Salt Wash

Round Trip Distance: 12.8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5201 - 5701 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 8 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Sid's Mountain/Dead Indian
Fee: none
Attractions: Petroglyphs, scenic canyon

Salt Wash is located in the Sid's Mountain Wilderness Area of the San Rafael Swell in Emery County, Utah east of the town of Ferron. It is one of the main tributary canyons that drains into the San Rafael River between Fuller Bottom and Buckhorn Draw. Hikers are treated to a dozen or more different panels of petroglyphs, and several small ruins that include a granary, the stub wall remains of a dwelling and another site where all that remains is a midden and some petroglyphs. The hike through the scenic canyon is mostly easy although it does include numerous stream crossings, most of which are less than boot deep. (Our roundtrip distance included all the side hikes to get closeup views of the petroglyphs. Otherwise the round trip distance would have been under 10 miles.)

The trailhead is a little over 17 miles from Ferron along the 4wd stretch of the Dutch Flat Road. Some maps show it as the Sid's Mountain Hiking trailhead but at least some people refer to it as the Dead Indian trailhead. To get there from the center of Ferron follow the Molen Road, 100 South, for 3 miles and turn right at the sign for the Dutch Flat Road. Continue for 2.4 miles and keep straight as the route transitions to the Dutch Flat Road. At the 12 mile point from Molen the road forks at a BLM kiosk. Take the left fork and go another 1.7 miles before bearing right. From there the road has some bad spots that at times require 4wd and medium to high clearance. After continuing for another 4.6 miles you will reach the corral pole fence at the Sid's Mountain Saddle Horse trailhead. From there it is another 0.6 miles to the hiking trailhead. Currently both of these trailheads are unmarked. The corral pole fence is the only indication that they are trailheads. 

From the parking area follow the old jeep road down the hill toward Salt Wash. The road enters a gully that eventually ends at a dryfall. Watch for a cairn on the left that leaves the wash before getting to the dryfall. From the cairn continue for another quarter mile or so to another cairn that marks the spot where the trail goes over the rim and begins descending into the canyon. Loose rocks and steep grades make the descent a bit tedious in places. The first time that I hiked down it I made it all the way to the bottom before slipping in some scree and breaking my leg. After that I had to climb all the way out of the canyon and back to the trailhead broken leg and all. It was kind of a freak thing where one foot slipped and the other got hung up on a bush while I was fiddling with my camera instead of paying attention to where I was going. I was a lot more careful on this trip. Backpackers with a top heavy load might prefer using the other trailhead and taking the saddle horse route into the canyon.

Once you make it into the canyon the hiking along the main trail is easy enough. Around the 1.2 mile point from the trailhead a keen eye can pick out 6 panels of petroglyphs way off on the left canyon wall. There are 4 panels in one group and 2 more in another. Hiking over to the panels will add to the round trip distance and the overall time and difficulty but we feel they are well worth the effort.

This is a sample of the images from the first 4 panels. 

The other 2 panels are closer to the main wash and equally as interesting. Here there is a shaman like image with a staff in each hand standing beneath a rainbow. Images of rainbows are very common in the San Rafael Swell and always interesting to compare. 

The next panel, near the 1.9 mile point, is 20-30 feet above the wash near a hairpin turn. There are several photos of it in the slideshow but for brevity it has been excluded from the main post. Near the 2.3 mile point the wash passes through an area called 'the Narrows'. There is an abandoned meander in the canyon at this point that forms a rincon where there are 2 more panels of petroglyphs. We waited and hiked the meander on our return trip. There is an alternate exit from the canyon in the rincon that requires some Class 3+ freestyle climbing for those looking for something a little different. The exit is a narrow slot with a cedar log at the bottom that you have to chinny up to get started.

Of the 2 panels in the meander the most interesting one is of some Ute petroglyphs that depict a mounted warrior/hunter wielding a spear accompanied by a number of bighorn sheep and 2 very nice images of buffalo. The one on the right looks just like the one on the back of the old buffalo nickels. How cool is that? (We know they are Ute images, of course, because the Spanish didn't introduce horses to the area until after the time of the Fremonts.) 

The next panel is harder to spot and harder to get to. After the abandoned meander with panels P3 and P4 the water in the wash gets a lot deeper thanks to a series of beaver dams. The option is either to wade across and get wet or take a high trail up and around. Either way you go you will come to a fence. Once you reach the fence follow it with your eyes until it reaches the cliff. You should be able to pick out the top of an image on the cliff to the right of the fence.

We didn't really want to hike all the way up to this one until we examined it with our binoculars and decided it deserved a closer inspection. It turned out that along the cliff on the left side of the fence were signs of a small midden, and even though there were no standing walls remaining, it was evident that at one time there had been a dwelling here. The main image also had it's own unique aspect as the head was created from hundreds of meticulously pecked dots.

The panel labeled P6 on our map is another one that requires a side hike. We used our zoom lens to take the pictures for that one which consisted of 3 or 4 bighorn sheep. Almost a half mile past that there is a large level bench with the stub wall remains of a dwelling. Views of the canyon from the sunny bench are outstanding.

About a quarter mile past the ruin there are 3 more or so panels above a sloping patch of slickrock that are well worth climbing up to. One of the panels has a heavy coating of patina that makes it difficult to see all the images from the wash below.

We didn't find anything else of note for the next mile and a half other than the scenic mouth of  Long Hollow. Triple Arch sits all the way up on the rim at one point but there isn't much that is visible from the canyon floor other than 3 openings. From the bottom it is a little reminiscent of Colonnade arch near Horseshoe Canyon but with only 3 openings compared to the others 5. The next thing of interest was a granary on the right side of the wash that comes up 3 tenths of a mile from the river. We wondered whether it had been restacked until we saw all the small chinking stones that were filling the voids between the larger rocks. It's doubtful that anyone restacking rocks would have known to chink the gaps and to do it so well at that.

A little over a quarter mile past the granary North Wash spills out into the gorge of the San Rafael River and that is where we turned around and headed back up the canyon. There are a couple of out of the way campsites near the river.

There are a number of backpacking options in the area that involve Salt Wash. The hike that we did can be split into an overnighter by camping near the river. It can also be combined with the San Rafael River trail, Cane Wash and Sid's Mountain for one big multi day loop. A few of the options can also be accomplished on horseback. As far as Salt Wash itself goes there are hundreds of petroglyphs to keep you busy. We lost track of how many times in all we had to cross the stream but it was a lot. Most of the crossings were dry or not more than ankle deep. We were able to avoid the deeper crossings but during the early spring or after a storm there is probably a lot more water to contend with. All in all we had a wonderful time of it. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.