Part two of our Spring Break adventure had us heading west from Arches to Canyonlands National Park. We spent two days in this park in two if it’s three distinctly different areas. We visited the Needles district first, which is in the south eastern area of the park. The Needles is an interesting area, and I’m somewhat at a loss to describe the landscape there. It’s almost as though the consistency of the rock was changed to hot wax, and then dribbled out to form columns, blobs and mushroom-like formations. We even camped under our own large mushroom of a rock that night, which somewhat cut down on the wind (yes, there was MORE wind).
After we arrived at the park and set up camp, we decided to go for a hike. We decided on the Chesler Park Trail, which twists and turns through towering spires of striped red, orange and cream colored rock. We climbed over large rock blobs, down through slot canyons, and between towers of rocks much much taller than our house. The trail leads to an awe inspiring amphitheater of rock towers all lined up in a row. It looks like a fossilized cityscape dropped off in the desert. Fascinating. (yes, I know I’m going a bit overboard with the superlatives. Deal.)
The next day, we left the Needles area, and headed up north to the Island in the Sky area. I thought the NPS had gone a bit overboard with the name, until I saw the place. This section of the park is located on the top of a giant mesa, and from the edge, you look out over the different levels of sub-mesa, all the way down to the valley floor where the Green River meets the Colorado, thousands of feet below. The views were a bit ridiculous. We also visited Mesa Arch, which while interesting, was very crowded. The arch has a killer view down into the valley and of the snow-capped peaks beyond, and the drop off is immediate. There were many families with small children who were being not so attentive. We got out of there quickly because I kept getting more and more scared for other people’s children!
We decided to do a short backpack that night, since the campground was full, and we wanted a bit more solitute. Since this national park is not heavily visited, there aren’t really backpacker campsites exactly, they have “backpacking zones”. There was a one party limit in our zone, so we were it. Sweet. We hiked out onto a slender finger of mesa poking out into the void and really felt the immensity of all. that. space. It was quite humbling really. We had our dinner on an outcropping of rock near the brim while we watched the sun go down and make the desert landscape burn even more orange. We also packed the kindle in, so that we could read to each other. You may laugh, but we’ve often been known to bring books or games when we backpack. Tom even carried the hardback version of the sixth Harry Potter on a three day trip on Lake Chelan a few summers ago. Trust me, the kindle is an improvement.
Now, I am somewhat paranoid, especially when we’re backpacking out in the middle of nowhere; I’m conviced every rustle of a branch is a cougar coming to eat us, or that scorpions and rattlesnakes are going to take up residence in my boots and backpack. This trip was no exception. Luckily the night wasn’t too windy (!), so I made it through alright, and even slept pretty well.
The next morning, we did a few short walks around the park to see some of the different areas and vistas we hadn’t seen yet. We did a two mile trip out to a different finger of mesa where we got a rare great shot of the two of us together! The thing that surprised me most about trails in this park was the total lack of railings. Now, I’m not a huge proponent of making things feel safer than they actually are and giving people a false sense of security, but we’re talking about drops of thousands of feet here! While it was fascinating seeing that kind of exposure, it was a bit heady for me. I’m pretty sure my dad would have either passed out or refused to get out of the car. The views were totally worth it though.