Ochre Alcove

Round Trip Distance: 2 - 4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5178 - 5341 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 2 hrs. 45 mins.
Trailhead: South Temple Wash
Fee: none
Attractions: pictographs, scenic narrows

Ochre Alcove is a pictograph site that is located in the San Rafael Swell between Hanksville and Green River, Utah. The site, which is in Wildhorse Canyon, has a group of images that are commonly referred to as the 'Transformation Panel'. The site is also sometimes referred to as 'Red Ochre Alcove', probably because that is the color of the ochre used as paint in this case. Ochre is an earth pigment that ranges in color from pale yellow to deep red, brown and violet.

Getting to Ochre Alcove is pretty straight forward. All you have to do is find your way to the intersection of the Goblin Valley and Temple Mountain Roads about 5 miles off of Highway 24. The turnoff for the Temple Mountain Road is 20 miles north of Hanksville and 24 miles south of Interstate 70. After turning onto the Goblin Valley Road turn onto one of the dirt roads that come up within the first half mile or so on the west side of the road. The idea is to find a good trail that will get you down into South Temple Wash where you can hike to the mouth of Wildhorse Canyon. For this post we began from one of the primitive campsites that was very near the Temple Mountain Road.

The wash is fairly easy to hike in and the turnoff into Wildhorse Canyon is hard to miss. There is a large cottonwood tree right at its mouth. From our campsite it was right at 8 tenths of a mile to the mouth of the canyon. If you start at the traditional unmarked trailhead for Wildhorse Canyon and Wildhorse Window it is probably only a few hundred yards. When we were there for this post there was someone camped right at that spot. We could have walked through their camp to get to the trail that leads down into the wash but opted to just hike from our campsite instead. That is why we are showing the round trip distance as 2-4 miles.

Once you start hiking up Wildhorse Wash you are treated to a fun set of narrows.

At their skinniest point the narrows are still plenty wide enough to accomodate a very large person carrying a big pack so there is nothing to worry about as far as that goes. It would be a good idea to avoid the canyon at anytime there is a severe thunderstorm in the area though because the narrows are a choke point that can fill up completely with a torrent of water and become a death trap.

The further you go the wider the passage becomes and the higher the cliffs get on both sides.

Near the 3/4 mile point from where we turned up Wildhorse the canyon gets a little wider and has a bit more vegetation. On the right, or north, side of the wash there are 3 or so alcoves. The pictographs are at the far end of the lower alcove that is accessible from the wash. From here they are hard to spot even with a pair of binoculars.

It requires a bit of moderate scrambling to get up to the level of the alcove.

The easiest route is to climb up the slickrock to the base of the cliff and then work your way across to the alcove. The slickrock has a steep angle to it in a couple of places. We didn't have any trouble at all with traction but some people might be intimidated by it if they aren't used to hiking on slickrock. The slideshow at the end of this post should have enough photos to show what to expect.

The main body of images that they are calling the Transformation Panel stretches out over 10 feet or so of the cliff. The images in the middle are becoming faded beyond recognition.

Details of the images on either end of the panel are remarkably intricate.

One of these images has a 'Zeus' motif with what resembles lightening coming from its feet while it holds a bundle of lightening bolts in its hand. (Of course he could be growing roots and holding a handful of Red Vines so who knows.)

There are a few faded images off to the right that look unremarkable at first but if you look closer you can see a good resemblance between them and the bug eyed Barrier Canyon style images at Sego Canyon.

Even further to the right is a pilar with streaks of paint that radiate up onto the ceiling of the alcove. They are very faded now but in their heyday this entire alcove must have looked quite spectacular.

There are almost a countless number of campsites on both sides of the reef on this end of the San Rafael Swell. Many of them are accessible to passenger cars but a great deal more require something with a little ground clearance. There are restrooms at the campgrounds along the Temple Mountain Road where a few of the campsites also have fire pits. You can expect to see every variety of tent and RV imaginable. The majority of the campers have little idea though of all the different places to explore. As far as Ochre Alcove goes, if you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.