Aside from a probable lack of water, late fall is a great time of year to do a short desert backpacking trip. The evening temps, while chilly, are bearable, and the daytime temperatures will be warm down in the desert canyons. Lying around on desert sandstone reading a book in the warm sun sounds tempting right now…very tempting.
Twice my boyfriend and I have taken desert trips. We took them in the more appropriate springtime when there was at least a chance of water availability. Our first trip, which was 3 days long, was in Pollock Canyon; this was our first backpacking trip ever and we carried in all our water. I’m pretty sure our packs weighed close to 60 lbs each on that trip.
Our next trip was a little more planned out and was just an overnight venture into Bullet Canyon in Southeastern Utah. Bullet Canyon is lesser-known than nearby and popular Grand Gulch. The two do connect after traveling down Bullet for about 7 miles. Both have Anasazi ruins in them. Bullet is usually less-crowded and that’s probably partly because the lower parts of the canyon can be rather overgrown and difficult to bushwack through.
Still, we set out a few years ago in May with probably 6 liters of water each? I’m not sure but I know it was at least 6. The top of the canyon section is filled with slides and pools. Water was plentiful here in the potholes, but of course we were only two miles into the trip at this point…
Soon we ran out of rocks to play on and found ourselves trekking through waist high grasses in the canyon. At some points we were sweating just because of the difficulty of wading through the weeds! Once the weeds thinned out we started to look in earnest for ruins. We passed a couple of guys headed out who described the location of some, high up in a rocky alcove.
While poking around up here, I was very careful not to disturb anything. These ruins are basically unprotected but it’s obvious that those who visit here are careful to leave things as they found them. I found the metate rock, used for grinding corn, the most interesting of all!
It was really hot and, even with 6 liters of water, we were feeling the pinch of making that stretch all the way through our 5 mile hike out the following day. There were a few water holes, but the water in them was something I’d only drink under the most dire circumstances.
With one liter of water each we set out the next morning to head back to the car. We had quite a bit of water there, so we knew we’d be okay until we reached it. To be honest, we had originally planned to do a much longer hike through here, but opted to just spend one night out and then go explore some other areas. Still, it was exciting to be out so far in the middle of nowhere wandering through canyons where ancient Native Americans had once wandered as well.
Bullet Canyon trailhead can be reached from the east from Blanding and Hwy 95, from the west and Hite along Highway 95, or from the south via Highway 261 and Mexican Hat, or Highway 47 north from Bluff. The closest town with gas is Blanding, about 40 miles away from the upper trailheads. We spent the night in Monticello, UT at a really awful little motel before traveling the rest of the way the next day. It’s truly in the middle of nowhere. Please make sure to have a roadmap with you when traveling out here. Snacks and some extra water are probably good ideas too.
The Kane Gulch Ranger Station is located four miles south of the Highway 95/Highway 261 junction and is right near mile marker 29. You’ll want to stop here to check on the water situation at the various springs. The rangers can also mark, on a map for you, the locations of different springs. It is also necessary to stop here for overnight permits for the high season.
From the Kane Gulch Ranger Station, drive south along Highway 261 to just south of mile marker 22. Turn west (right) and drive to the trailhead which is reached after 1.1 miles.