Grand Gulch Primitive Area

2009 Visitors: About 10,000.

Anasazi pictographs, Grand Gulch Primitive Area     Photo: Photograph by Ryan Salm

Main Drag: Zion National Park, Utah
2009 Visitors: 2,735,402
Restless and at home in Portland, Oregon, during our final college winter break in 1995, a friend and I decided to head to the Grand Canyon. Two days and 1,300 miles later, we arrived to find our destination...closed? Indeed, Newt Gingrich had shut down the federal government, the result of a bitter budget standoff with President Clinton, and our spontaneous adventure was collateral damage. So we took out the map, scanned the southeast corner of Utah, and came upon a place called the Grand Gulch. Gulch, canyon—same difference, right? Close enough. Setting out with our backpacks from the vacant ranger station on Highway 261, we entered via Kane Gulch, a series of descending sandstone ledges that dropped 600 feet over the next four miles. There, where the Kane meets the Grand, we spotted Junction Ruin, an Anasazi cliff dwelling overlooking a spectacular amphitheater. We camped for three nights, taking day hikes down the meandering canyon, "discovering" marvelously intact ruins, and never seeing another soul. BEST CAMPSITE: Wherever you decide to stop (overnight permits, $8; 435-587-1500). The Buckhorn Llama Company offers guided multi-day pack trips in the spring and fall for $250 per person per day (llamapack.com). BEST LODGE: Valley of the Gods Bed and Breakfast, about 20 miles south from the Kane Gulch ranger station (doubles, $155; 970-749-1164).

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