Dark Canyon via Woodenshoe Canyon

This canyon system runs out of the Manti La-Sal National Forest north of Natural Bridges National Monument, and drains westward into the Colorado River. Louise and I had always been intrigued by what we had heard and read of this area, but for one reason or another had not been able to explore it until 1997. We entered through Woodenshoe Canyon.

The upper cliffs of Woodenshoe Canyon are composed of the Cedar Mesa Sandstone, which is also seen at Natural Bridges, and in the Grand Gulch Primitive Area, further south. Anasazi ruins can be found here and there among the most southerly-facing of the ledges and alcoves.
This is a vista of the canyon from within a ruin. While shelter, security, and access to farmable land were probably the main concerns of the Anasazi in selecting a home site, the quality of the view was surely a significant bonus!
The lower part of Woodenshoe Canyon, as one approaches the confluence with Dark Canyon, is characterized by ledges of fossil-bearing limestone, belonging to the Elephant Canyon Formation. These are mostly marine fossils, such as brachiopods and crinoids. Both the limestone and the overlaying sandstone were deposited during the Permian age, over 230 million years ago.
Many small waterfalls descend the limestone ledges in lower Woodenshoe Canyon.
Our first campsite was located a short distance up Cherry Canyon, a small, spring-fed side canyon near the bottom of the initial descent into Woodenshoe Canyon. This part of the canyon is in the pine-oak belt, as can be seen by the ponderosa pines around our tent.
Louise surveys the lower canyon beyond our second camp. You can see that we have reached the pinon-juniper belt by this stage. Down toward the confluence with Dark Canyon, willows and cottonwoods begin to appear.

The Dark Canyon Plateau is located just north of Natural Bridges National Monument. The more than 100,000 acres is jointly managed by the Forest Service (the eastern portion) and the Bureau of Land Management (the western portion). The canyon system drains west into the Colorado River above Lake Powell - this extreme lower end is part of the Glen Canyon Recreation Area, and is managed by the National Park Service. There are many entry points to this area, the most popular and easiest being from graded dirt roads that lead from the access road to Bridges, over Bear's Ears pass.

More information is available from the Manti-LaSal National Forest ranger station, 496 East Central, PO Box 820, Monticello, Utah 84535. The phone number is (801) 587-2041. Information is also available from the BLM, 435 North Main, PO Box 7, Monticello, Utah 84535. The phone number is (801) 587-2141.