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On the Path of the Ancients
Slickhorn Canyon, Cedar Mesa
Saturday, April 11
The rain started in earnest at about 4am. As it continued past 6 o'clock, I wondered if the approach roads leading up to the various canyons would be passable. Every spot where a non-paved road headed off, there was a big sign that said "Roads Impassible When Wet". Would we be shut out from any hiking at all today?
Wet Morning on the Mesa
However, dawn soon arrived, and with it, the rain stopped. We emerged to a damp but calm world, with even a hint or two of blue on the horizon. The forecast had called for rain during the day, but maybe it had been off a bit... Whatever the case, we figured we might as well head down to the ranger station and see if the forecast had changed, and to decide what hike, if any, we might go for. We had breakfast and packed up as the weather, fortunately, continued to improve.

We headed over to the Kane Gulch Ranger Station right at opening time (8 am), and first looked at the weather. It was still predicting bad weather, which was at odds with the improving situation just outside. We consulted with the rangers, who didn't seem to think the approach roads to the canyon I was thinking of (Slickhorn Canyon) would be all that bad, even if it rained, so long as we had four-wheel drive (which we did).
Kane Gulch RS
So, with that, we decide to go for it. Our objective was Slickhorn Canyon, another area with a good sprinkling of ruins, including one apparently very well-preserved kiva (a ceremonial chamber).

We drove south from the ranger station, again turning off onto the network of back roads that would this time bring us to Slickhorn Canyon. The heavy rain from overnight still did not return, and in fact, the skies looked more broken up, with patches of blue here and there.

Our plan for Slickhorn canyon involved the use of our two vehicles to allow us to do a fairly short point-to-point. Slickhorn canyon is arranged such that there is an entrance point at it's head, and several side-drainage exit points along it's length. We chose the third side drainage down from the head as our exit point, and shuttled a vehicle at the trailhead there, then returned to the main trailhead at the top. Under partly clear skies, we headed down the non-descript upper drainage of Slickhorn canyon. Here the canyon was simply a shallow creek bed running across a forested section of plateau.

After walking in a slightly downhill direction for about 30 minutes, the canyon started to deepen a bit, and the walls on either side started to rise. Following a faint path here and there down the bottom of the canyon, through reeds and grassy sections, we arrived a few tens of minutes later at a big cavernous dropoff, and the canyon suddenly went from fairly minor to a super-biggie!
Down Upper Slickhorn
Grassy Upper Slickhorn
Big Big Dropoff
There was no way we were going to get down the dropoff without major climbing gear. Instead, we followed a lightly-cairned route that went left, climbing up onto a ledge high on the south-west canyon wall. The ledge is wide but with a big dropoff, giving a great view down into the main part of Slickhorn Canyon. We followed the ledge for quite a ways downcanyon before a cairned route down a steep (but much less steep than the vertical cliffs from before) slope led us down to the canyon floor.
courtesy PChen
courtesy PChen
Bob at dropoff
Bulging Hoodoo
Main Descent
Based on my guidebook's description, I knew we were quite close to the first ruin on our itinerary - the "perfectly-preserved kiva" , as it is described. Sure enough, a few minutes' walk down-canyon, we could see some use-paths leading up to the north side of the canyon. We followed these up, climbing steeply up the lower talus to the base of the vertical walls, and discovered an excellent set of ruins -- along with the kiva!
Good Kiva Ruin
The Kiva
Granary
The site consisted of several different interesting artifacts. There were boundary walls, various granaries (some with the door slabs still nicely in place), a living area, complete with smoke-blacked walls, various pottery shards and corn husks. And there was the kiva. It's round roof, completely intact, was clearly outlined by a ring of stones, and the entrance ladder and chimney hole looked to be in fine shape.
Rooms, 'Good Kiva' Ruin
Soot stains
Kiva Entrance
For those of you who do not know, a kiva is a ceremonial structure used by the Anasazi. They are believed to have been used for religious and other communal activities, and have several distinguishing characteristics: Kivas used by the Anasazi are typically round, often underground (like this one), have a non-central smoke chimney, and have a small hole in the center of the floor which is known as a 'sipapu' -- symbolizing a portal to the spirit world.
courtesy PChen
Brian enters
Jenn peers out
Roof construction
After exploring a bit above-ground, we descended into the kiva to have a look around (note that the land management folks have replaced the original ladder with a replica). Down inside, we marvelled at the wonderful state that this kiva is in. The masonry of the walls, the moss sandwiched between the smoke-blackened roof beams, all of it seemed ready for use by the next Anasazi ceremony. What a wonderfully-preserved bit of North America's history!
Inside a Kiva
Smoke-blackened roof
Pu is mesmerized
Shut Granary
Pu inspects Granary
Overview, good kiva ruins
After more time in the Kiva, we returned to the surface, where we explored the rest of the ruins a bit further. We then retreated to a spot down the slope away from the ruins to have our lunch. It was still sunny, with big puffy clouds here and there, and we could see that some of these clouds were dropping isolated rain showers. In fact, at one point during our lunch it lightly and briefly hailed on us, with the sun quickly returning afterwards. In fact, as it turned out, that was the only time we were 'precipitated on' during any of our hiking on this trip!
Ruined Granary
Lunchtime
Hiking down Slickhorn
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