Desert Backpacking Grand Gulch

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest I am used to hiking in the plush green forest and to having a relatively endless water supply.

The desert has always been an unknown place for me so when Grant emailed me an invitation to join him and his family for an adventure into the southwest I excitedly agreed.

grand gulch
Autumn color in Grand Gulch

The Plan
A party of 5 traveled from various States and met at the airport in Albuquerque, NM.
I am a minimalist and choose to not own or drive a car so this trip would take two days of travel time just to get me to Albuquerque.

A total of 7 buses were needed to get me from Port Angeles to Seatac, Wa to catch my flight. After spending the night in the airport we all met early the next morning in baggage claim and got rolling.

We picked up our rental mini van and after stopping by several markets to supply we made the long drive to the Grand Gulch Primitive Area. We had decided to spend 4 days backpacking in Grand Gulch and then several more day hiking in various locations on the way out.


The forecast ended up being a lot better than what was predicted. Not listening to the weather man paid off this time. We encountered 12 hours of bad weather during the first 4 days. This was in the form of wind and cold rain.

The first night was a bit of a howler and after that we encountered snow flakes on the canyon floor randomly throughout the day, none of which ended up sticking on the ground.

The remainder of the trips reached the lows of 20 F and highs barely above freezing, if at all. The highlight of our mornings was the sun creeping over the canyon wall and warming our backs while we enjoyed breakfast.

grand gulch frost
Afternoon frost - Some spots on the canyon floor rarely see the sun in the winter. 

Our main concern for our desert hike, especially this late in the season, was water. I was unsure how much water would be available and what quality it would be.

After talking with a local ranger we decided to “base” camp near the only sure water in the area which was a “flowing” but minimal spring.

The spring is located at a canyon intersection with close access to a network of various canyons. We would then day hike out of that location up and down the various canyons exploring for ruins.

The Sawyer Squeeze filter worked well with the water supply. Would of pretreated the water with a coffee filter; if we needed to drink from some of the other springs that we stubbled appon while exploring. I also slept with my filter each night the temps dipped below freezing.

green mask camp
Base Camp hid from the sun most of the day - Temperatures reached lows of 20f.

Our days were spent exploring the various canyons; hunting for old ruins left by the people that once lived in this area.

I felt that looking for ruins and hieroglyphics was like taking part in a treasure hunt. It had the feel of ‘hide and seek’, but for big kids.

A highlight was climbing up, down, thru and around the diverse terrain. What better way to connect with your primal side than monkeying around on rock all day.

Gossamer Gear backpacking
The group

Tens of thousands of cactus kept you on your toes - all the while; carefully not stepping on Cryptobiotic crust that covered most the land. 

dyeing desert flower
Color clinging to life in the desert.

Ultralight backpacking cedar mesa
The group making our way across the Cedar Mesa.  Encountering wind and scattered rain showers. 

sheiks canyon
GG Mariposa; as we head down Sheiks Canyon

Sheiks Canyon
High points were used to find routes through the canyon floor. 

Sheiks Canyon
Cactus vs 'E's Inov-8's

Sheiks Canyon
Cairn's marked multiple ways through the canyon.

Sheiks Canyon ruin
The Gorilla pack at our first ruin find. 

Sheiks Canyon wash

Sheiks Canyon

desert poop
Wonder what left this?

backpacking Sheiks Canyon
The wild southwest

Sheiks Canyon
Trying to make our way around the steep canyon

Sheiks Canyon
Walking on the canyon wall

Sheiks Canyon
Down this drainage

Sheiks Canyon
'G' scouting for a way down

Sheiks Canyon

Sheiks Canyon

barefoot jake
Me looking down canyon

Sheiks Canyon
Looking up canyon

green mask camp
Gossamer Gear's 'The one', Squall, prototype Pyramid shelter after a stormy first night.  Because of high winds and rain.  Decided to use available rocks on these 3 shelters.  I spend my first night with two others in the Pyramid. 

