, then stepping down onto a boulder and then the canyon floor. I followed suit. Buster, however, was relatively unwilling. In fact, I had to pull him over. The girls, realizing it wasn't as bad as it looked from the top, made their way down with some help from below. Gathered, collected, and generally ready, we headed again downcanyon.
The second chute was worse, much worse. It wasn't a nice slickrock pourover. No. Instead it was a boulder-jammed waterfall. Some of the rocks were so huge I'm sure they'd be called hills in New England. There was no trail. Usually I could care less about a trail being marked or not. But with thirty-five pounds on my back, a dog pulling me one way, and tricky climbs around me, I would have appreciated a trail. Ely was pissed. I think Fudgesicle was too. Spent half an hour trying to figure our way down out of the boulder jam, each going their own way, and if they found anything they'd call out. All we found were pourovers. I finally decided to try a hunch and crawled up the talus to the next bench on the cliff face. Sure enough, a marked trail headed downcanyon. A cry went up, and soon we'd all regrouped on the trail. Ely was pissed. I was happy to have found the way. Pathfinder was nowhere to be seen. Momentary panic, until Fudgesicle said that she'd found a way to the canyon floor. Figures.
Pushing, pushing. Burning legs. Jesus, I thought hauling those calf carcasses to the rim for ten months, that backpacking trip the previous weekend would have whipped me into shape. Freaking chutes. I check the map. Confer with Pathfinder, the only other person who has a map in our group. I have a love of maps. Cartophillia. Concur. Our first scheduled stop, Perfect Kiva, should be close at hand.
Next bend. Side canyon to the north, and there it is, looming in its shaded alcove. I spot it first. Recall Speedy. Pathfinder et al. behind me. We leave our heavy packs in the shade of a Juniper. Talk with some folks making lunch below the ruins. Convince them Buster is friendly. Then up the slickrock apron. Friction ascent, Speedy et al. in front. Ely and myself bring up the rear. Running out of Poweraide, getting a headache. No good.
Over the lip. Its just like I imagined. Not that I hadn't seen pictures. Maybe they edited out all the bootprints. Oh well. First things first - into the kiva.
Dark. Musty. A lot of rat crap piled against the west side, below the roof. Stupid camera doesn't want to function correctly. Why this trip of all trips? Fudgesicle comes down too. We spend a few minutes looking around. We are quiet. Later she tells me she felt something there. Maybe I did too.
I leave Fudgesicle to the kiva, and go to the structure aback of it. Restored in the 1970's, its still a nice example of Anasazi masonry and gives a good idea what this place might have looked like in the late 1200's. It'd be nicer if people didn't screw around with the potsherds, piling them on the deflector, the rear niche. Sigh.
Outside again. Still have that damn dehydration headache. Totally out of Poweraide. Water back at the packs. Next water just past Jailhouse, our next stop. Slow down, enjoy the ruin, the crazy pictographs on the back wall. Maybe it isn't just how I imagined it. Pictured it bigger, maybe. More intact. Oh well. It is the Canyon Country, what should I expect?
Down by a different route, Pathfinder down first. Of course. Load up. Drink up. Downcanyon.
Bullet widens, then constricts. Around a fin, and there on a point is Jailhouse. Enigmatic circular pictographs over the buildings. Not what I imagined either, exactly. Better. Headache still with me, like someone's bouncing rocks off my skull with every step. I need to recuperate. Ely and I (and Buster) sit across the way, admiring the ruin, drinking water, eating trail mix and jerky while the others check out the ruin. I'm jealous, but I'd rather not feel like hell for the rest of the day. By the time they get back, I feel 95%. I've done more in worse. To the spring.
If we can find it. The creek is flowing again, but no sign of the spring itself. We've all used a lot of water today. Freaking chutes. No choice but to fill up at the stagnant pools. Done. Iodine in the mix. Onward.
Canyon widens again, and a grassy glen appears. Daylight getting short, but we take a rest break anyway. Well deserved. Fudgesicle lays down. Doesn't want to get back up. Don't blame her at all. Time for movement again. "Trail on!"
Ruins pass by, observed. Longed after. No time. Sun dipping below the rim. A few hours of daylight left. Cooling off now for sure. Ely and others unsure. Ruins passing. Conference with Pathfinder and our maps. Close, we agree.
Precipice. Arroyo cutting gone wild. Sediment drops out from below us. Excellent view of the canyon ahead. I state that we're almost at the junction. General dissent. Down the sandy slope. More ruins, higher up. Getting darker. Panic creeping into some voices. "We're camping at the next good spot," states Ely, "I don't care. I'm too tired to go much further." Surrender, but damn it does feel good to get that thing off my back. Set up tents on opposite sides of a cottonwood. Voices downcanyon. Dogs barking. Running loose?! Jerks. Read the rules. Campfires in the distance. They obviously didn't read them. Boil water. Dinner in a bag - chicken and mashed potatoes. Best dinner in the world. Stars overhead. What planet is that to the west? Into the tent with Buster and Ely for the night, cottonwoods swaying overhead in the gentle breeze.
Rating: 4.00/5.00 [1]

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