Scenic USA - Utah

Dark Canyon Wilderness

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Photos by Dr. Rob Jones
Rob's Wilderness Vagabond Trip Report

   Strong knees, a light pack, plenty of water and a good map are a few of the basic Aesop Arch - Dark Canyon Wilderness, San Juan County, Utah essentials for an adventure into Dark Canyon. Located in southeastern Utah, the wilderness is found north of Natural Bridges National Monument, west of the Manti-La Sal National Forest and borders on the Colorado River to the northwest. Apart from Sundance Trail, access to this wild and remote region requires a rough ride and several days backpacking.
   In this view of Horse Pasture, Cliff Dwelling - Dark Canyon Wilderness, San Juan County, Utah the skyline buttes of Elk Ridge announce the gateway to the Dark Canyon. It's easy to guess how it got its name after seeing the canyon's towering vertical walls. The 62,000 acre wilderness area, initially added with the Wilderness Act, is a rugged extension of the northern canyonlands. Wildlife roam the area, with sightings of Cliff Dwelling - Dark Canyon Wilderness, San Juan County, Utah mule deer, bighorn sheep, a few black bear and occasionally a cougar.
   Lower Dark Canyon, designated a primitive area, for the most part is governed by the Bureau of Land Management. Here, the Dark Canyon walls, some towering 1500 feet, overawe its human visitors. As you head into the canyon, the gorge narrows and its orange-red walls tower nearly overhead. Highlights here include Ancestral Pueblo culture petroglyphs, natural arches, springs and seeps, and hanging gardens. If you look upward at canyon walls, you may be lucky to spot ancient ancestral Puebloan dwellings and grain storage buildings neatly tucked into rock ledges and caves. These inhabitants first moved into the canyon around 600 CE, and mysteriously all these dwellings were abandoned by 1300.

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