Sheiks Canyon morning
The highlight of our morning was the sun creeping over the canyon wall. 

Sheiks Canyon pictographs
'G' checking out the pictographs.

Sheiks Canyon pictographs

Sheiks Canyon pictographs
My hand to small hand pictographs. 

autumn in utah
A little autumn left in the desert.

southwest cactus

grand gulch ruins
Exploring for ruins.

desert cactus

grand gulch autumn
Desert color

desert spider

grand gulch

desert art

ultralight grand gulch
Gossamer Gear Riksak and Minimalist during our day hikes.

minimalist desert
Relaxing made simple.

grand gulch trail
'G' surrounded by cactus - day hiking with the Bigbag.

grand gulch hiker

grand gulch minimalist footwear
'E' going with the right choice - switching out of his Inov-8's into a pair of VFF's.

utah rock patterns

autumn grand gulch

flat cat stove
Flat Cat Stove - I was very impressed.

Footwear grand gulch
'E' showing off his VFF's.

Desert dinner table
Dinner table.

Ultralight backpacking grand gulch
Gossamer Gear prototype Pyramid Shelter in the desert - Im looking forward to future 1 man designs.

grand gulch winter
Frozen autumn.

grand gulch hazards
The desert is full of everything sharp and pointy. 

desert butterfly

grand gulch
Beauty of death.

petrified tree
Old tree.

grand gulch pottery shards
Pottery shards.

grand gulch ruins
Ruins blend in perfectly with the landscape. 

grand gulch ruins

grand gulch winter
Little seed clings to life.

grand gulch ruins

slickrock sraping

Ultralight backpacking bullet canyon
Up Bullet Canyon.

bullet canyon ruins

bullet canyon hiker
Worshiping the sun.

bullet canyon landscape

bullet canyon
'G' taking it all in.

bullet canyon pictographs

jailhouse ruins

jailhouse ruins

backpacking jailhouse ruins

bullet canyon

keva bullet canyon

bullet canyon ruins

bullet canyon pictographs

perfect kiva

bullet canyon winter
Checking out a frozen water source.

bullet canyon
Up Bullet Canyon.

bullet canyon
Up this drainage.

bullet canyon
Under this arch.

bullet canyon
Follow this cairn.

cedar mesa sunset
Out in time to watch the sunset from atop Cedar Mesa.

Primitive Hiking
Connecting with your environment is what being outdoors is all about. Anything you can do to safely enhance that experience bridges the gap from nature to human.

This is why I am an ultralight backpacker and choose to wear minimal footwear. I only bring things along in my pack that I feel are needed to keep my experience enjoyable.

I am also a believer in choosing my footwear to match the terrain, with the caveat that my choices are all minimal.

For the dessert I chose to wear near a traditional Huarache design. By wearing sandals I could greatly appreciate what it was to be an original native to this harsh landscape. Every step I took brought me that much closer to these people.

Similarly sleeping under a open Tarp design dramatically increases my connection to the critters in this area. Honestly I wasn't sure what was going to climb into bed with me at times.

The truth is that I slept better outside on this trip than I do in a house, averaging nearly 12 hours of undisturbed sleep every night due to the cold temps and short days.

grand gulch footwear

grand gulch hazards
Truth be told - out of all parties involved.  I was the only one who didn't end up pulling cactus out of my foot.  Why is that?

barefoot cactus
The cactus tested my sense of proprioception.

primitive footwear
Primitive Hiking - such a great connection to the people that once called this area home.

Video from Trip:

Related: Backpacking Boulder Mail Trail, Utah

Disclaimer/Comments:  One should train their feet for some time for this type of trail conditions.  
  Biking, Hiking or Backpacking in Minimalist Footwear takes strong feet.  Since as we aged wearing shoes have lots most of our natural foot muscle. Give you body time to adjust to this type of Footwear before attempting anything you see on this Site.