Grand Gulch, southern Utah

Bounded by 700 foot high cliff walls, the sandy canyon bottom of Grand Gulch in southern Utah was once again our destination for a spring break backpack.  The group I was hiking with included 6 younger scouts, from 11 to 13 years old.   Our group started hiking at Collins Springs, and exited Grand Gulch 6 days later at Bullet Canyon.  Our group also included 5 adults, and the six scouts proved themselves to be tough and durable hikers.

Above: Banister Ruin in the morning light.

Above: Banister Ruin in the morning light.

Grand Gulch and Bullet Canyon was lined on both sides by high cliff walls, with almost every south facing alcove hosting an Indian ruin and some rock art.  We visited Banister Ruin, Long Ruin, Two Story Ruin, Jailhouse Ruin, and Perfect Kiva, and numerous smaller unmarked and unnamed ruins.   Many ruins were small food storage sites called granaries, built up with rocks and mortar, with a small door opening which could be sealed shut with a square stone door.  If the door was sealed up with a square rock and mud, the granary would be deer proof, mouse proof, and insect proof.

The ruins were abandoned in 1300 AD en masse, as the inhabitants migrated to other areas.  Judging by the present availability of water, climate change must have been a reason for the migration.  The inhabitants are called Anazasi, and their descendents are the modern Zuni, Hopi, and Pueblo Indians.  The Navahos and Apaches appeared in the area around 1000 AD, and appear to have traded with the Anazasi, and sometimes conflicted with the Anazasi.  The Anazasi farmed corn, squash, and beans, and cooked in clay pots.  Corn cobs and stone flour grinders are present at many of the ruins.  In 200 BC beans were introduced to the area, which added a much needed protein source.  In 200 AD the technology of clay pots replaced the pitch coated woven baskets that were used to heat water.  The earlier culture was called the Basketmaker Culture, and their baskets and art was superior to the later Anazasi culture. The combination of beans and clay pots allowed the Anazasi’s food to be utilized more efficiently, which could have led to an increase in health and a population growth.

During our trip, water was present in shallow pools, often film covered and stinky, or else in natural cisterns in holes carved in solid rock in the stream bed.  There were a few flowing water springs, and we never appreciated having clean water so much until we had to drink some of the stank water.  Water sources were located miles apart.  Compared to the clear mountain streams we are used to in Idaho, we would call these springs “mud holes,” but when there is no other water they looked pretty good.

A funny thing was that some of the dwellings were obviously in strong defensive positions, and could not be reached without a ladder or ropes.  However, many of the granaries were visible from the valley floor and easily reachable by foot.  They would be very vulnerable to raiders.  My own theory is that the granaries were built and filled to support the mass migration of the Anazazi out of the entire area.  They had no pack animals, and could only take what they could carry, and they had many miles to travel, with people of their culture spread over the whole area.  If the granaries were stocked with food and supplies, they could be used by Anazazi from other regions as they passed through toward their distant destination.