A week ago, I joined some folks and rode into the Outlaw Camp that the Wild Bunch used in Robbers Roost in South Eastern Utah. West Taylor is some sort a of expert on the old outlaws. He has researched their travels and stories and is very knowledgeable about what trails they used, as well as telling some of their stories. He was leading several friends into the Roost. I got wind of the trip and contacted West and invited myself to come along, He was happy to let me join his group, so we set up a meeting place for Noon on Thursday April 25th.
One of his friends had 6 friends down from Montana, enjoying 3 weeks of spring time riding in Utah while Montana was still covered in snow and Mud. That friend rode a mule and she had also invited several members of the Mule Riders Club. So we had about 20 people. But no more than 5 or 6 folks knew anybody else in the group. It turned out to be fun meeting new people and seeing new country.
The Trailhead for Robbers Roost is a 32 mile drive on the county dirt road after you leave Hiway 24. The road has a lot of washboard, So it took about 90 minutes to drive that 32 miles. We camped at Blue John Springs. ( Many of you may recognize that name from Aron Ralstons story where his hand got caught under a boulder and he had to cut it off to survive. The movie 127 Hours was his story)
Camp is just parking amongst the Pinon Pines and Junipers. The spring and the stock tank that catches water for the cattle in the area is just a 100 yards down the hill from where we parked. With the draught the spring was running very slow and the cattle and wild donkeys were drinking almost all the water. I had hauled in a 100 gal of my own water, So used it and only let the horses use the spring as we rode past.. There is an old shack at the parking area. Nobody knew the story of why the shack was there. West immediately moved his boys and himself in vs setting up a tent. He had three dogs with him, that he proclaimed would chase the pack rats off if they came out after dark.
Nearby there is an old corral the early ranchers in the area had build from the juniper trees. It is amazing that in this dry desert environment the trees have not rotted away in 100+ years they have lain on the ground.
We did a little ride Thursday afternoon to get familiar with the area.
Friday morning we got up and headed out. You have to cross several high flat areas before you get to the drop off into the hideout canyon. Those dark bluffs in about the center of the photo are the canyon where we were headed.
As we reached the canyon edge. We began our descent. Most folks exploring this canyon use one of two access point. To the right at the beginning of the canyon about 10 miles up and about 6 miles down the canyon. ( leaving about 16 miles in between) West in his research of old outlaw stories, notes and historical records from the possee's that chased the outlaws was pretty confident that they didn't ride the extra 6 miles. So he had scouted and found a way into the canyon. Which he was leading us down.
We dropped in a few hundred yards and then West suggested we dismount and lead our horses through a very narrow and steep descent.
It was a pretty challenging ledge to get down. No room for a slip up with a horse.
Once down off the side of the canyon, You are just riding on slick rock along the floor of the canyon
You can easily see why the sheriff Possee's did not follow the outlaws down this descent. One outlaw could easily defend and shot any law that tried to follow.
This was actually called Fortress Canyon, We followed it down several miles and than scrambled up and over a ridge and dropped down into HorseShoe Canyon, Which is where the old camps are located.
My horse contemplating his route down off the ridge into Horse Shoe Canyon
We found a little water in pot holes in the floor of Horse Shoe canyon, We rode up the canyon till we found the spring. The Outlaw camp was on the shelf above the spring. We enjoyed our lunch and gave the horses a break. After lunch we scrambled up the hill to the shelf and looked at what remains of the old camp. West has poked around the area and found a pile of old tin cans. tobacco tins, etc. There really is not much there to identify it as a camp. But there are so few people ever in this canyon, you see almost no signs of humans as you travel. That a collection of old rusty cans is really a large signal of some past use.
A couple of the riders looking off the shelf at the spring below.
And this is view off the shelf.
We rode around a bit on the shelf. There is a back way off the shelf that travels down the ridge and drops into the second outlaw camp several miles down the canyon at the second spring. The outlaws also wrote of riding east out off the shelf when they heading for Colorado. It will take some more exploring to discover that route out.
After we explored the shelf, (Looking for a route over to the Cowboy Cave that we never found) we came back and dropped off the shelf back into HorseShoe Canyon. This was a steep hill and we looked for a way down and ultimate just had to push over the edge and let the horse slide down on the butts,.
