A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Fry Canyon Ruins and Slot

June 15, 2019
Emilie Phillips

This is the eighth day of our two week flying and hiking trip to the Rockies. Check out posts from the rest of the trip.

Saturday, after two days of maintenance and down time at Moab, we were ready to go fly again. We had already flown up to the mountains and down through a tight canyon approach. We had hiked those same mountains and down into other canyons. To have seen some of everything on our big Utah trip, we still needed to land alongside a big river, hike a slot canyon, and see ancient Pueblo ruins. We could fit all that in one day with a quick landing at Mineral Canyon, then on to Fry Canyon for the day’s hike.

Mineral Canyon

Descending Hell Roaring Canyon

Days ago when we had first seen Mineral Canyon, it looked too hard to land. While grounded in Moab, we got some good advice on how to fly the approach:

  • descend in Hell Roaring Canyon
  • turn left at the Green River and continue descending
  • land straight in to the south
Climbing up out of the Green River Canyon

I scoped out the approach track, flying above the canyon rims. Everything looked good below. Then I descended into the canyons for the real approach. That was some amazing flying. Not difficult, but impressive. Red cliffs to either side and then vibrant green vegetation once I got down into the Green River canyon. Afterwards we realized neither of us had thought to plan a missed approach. After Mineral canyon, we continued to Fry Canyon.

See below for all photos and GPS track of the flight.

Fry Canyon

Looking for a way down

Despite dithering over the perfect parking and camping spot, we started hiking before lunch. Fry Canyon had several routes of interest. Tyson and I each remembered conflicting details from the guidebooks and blog posts. We opted to hike along the southern canyon rim and find our own way down. Another option was to hike a nearby road to where it intersected Fry Canyon. The first drainage we encountered was a smooth bowl with steep edges too steep to climb. The second drainage had a series of small drop off that we could descend.

We decided to climb right back out the other side of the canyon to go see the ruins first. There is supposedly a trail on the other side, back a distance from the canyon. We found a reliable use trail along the rim. But the real trail farther back was very inconsistent. At every drainage, it split into ten use trails. Partway between drainages, all the use trails would converge, but then climbing out of the next drainage we would loose it again. I had expected a definite trail to the ruins. We didn’t find that either. We did find a cairn at the edge of the canyon with surrounding rocks that matched the guidebook. We looked all around, but we couldn’t find a safe way down. We couldn’t even lean over the edge to see the ruins or the carved moki steps. The ancient Pueblo defenses had defeated us.

Emilie playing flute

The previous day, when we were stuck in Moab, I had an attack of tourism and bought a Native American flute. The lady selling it mentioned it would sound wonderful in a canyon. Isaac latched onto this idea and insisted that I play music for the ruins.

After a bit of music, we felt too hot to continue overland down into White Canyon, so we turned back to explore the slot canyon in Fry Canyon.

Thunderstorm headed for us

As we hiked along the rim, I noticed one of the poofy clouds was more than just poofy. It was towering and starting to develop an anvil. Thunderstorm.

Crud, Tyson and I realized we hadn’t tied the airplane down. Lesson learned. Always tie the airplane down even if you are just going for a local hike and it’s a pain in the neck to make an anchor. We hurried back as fast as we could, limited by Isaac who was increasingly hot, tired, and hungry. Tyson and I couldn’t come up with any good ideas where one person would go ahead to tie the plane down and then meet back up with the rest of us. Besides, hiking in a slot canyon with a thunderstorm nearby is a bad idea.

We took the road instead of scrambling along the southern canyon rim. By the time we got back to the plane, the thunderstorm had blown away behind Wingate Mesa. We tied the plane down anyway. Everyone was hungry. It was only 3PM, but I decided we should just eat dinner and rest. We carried our cooking gear to a great spot on the canyon rim with a view down into the ruins. It almost made up for not seeing the ruins up close. While we ate, we saw a group of 12 or so people amble onto the far slabs. The first person scampered down the cliff to the ruins. The second person climbed part way down, then hesitated. The third person pulled out a rope and set up a rappel anchor for the rest. We guessed he was the guide. They all had helmets, so they must have been a canyoneering group.

Emilie exploring beside the slot

We had plenty of daylight left after dinner, and the three of us were chipper again. The sky was clear, so we headed back into Fry Canyon to find the slot and to search for water. The canyon started with a sand bottom. After we passed several side passages, the floor changed to carved rock. Then a foot-wide crack opened in the middle of the floor and plummeted down out of sight. Guess I had misread the guidebook. We wouldn’t be hiking this slot canyon without a rope. We found two bolted rappel anchors. From the far end of our level, I spotted the ruins. What drove the original inhabitants to build their town in such an inaccessible spot?

We had sort of achieved our goals for Fry Canyon and had experienced a sampler of the Utah back country. But everywhere we had been, there was more we could have done:

  • canyoneering with more technical equipment
  • backpacking to destinations out of reach of a day hike
  • landing at all the airstrips we hadn’t yet visited
  • overland treks to more rock formations

We sat there in Fry Canyon for a while pondering all this. Then evening came, and we still needed to find water.

We found water in the first southern drainage. It was past Isaac’s bed time, and he was literally bouncing off the canyon walls while we filtered.

The weather forecast for the next few days predicted more thunderstorms and hot.

“Let’s go see Idaho,” Tyson said, “We know we want to come back to Utah. We don’t know anything about Idaho yet.”

Photos from flight

GPS track from flight

Photos from hike

GPS track from hike


Moon over Fry Canyon
  • Departing Moab, the engine oil heated up to 220F then stabilized. Climbing out from Mineral Canyon, it went up to 235F then returned to 210F in cruise. The oil cooler would probably still not be sufficient on a hot afternoon.
  • Departing Mineral Canyon, I considered continuing up the Green Canyon. I decided not to since I hadn’t scoped it out beforehand. That turned out to be a good choice. The canyon doubled back tight on itself.
  • We were able to climb out of the drainage where we filtered water even though we hadn’t thought we could climb down earlier in the day.
  • Camping at Fry Canyon, we had a full moon. It was so bright we all wrapped spare garments around our heads to try to sleep.


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Comments (2)

  • Nice writeup. I have still not visited Fry Canyon but I think I will this fall.

    I should have told you the story of a friend who’s 182 got damaged due to a passing thunderstorm at Horseshoe Canyon. It got pushed back on its tail and bent the trim tab at least 50 degrees. He didn’t notice until he took off. He’s lucky to have made it back to Canyonlands Airport. He learned the tie-down lesson that day.

    • Bring a rope and it sounds like you can do a day trip down Fry Canyon, east up White Canyon a bit, and then back across the rim trail.