by Jim and Melanie
For our fourth day in the Moab UT area, we decided to hike in nearby Grandstaff Canyon instead of in the national parks. This canyon has an interesting history. Here are typical views of the left and right canyon walls. We met a lot of hikers, many of them with children and dogs.
William J. Grandstaff
The canyon got its name from Bill Grandstaff. Research has been done by the Moab Museum in an interesting post documenting his genealogy and life. He was probably born around 1840 into slavery, most likely in Virginia. He first appeared on a census in 1860 with a wife and daughter in Cincinnati OH. He was a member of Black Brigade in Cincinnati that intended to fight the Confederate troops if they invaded.
He appeared in 1870 in Omaha NE, and in 1880 in Utah territory. He and a Canadian trapper named Frenchie arrived as some of the first non-natives in the area up the Colorado River a few miles from present day Moab. It seems he ran a herd of his cattle in this canyon which now bears his name. It was protected from the harsh weather and had a steady supply of water and grass.
Bill didn’t stay long. Legends claim that he left quickly in 1881 after supplying Indians with alcohol. There are strong doubts about the truth of those claims. The canyon came to be known locally as N****r Bill canyon until the 1960s. It then was known as Negro Bill canyon. In 2017, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) renamed it Grandstaff Canyon.
After Bill left Moab, he was in Salida CO briefly, then in Glenwood Springs CO. There, he married Rebecca who was listed as a co-owner on multiple properties. He even ran for constable in Leadville CO in 1889.
Bill died in 1901. The Avalanche Echo newspaper had his obituary.
“The old man lived a solitary life on the top of the mountain where he had several mining claims which he has been working for the past six or seven years. He was accustomed to making regular trips to this town for the purpose of obtaining fresh provisions and visiting his friends, and when his absence became prolonged, they became alarmed.”– Avalanche Echo, August 22, 1901
The environs of Arches and Canyonlands are very dry and desert-like. This canyon has a stream a few feet wide running through it all year. The floor of the canyon is lush with trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. The protected environment makes a huge difference in survival for plants and small animals. Most of the time we were walking among trees and bushes near the stream. Here are some of the wildflowers that caught our eye.
Morning Glory Arch
Just over 2 miles into Grandstaff canyon is Morning Glory arch, the sixth longest in the world. This image is by Caleb Joyce in 2015. Notice the people below the arch for a sense of scale. There is also a person on a rope descending about half way down to the floor of the canyon. During our hike, we met a group of hikers who had descended into the canyon that way at this arch. They were on their way out of the canyon.