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John's Canyon Road

Rating: 
One-way Distance: 17.8 miles (driving)
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 4752 - 5425 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 4 hrs. (one-way)
Trailhead: Highway 316 MM 3
Fee: none
Attractions: petroglyphs




The John's Canyon Road is located near Mexican Hat, Utah. The road skirts the base of Cedar Mesa between Cedar Point and the Slickhorn Canyon complex. This post covers the first 16.7 miles of the 28.1 mile road. Besides providing access to the lower ends of John's and Slickhorn Canyons the road has several worthwhile petroglyph sites that are easy to access from the road. Having not done the final 11.4 miles we are unable to account for its driveability. A high clearance 4wd vehicle is required in several areas between Cedar Point and Muley Point and all points beyond the 15 mile point where the road crosses a stream in John's Canyon.


To get there drive east from Mexican Hat for 4 miles, or west from Bluff for 21 miles, on UT-163 and turn north on UT-261. Follow UT-261 for just under 1 mile and turn west at the sign for Goosenecks State Park. The John's Canyon Road splits off on the right at the 3 mile marker.


For the first 5 or 6 miles the road is normally good enough for most any vehicle. (We had a cellphone signal until we got past Cedar Point.)


After that the road begins hugging the edge of the mountain where it drops off steeply on the side of the San Juan River. There is at least one dip in this part of the road that is both rough and steep that might require 4wd.


The first of 2 gates comes up a little before reaching Muley Point.


Right around the 7.2 mile point there is a boulder on the right with some nice petroglyphs. The side facing the road has a couple of deer tracks and other small images. The top of the boulder has a panel with 2 spirals and 3 anthropomorphic images. We've heard the center image referred to as the Dotted Man which seems most appropriate. We backed our pickup up to the boulder and stood in the back to take our photos. It's not often a person gets that sort of luxury.


The next site of interest that we noticed was at the 8.5 mile point where a large boulder slab sits a couple hundred feet from the road like a big billboard. An interesting aspect of this location is that it appears to provide access to the top of the mesa.


As referenced by Carol Patterson 'Katsina take the form of ducks when traveling'. Notice that the one on the left has bird hands and feet while the ones on the right have a human appearance.


These are a few of the images on the right hand side of the slab. Notice the snake with the line connecting it to what looks like a dead person.


As the road turns and heads into John's Canyon there is a boulder with an inscription dated 1951 and a small image that is 4 or 5 inches tall. Just before the 15 mile point the road crosses the wash of John's Canyon. There is one gap in the slickrock that makes the crossing a little rough. It would be easy enough to set a rock in the gap to smooth out the transition but nobody has bothered as yet. After crossing the wash there is a road that goes along the wash to some nice primitive campsites in the cottonwood trees before it ends. The John's Canyon road makes a steep climb out of the wash and comes to a fork. The right fork, which doesn't show up on maps, leads on into John's Canyon while the John's Canyon road itself follows the left fork that leads toward Slickhorn Canyon.


 Along the right fork that leads into John's Canyon there is an old road that is now blocked off where after a short walk can be seen a boulder with at least one bighorn and the above image.


The Broken Man appears to be named due to the part of the boulder with the feet has broken off and is laying below it on the ground. The entire pile of rubble appears to have previously formed one larger boulder. The image itself of Broken Man looks very much like one of the 'Thunder People' noted by Carol Patterson. It has the same necklace as one of her images and the rising thunder above its head.


For this trip we explored as far as Broken Man before turning around. We saw a set of mountain bike tracks that went even further but no fresh vehicle tracks past that point. It would be great to do more exploring both further into John's Canyon and on to Slickhorn. At present there aren't any signs prohibiting ATVs or side-by-sides and as long as they stay on the road and not do any cross country travel they would be a good means of accessing the area. (The area is extremely remote so take plenty of gas and water and be prepared to self rescue.) We had anticipated seeing much more rock art along the road so either we were blind on this trip or we turned around too soon. What we did come across was well worth the trip. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike drive'.