The horses got their work out for the day, Steep climbs, Steep descents, Lots of ledges that they had to step off. This little buckskin is a wild Mustang that West is training. ( all 4 of the horses he brought were mustangs) He let a son of friend ride this buckskin, The green horse blew up 4 times during the ride. The young man rode out two of rodeos and hit the dirt the other two times. I joked with him about riding a horse that went into bucking every two hours. As you can see, he spared no request of asking that green horse to go over all the obsticles. It will be a great horse with a few more rides.
Several of the riders decided they did not want to climb back up the trail we had used to descend into the canyon. They preferred the option of riding the extra 6 miles and having an easier climb out. But even that route out had its challenges. You have a very steep sand hill to climb to get out of the canyon bottom, Then you cross a lot of slick rock sidehills and downhills. Most of the horses were barefoot and did very well on the slick rock, The few with shoes, Get a little nervous of slipping and sliding on the steeper slick rock.
Finally you scramble back up another ledge, that several members of group choose to get off and lead their horses/mules up. Again, here is that brave young man riding that green mustang up a very challenging trail while others with well broke horses lead them.
Another look at that same ledge ascent
Once out of the canyons and back up on the flats, It's just a long flat 6 mile ride back to camp. Horses and dogs all slept very well that night
The next morning we got up, got the horses fed and watered and loaded in a couple trailers and drove about 10 miles up the gravel road. We unloaded and dropped into the head of the canyon and found our way over to Cowboy Cave. West knew the route to take from this starting point.
This cave was the source of a very large archeological find. They found historical artifacts that have been carbon dated back 5000 years. Hunter Baskets from ancient Indians. Also the outlaws and cowboys of the late 1800s used the cave for shelter.
There are a lot of Wild donkeys in the general area. You can't ride with out seeing a few.
West was a great guide and story teller. He has vast knowledge of the old outlaws and listening to him tell of their adventures was almost as enjoyable as seeing this new terrain. He is trying to raise money to produce a reality TV show about the outlaws. If you are interested you can see his pilot and hear one or two of his stories at Outlaw Stories of the Wild West-Click here to CONTRIBUTE! by West Taylor — Kickstarter
If you go, Know that water is scarce. Especially at places you can get your truck and trailer to camp. There are hidden springs and pot holes to water your horse during the ride, But it helps to know where they are and what the spacing is between water. This is BLM and State lands, So Certified weed free hay is required. This is very remote country, West joked that it was 24 hour response time for help in case of an emergency. Go prepared to take care of yourself. As the hiker discovered his survival after getting his hand pinned by a boulder. There are very few other people in the area to offer any help. There is no cell phone service. But it is one of the few places that you will ride, where there is no real trail, You just wander over what appears to be most accessable routes. The few trails you cross are deer and wild donkeys traveling to and from water. There is virtually no signs of mankind. No old road bed, no trail markers, no fences.
Wow! Okay, these pictures have made me decide to add riding there to my bucket list.
Gorgeous, and it's so amazing to see the places that are so prominent in our history.
great pics! way way to steep for me.. that just looks like knee and back pain !
i would like the bottom of the Canyon, lol, easy way in and out !
Painted Horse you are truly a Super Man! Wow wee. Gorgeous pictures and I was scared looking down on some of those trails.
uuuuuwhhooooowhwhwhooooo......I am a little scared of being where I might fall. Biscuit is barefooted but is a tenderfoot. He'd have to have his EasyBoot Gloves on! I'd love to ride there.
I just let out a big sigh...I think I was holding my breath looking at those pictures!
Awesome picts! I always enjoy your post. Such beautiful landscapes.
I am glad you posted this thread and shared the adventure with us. The pictures really help us enjoy the ride right along with you. Beautiful, yet deadly country to explore and enjoy. Thanks for posting.
What an amazing trip!
It's wonderful to "ride" these trails with you by way of your photos and narrative.
Sure shows me up for the big fat sissy-pants that I am though!
Awesome! Made me miss Utah. Used to ride bikes on the slick rock. Funny how they call it slick, when you stick like glue, lol. Now you need to show us the Arches. Love your pics and narration. Thank you!
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