Perfect Panel

Round Trip Distance: 3.8 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 5171 - 5357 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 2 hrs. 45 mins.
Trailhead: Flint Road MM 29.1
Fee: none
Attractions: pictographs

The Perfect Panel, and its nearby companion the Imperfect Panel, are located in the Orange Cliffs Unit of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area near Hite, Utah. Both panels are made up of what are known as Barrier Canyon Style pictographs and differ from each other mainly in the manner in which one panel, due to its location, remains almost perfectly preserved from the ravages of time while the other, which is in a damp alcove, has deteriorated significantly. Both panels are located in the very remote recesses of Clearwater Canyon.

To get there from Hanksville head south on UT-95 for 46.5 miles and turn left onto the unmarked Flint Trail Road, a.k.a. NP 633. Proceed for 29.1 miles to where the road crosses the wash of Clearwater Canyon. You can also park on the slickrock at an earlier wash that is back at the 28.8 mile point. It takes a medium clearance vehicle to travel the Flint Trail Road up to this point. While 4wd is always preferable for extra insurance you are not likely to need it during good conditions just as long as you don't go beyond this point. The kiosk at the beginning of the Flint Trail Road warns that there are no dependable water sources along the road and to be ready to self rescue. This sign is near the 27 mile point of the road. There is a junction a little after the 19 mile point where you will need to stay to the right. A map is highly recommended to bring along. The Glen Canyon NRA map doesn't show this area very well but the main Canyonlands Nat. Geo. Trails Illustrated map shows the entire route.

There is room to park in the wash on the north side of the road at the 29.1 mile point. The trail is popular so try to leave room for others to park. Begin by crossing the road and hiking down the dry bed of the wash.

About a quarter mile from the trailhead a small side wash comes in on the right that leads to the alternate trailhead that was at the 28.8 mile point of the Flint Trail Road. We've began at that trailhead in the past and the distance is about the same. Soon after that the wash, which has been shallow up to this point, begins looking more and more like a scenic little canyon.

Just past the 1 mile point the wash comes to a spillover where the basin of which is full of cottonwood trees. Look for a faint trail that leaves the wash on the right side that climbs up and over the small hill.

At the top of the hill search out a route that is strewn with loose rocks that leads back down into the wash.

As you continue downstream for the next couple hundred yards there are a lot of big boulders to scramble around. Right at a sharp bend in the wash there is a large shallow alcove on the right. Look for the Imperfect Panel at the near end of the alcove about 20-30 feet above the bottom of the wash.

Unfortunately the dampness and the nature of the rock in the alcove isn't conducive to the preservation of the pictographs.

Close examination of what does remain reveals the same intricate details that are common to most other BCS pictographs.

A short distance further down the wash the canyon deepens precipitously at another spillover. Look for a narrow path on the right that jumps up to a short bench or ledge where you will find a well traveled trail to follow.

As you come around the bend you will be able to spot the Perfect Panel near the point of the cliffs high above the canyon floor. There is one spot where you will need to scoot down a 5 or 6 foot section of slickrock to get to the lower bench. There is a little exposure on the ledge but the trail is always wide enough, and there are rocks that you can stay behind, so that it doesn't feel extreme. If it did I assure you that we would have turned around. If there is snow and ice on the trail then that, of course, changes everything.

The area around the Perfect Panel is the widest part of the bench with plenty of room to move around and take photos. It should go without saying but don't touch the images or the rock surfaces around them or there will no longer be a Perfect Panel. To illustrate this completely just take a look at the surface of the boulder in the foreground and the lower parts of the face of the cliff where people have done a lot of touching and you will see the effect that it has on the rock. You can't touch the lens of your camera without leaving a smudge of oil and you can't touch the rock without doing the same. Once the sun gets to working on the oil the results are devastating.

The large figure on the left is commonly known as 'The Hitchhiker'.  Note the two white snakes that run all the way from the bottom up to the rows of white dots across the breast. Just below the extended thumb is a small bighorn sheep. A good name for it's armless companion might be 'The Mummy' as it looks like it is all wrapped up.

Just above its shoulder is a larger bighorn sheep with a few markings and white legs that seems to be whispering into its ear. Indigenous people have always practiced the sacred art of body painting. These pictographs, in a lot of ways, are great examples of the same tradition. Speaking of the Fuegians body paint in the 'Voyage of the Beagle' (chapter 11); Charles Darwin mentions "their faces were much painted with red and black, and one man was ringed and dotted with white..."

The images on the right side of the panel are just as exquisite both in the original art and the fine details.

The image on the left in this photo also has two long white snakes that stretch the length of its body. After imagining that its head looked a little like a coyote we started referring to the image as 'The Coyote' which played a prominent role in the lore of indigenous people.

Be sure to look out for snakes while hiking through the wash and around the rocks. There are some big ones and some little ones crawling around that aren't in the rock art. Less than a mile up the left branch of the wash where our truck is parked is an alcove that has a few more smaller pictographs that are also very well preserved. We labeled it the 'Inaccessible Alcove' on our map. Since it is so close, and after all the trouble of getting this far, you might find it worth investigating while you are in the area. There are also a few wild burros in the area and an occasional coyote. The long drive from Highway 95 to the trailhead has some very scenic landmarks that are sure to take your attention of the bumpy road from time to time. (Count on it taking a little over 2 hours from the pavement.) The views of Clearwater Canyon beyond the second spillover are spectacularly dramatic and really set the scene for the Perfect Panel that is perched on the cliffs high above. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.