Granary Trail

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Canyonlands National Park Favorite Jeep Roads & Hiking Trails
pages 269-271

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Granary Trail, Canyonlands National Park      This short loop trail is full of surprises. The Anasazi granary at the end of the trail would be enough on its own to make the hike worthwhile. But as you walk the Granary Trail you will pass several other points of interest that combine to make this a truly extraordinary hike. In particular there is a spectacular view of the Colorado River from the upper rim of Cataract Canyon. Also from the rim you can look down into Surprise Valley, a large sunken valley on a plateau between the rim and the bottom of Cataract Canyon.

     Walk east from the Spanish Bottom Trailhead for 150 yards until you come to a trail junction where the Granary Trail departs from the Spanish Bottom Trail. Turn right here. The Granary Trail heads south along the base of the Dollhouse for a short distance, then it turns left along the southeast side of the formation. Here it seems that the trail must soon end, because there is nothing in front of you but an impregnable barrier of sandstone. But just before reaching the barrier the path suddenly makes a sharp right turn and climbs 25 feet through a small opening between the pinnacles. On the south side of the opening the Granary Trail drops down again to immerge on the west side of a small walled valley called a graben.
     Grabens are a fairly common feature in Canyonlands National Park, particularly in the Needles District, but when you first see one you will probably think it an odd formation indeed. Typically they are long, narrow valleys with flat, featureless bottoms surrounded by sheer sandstone cliffs. There is usually no outlet for water and no well-defined drainage in the bottom. What forces of nature could have formed these unusual valleys? That was a bewildering question for early geologists until it was discovered that a deep layer of salt underlies most of Canyonlands National Park. This salt, called the Paradox Formation, is notoriously unstable, and when it moves it sometimes causes the land above it to sink.
     The trail descends into this graben by way of a 150-foot-long crack that in places is only 18 inches wide. After losing 30 feet of elevation the Granary Trail reaches the flat bottom of the sunken valley and turns north for the next 0.2 mile. Near the northern end of the valley you will come to another trail junction where you must turn right to see the granary. Here the trail climbs up the eastern side of the graben and doubles back in a southerly direction for the next 0.5 mile.

Granary Trail, Canyonlands National Park      The amazing views along this last half-mile of the Granary Trail make it, in my opinion, the most interesting part of the entire loop. The trail follows closely along the rim of Cataract Canyon, and not only is the Colorado River clearly visible below but, amazingly, you will find yourself looking down into another much larger graben between the upper rim of the canyon and the Colorado River. This lower graben is called Surprise Valley; it is about 170 yards wide and 0.9 mile long. Surprise Valley parallels the Colorado River along a plateau that is 350 feet below the level of the Granary Trail and 800 feet above the water. From your vantage point you can see another well-defined path running along the bottom of Surprise Valley. This trail is not often used, but it is possible to access it from the Spanish Bottom Trail (see page 265).
     The Granary Trail finally turns away from the canyon rim and ends 3 minutes later in front of a small alcove that shelters two prehistoric granaries. One of the granaries is particularly interesting. In is about 8 feet long and it is divided into three separate compartments. My guess is that it was probably used by three different families for storing their foodstuffs.
     From the granaries you must retrace your steps 0.5 mile back to the trail junction in the bottom of the first graben and turn north toward the Spanish Bottom Trail. This 0.2-mile connecting trail between the Granary Trail to the Spanish Bottom Trail is also interesting in its own right. It traverses the east side of the Dollhouse, giving you an opportunity to see the impressive formation from another angle. When you reach the Spanish Bottom Trail you must turn left to return to the trailhead. Finally, after climbing about 180 feet over 0.5 mile the trail emerges through a small opening on the west side of the Dollhouse and ends at the road.

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