Moqui Fork

Round Trip Distance: 8.8 - 12.6 miles
Traditional route: 14 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 5221 - 5913 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 7 hrs.
Trailhead: Park Service Rd. 777 mm 5.5
Fee: none
Attractions: Rock art, ruins

Hidden in a side branch of the Moqui Fork of Horseshoe Canyon is the illusive Dragon Fly Panel with its intricate collection of Barrier Canyon Style pictographic images. Visitors to this extremely remote part of the Horseshoe Canyon Wilderness Study Area in Wayne County, Utah will also have the opportunity to explore another side canyon where within twin alcoves they will find another intricate BCS image and three storage cists.

From Hanksville drive 16 miles north on Highway 24 and turn right, just before reaching the Goblin Valley turnoff, at the sign for Horseshoe Canyon and follow the directions to the Hans Flat Ranger Station. After reaching Hans Flat turn left onto the Horseshoe Canyon Road, NP #777. There is a restroom at this intersection as well as a picnic ramada next to the ranger station. The road up to this point is normally suitable for 2wd highway vehicles but all roads beyond are high clearance 4wd only and should have a driver with some experience driving over uneven slickrock.

There are no officially marked trails or trailheads in the Horseshoe Canyon WSA. For this post we drove down NP #777 for 5.5 miles and parked on the left where there were already several sets of vehicle tracks. The Park Service prefers that you park where there is slickrock but there are several spots that are dirt that have brush piled up to discourage further off road travel that get used as trailheads. After parking head toward the wash and either hike down or beside it as it eventually drains into the Moqui Fork. If you choose to the follow the more traditional route you will find another place to park back at the 3.5 mile point of NP #777. That route is longer but much easier to follow and hike.

After hiking in or beside the wash for about 1 mile there will be a few spillovers to avoid. It is simple enough to follow one of the well worn burro and cattle trails that are heading into the canyon. Take care not to enter the bottom of the side canyon too soon or you will just have to climb back out again. Animals have made multiple trails into the upper part of the canyon to get at water from the spring. The canyon gradually gets wider and less tangled with brush making it much easier to hike. At the 1.8 mile point from NP #777 the side canyon meets the main branch of Moqui Fork where we continue to the left heading downstream.

After hiking another 1.1 miles downstream there is a sandy hill on the left where the traditional route comes down into the canyon. The reason that was the traditional route is because at one time there was a 4wd road that led from the other parking area we mentioned at the 3.5 mile point of NP #777 almost all the way to the edge of the mesa where it was then less than a half mile to get down to this point.

From this very same spot where the traditional route enters the Moqui Fork there is another side canyon on the right where the Twin Aloves are located. If you came down the route that we are following you should be crossing the shoulder of a bench to the right of a deep spillover when the caves come into view making them hard to miss. If you came down the traditional route then simply cross the wash into the opposite side canyon and the caves will shortly reveal themselves.

We thought it was much easier to scramble up to the alcoves than what we were anticipating from surveying the talus slope below the caves. The first alcove has a very low roof. On the roof near the middle of the opening is a nice image that was created after smoothing out the surface of the rock. At least parts of the image appear to have been painted or else paint was used to provide missing details.

The second alcove has 3 storage cists built into the floor along the back wall. Both alcoves have wonderful views of the area immediately surrounding this part of the Moqui Fork.

As you continue down the Moqui Fork for a little over 1 mile a prominent spire of rock that slightly resembles a starship comes into view directly ahead. It is at this point where a side canyon to the right leads to the Dragon Fly Panel. You only have to travel up the side canyon for about 500 feet to reach the panel so if you don't see it by then you are in the wrong spot.

All of the images are on the right side of the alcove. There is one large image even further to the right of these that isn't in this photo.

The central dragon fly appears to be attended by two lesser dragon flies while a smaller image to the right pays obeisance. The dragon flies have a slight anthropomorphic character about them.

To the right of the dragon flies are several more BCS figures with another dragon fly to the right of them. Note the dog like animal on the outstretched arm of the one figure that is typical of the subtle intricacies of the Barrier Canyon Style of rock art.

What can you say about the image with the owl like eyes other than 'wow'. If you look closely at the surface to the left of the image that is on the left of 'Owl Eyes' you should be able to make out another anthropomorphic image that is entirely a very faded ghostly white.

Here four knife wielding characters appear to be standing on a butte beneath a rainbow. To the left is an image with a turtle body and to the left of that a figure with a bird head and wings.

A pair of storage cists can be found in the opposite end of the alcove from the pictographs. Be sure not to remove anything from the site, not even the scraps of wood, and take great care not to damage it in any way. If you are backpacking find some other place above the bottom of the wash to make your camp. It is also recommended that you don't eat anything around these sites where innocently fallen crumbs can attract squirrels and rats that might create damage causing burrows.

On this day there were a couple of wild burros that appeared to be catching a nap in the warm spring sun. They were right beside the trail and finally stirred as we approached after hearing the clicks made by the camera.

Hiking in the Horseshoe Canyon WSA is very remote and requires advanced hiking and route finding skills as well as familiarity with wilderness survival techniques. We strongly recommend carrying a GPS device with extra batteries and the route preloaded. If you are using a GPS app on your smartphone be sure that it is one that works without a cellphone signal. There can be an occasional signal while crossing the mesa top and a strong signal at the Hans Flat Ranger Station but no signal at all within any of the canyons. Backpackers and horseback riders will have a tough time finding dependable water sources. The trip for this post was made near the first of April and we found only one pothole and it didn't hold more than a gallon or two worth of stale water. As far as the attractions to be found in the Moqui Fork they speak for themselves. If you would like to see them for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.