2 Days: Day 1 -- Shaman's Gallery
Above: view east from the Schmutz Spring Trailhead across Tuckup Canyon. Mesas of Kaibab Limestone, Toroweap Formation, Coconino Sandstone, and Hermit Shale rise above the Esplanade platform.
The Shaman's Gallery, tucked way in the western Grand Canyon is proof positive that there are still major discoveries to be made. The Old West is just that big. Whether it's dinosaur bones, Native American artifacts, or untrammeled slot canyons, there is still a lot of stuff out there that is unknown.
This unique panel of pictographs located in a remote corner of the park may have been noticed by passing cowboys several decades ago. But as is typical of most hard-working ranchers, they probably just regarded it a curiosity and went about their business.
That changed in 1986 when mule-wrangler and guide Gordon Smith reported the site to the Park Service. But the Shaman's style of art was so different from other known Grand Canyon rock-art sites that, according to Gordon, the park Superintendent didn't believe him and initially accused him of submitting photos of Australian art. It wasn't until Gordon led an archeologist to the site that the astonished officials learned they truly had something special.
Even though the gallery has been somewhat brought to light, you would never know it if you ever manage to visit the place. The NPS doesn't advertise it, and apparently they have sent threatening letters to people that have been too specific about its location.
Thanks to Gordon's hand-drawn map (I'd post a link, but it looks like Gordon's website has been removed?), I had no trouble finding the trailhead or the panel. But it took quite a bit more time than I thought to drive the maze of rough roads to get out there. I was hoping to to fit in a trip to the Wahweap Hoodoos in the evening, but I soon realized that due to the rough road, I'd be lucky to get back to Pipe Springs by dark. Once at the trailhead, I didn't see any sign of anyone else being there for a long time.
The trail drops 1700 feet in about 3.5 miles to the Shaman's Gallery. It's not a difficult hike and the scenery is great, especially in the late evening. With the tremendous expanse surrounding me and no indication of other human beings, I felt incredibly alone. And, initially, this was a good thing.
Above: well-preserved crinoid fossils can be found where the trail passes through a historic fence.
Relatively little research has been done on the panel, but early speculation is that much of the art dates back to at least 1000 B.C.
Above: staring into the angry eyes of a 3000-year old specter.
I have to admit, being out alone in the middle of nowhere, and having these ghostly figures staring down at me was a bit creepy. Gordon and others that have been there alone have reported a similar uneasiness. I later found out that the Natives had likely attempted to commune with the supernatural here. The figures are unlike anything I've seen before, especially the ones that apparently show internal organs, eyelashes, and multiple heads.
Above: the view from beneath the overhang that has protected Shaman's Gallery over the millennia.
I'll never forget the hike into Shaman's Gallery. I'd like to visit the place again and explore a bit more... but not alone.