Solstice Snake

Round Trip Distance: 9.6 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 4012 - 5168 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 7 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Pritchett Canyon
Fee: $3/person, $5/vehicle
Attractions: petroglyphs, scenic canyons

The Solstice Snake is located off of Pritchett Canyon, in the Behind the Rocks Wilderness Study Area, in Moab, Utah. Due to the characteristics of the sandstone columns near the face of the cliff an arrowhead appears like a light upon its surface. This unique feature provided an exceptional location for the long image of the snake that was meticulously pecked upon the cliff.

The first 2.5 miles of the trail follows the Pritchett Canyon Road. Where this road enters the canyon it crosses private property for which the landowner charges a small fee. For those that are hiking they will need to park at the nearby Kane Creek trailhead about 2 tenths of a mile away.

The Pritchett Canyon Road is an extreme 4x4 route that is normally only attempted by custom vehicles traveling in groups, equipped with wenches, and operated by experienced extreme offroad drivers. Counting a shelf near the trailhead there are 4 major obstacles before the road reaches the side canyon where the Solstice Snake is located.

There are several places where petroglyphs can be spotted enroute to the Solstice Snake for which we provided GPS coordinates.. The first is located near the 1 mile point measuring from the Kane Creek trailhead.

Near the 1.6 mile point there are a cluster of petroglyphs on the opposite side of the canyon from the road. We noticed the main panel on our trip to the Solstice Snake but didn't visit them close up until the hike out. They are very worthwhile the up close visit.

Among the many images of the main panel is one that is similar to the Zuni Sun Symbol. A long line of sheep can be seen at the top of the main panel that disappear as the patina there has dissolved away taking along with it what was probably a large portion of the images.

Near the 2.8 mile point from the Kane Creek trailhead the route to the Solstice Snake turns up a side canyon on an abandoned 4-wheel drive road. The road is barely noticeable but there is currently a brown carsonite marker that probably originally conveyed some message like 'No Vehicles'.

After another 4 tenths of a mile the canyon splits where you will want to stay to the left. Eventually the old road reaches a large boulder field where it seems to come to an end. A short distance past that is another group of boulders that can be bypassed by dropping down a short shelf above the wash or scrambling past by some other route. This photo was taken just past the 2nd boulder pile. From here the trail is going to work itself around the prominent point of the cliffs up ahead where it will travel up the side canyon on the right.

In the side canyon there are 2 dryfalls. The first is bypassed on the left by climbing a little higher up the side of the canyon. For the 2nd dryfall the best option might be to work your way around the rocks until you come to a joint that you can climb though right before reaching the head of the dryfall. Once you get above the dryfall follow either the wash or bench furthest to your left. The Solstice Snake is at the point of cliffs in this photo where we placed the red circle. If you stay to the left you will find an intermittent trail that is very easy to hike. If instead you stay in the main wash you will reach the point where you have to scramble out of the wash up a steep rocky slope.

After managing to stay on the main trail you will discover that it splits right at the base of the cliff where the Solstice Snake is found. We believe the left fork leads to a nearby slot and/or climbing route that appears to be more popular than the Solstice Snake judging from all the tracks.

Following the right fork of the trail you have to actually work your way a little past the Solstice Snake before you can look up and see its location. Just know that it is between the tall pinnacles of rock and the point of the cliff on the left. The scramble up to the panel from where this photo was taken is actually much easier than the picture makes it look.

 Unless you get there before the sun is too high all you will see is a really big long petroglyph of a snake.

The remarkable aspect of the Solstice Snake is this arrowhead that appears like a light as the sun begins shining through the nearby pillars. As the sun strikes the cliff it hits a concave corner that catches the light before the flatter surface of the cliff. The patch of light looks a whole lot like an arrowhead. This picture was cropped out of a youtube video of the event. There are several similar videos on youtube that you can search for. It's also worth noting that even though the image is named the Solstice Snake it isn't only on the solstice that the arrowhead appears. We saw at least one video that was taken on June 14th. We may have even been able to see it on April the 2nd, when we went there ourselves, if we would have gotten there earlier in the day. The aspect ratio of the patch of light might change throughout the year and not always look like an arrowhead or it might disappear all together.

Just to the right of the Solstice Snake and right above a little ledge are 3 shield figures that are also worth spotting.

In our opinion the scenery around the Solstice Snake panel and Pritchett Canyon in general is pretty spectacular and only adds to the pleasure of those that come for the petroglyphs. According to Michael Kelsey there is a granary further up the canyon past the Solstice Snake as well as another ruin back in the main canyon which we never did find. Quite a few pools of water were available for those with dogs but probably aren't to be depended on during the warmer months. It gets pretty hot in Moab during the summer so plan accordingly. Personally, I went through 120 oz. of water on this day in April. If a person was wanting to be at the panel around the Solstice they would probably have to start hiking before dawn which would make it a little cooler. The hike out is all downhill so you would also have that in your favor. However you go about it if you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.