White Canyon

Round Trip Distance: 2.4 - 7+ miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5770 - 6196 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 7 hrs.
Trailhead: Sipapu Bridge
Fee: $10/individual or $20/vehicle
Attractions: ruins and rock art

White Canyon is in the Natural Bridges National Monument west of Blanding, Utah. Within the deep walls of the canyon are many Ancestral Puebloan ruins including granaries, kivas, rooms and pictographs. This post covers a hike that begins at the Sipapu Bridge trailhead where it descends into the canyon, passes beneath the bridge and continues up White Canyon for another 3.5 miles passing multiple ruins and a geological formation known as Sphinx Rock.

Head south out of Blanding for about 4 miles and turn west on UT-95. Continue following the signs for Natural Bridges National Monument and you will arrive after 35 miles. Current conditions can be obtained at the Visitor Center before continuing on the loop road to the trailhead. There are nice flush toilets at the Visitor Center but other than the campground the only other restroom is at the Kachina Bridge trailhead.

It is quite the scenic adventure getting down into the canyon where the trail makes use of steps that were hewn into the rock, others made of wood, long metal staircases and a few rustic ladders cut from the native juniper trees and bolted together.

Once you reach the bottom continue beneath Sipapu Bridge heading northeasterly upstream. The route is easy to hike as it follows the wash. There will be an occasional pool to go around where the amount of water will vary depending upon the time of year and recent weather. 

The hike for this post was made in November right after a little snow storm. Some of the pools of water were frozen while others were completely ice free. 

From the trailhead it is just over a mile before the first of the ruins come up. There are a group of granaries and other structures that were built on a ledge that are easily noticed. Not so obvious are some large pictographs high up on the left side of the canyon that are right before the Ledge Ruins. The large anthropomorphic image is commonly known as the White Man Pictograph. 

Between the White Man Pictograph and the Ledge Ruins is another very interesting ruin. Up against the cliff on this side of the standing walls is a rectangular shaped subterranean kiva like structure. The 'key' shaped doorway of the above ground ruin is the same design used in cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, in Colorado, and Chaco Canyon, in New Mexico, indicating an interaction between the people in those places.

The ruins that are situated upon the ledge include a number of granaries that have held up very well over time. After leaving this area and continuing on toward Sphinx Rock there are a few more alcoves along the way. They can be very time consuming to explore but each of them that we took a look at yielded at least one thing of interest such as boulders with grinding or milling grooves or small stub walls. 

About 3/4 of a mile past the Ledge Ruins the canyon comes to Sphinx Rock where high up in an alcove on the left are a number of structures with defensive characteristics such as the small window in the wall on the left that appears to have served no other purpose than to provide a place to shoot arrows through at anyone coming up the canyon. Access to the alcove may have been provided by ropes that were tied to the log in the center that were pulled up after everyone was safe within the alcove. 

Another square structure below the alcove also may have been part of the sites defenses. The lack of soot suggests it wasn't a living space and the door and other aspects of its design suggest it wasn't a granary built to keep the pack rats out.

A lower alcove begins just past that structure that has an NPS register with some bonus information inside. Most of the ruins and the midden are chained off but it is still easy enough to see everything and if you have a good zoom lens you can also get some good photos. Besides several kivas there are a few pictographs and these 2 really nice granaries. Careful exploration of the far east end of the alcove will also yield quite a few painted hand pictographs.

The next site that is well worth visiting is 1.4 miles further up the canyon from Sphinx Rock. High up on the left side of the canyon are a few granaries and other ruins that you can get a close up look at after a short scramble up a talus slope. There are several double decker granaries here where the lover granary was made by stacking stones that were secured with mortar and the upper level was made by constructing a basket like thatchwork using willow branches and other materials and then plastering over the exterior. Peering through the door is like looking at the inside of a basket. The construction is really quite fantastic.

The next ruins that we know of are another half mile up stream before where Birch Canyon comes in. This was about as far as we could venture with the short days at this time of year. This photo was taken of the profile side of Sphinx Rock on the return trip. 

On the day that we took the photos for this post we encountered multiple groups of backpackers/canyoneers that had come through the 'Cheesebox' in Birch Canyon. It was interesting that none of them had noticed any of the ruins but had passed them all by oblivious as to their whereabouts. Even with all the ruins near Sphinx Rock it is possible to miss them if you stay in the bottom of the wash where the view is blocked by the willows. The canyon walls make it nearly impossible to create a perfect GPS track. We doctored ours up with the approximate waypoints of each ruin so that combined with our map should make it easy enough for an experienced hiker to find everything indicated. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.