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June 1, 2010


Red Isn’t Always Beautiful At Canyonlands National Park


Isn’t a red sky an omen that something bad is about to happen?  In this case I wasn’t left wondering what was being fortold, it was already happening and the sky was the result.

The day before was clear skies, sun screen, and a cool breeze.  At 9:30 Joe and I grabbed a campsite in the Needles portion of Canyonlands National Park.  With that done all sense of urgency about the day was finished.  We scoured the hiking map and picked out a 12 mile loop.

After my close call at the Grand Canyon with 2 liters of water I took 3 at Bryce, using much less than 2, and 4 liters this time factoring in sun, wind, and distance.  Once again 2 was more than enough.  Hopefully I don’t learn this lesson too many times and leave myself short down the road.

By 11 we were following a cairn trail scrambling up rocks, through Juniper trees, around sagebrush, and climbing into canyons.  This was all in the first 30 minutes!  Well before the halfway point we both agreed that it was the most enjoyable hike either of us had made on our trips.  The scenery isn’t as unique as Bryce or as vast as the Grand Canyon.  Instead you get variety.

Glimpses of where you think you’re headed pop in and out.  So do twists and turns leading you elsewhere.  Canyons can be completely hidden until the last moment when you are led into them coming out somewhere new altogether.  Even following the cairns is fun as it keeps your mind and eyes alert.

Canyonland Park contains a fragile landscape.  Where there is soil, it’s a living soil of lichen and cyanobacter, that grow and crust over time.  A single footprint in this ruins years worth of effort.  Because of this paths are narrow and we walked in a single file.

Game paths criss cross the terrain.  In places like this my mind wonders how the trail I’m on came to be?  Was it a game trail at one time too?  Did Indians start lowering it below the untramped soil?  Certainly, in this case, it wasn’t simply the shortest path between two points.  Still it may have been the easiest.

The Needles area of Canyonlands is made for exploring and there are only two ways to do it; by foot or 4 wheel drive.  This limits the number of people that visit, and in turn, rewards those that do with a glimpse back in time at how things look and sound without factories, highways, and subdivisions.

After one night Joe and I headed to Moab and its red sky, not from a breathtaking sunset, but from another windwstorm filling the sky with dust.  Ok, it wasn’t always red, sometimes it was a murky brown just like the Colorado River we camped next to.  We used Moab as a basecamp to visit the northern portion of Canyonlands NP, known as the “Island In the Sky”, and Arches National Park and we didn’t let the dust stop us.

The Island In the Sky is 2,000 feet above the Colorado and Green Rivers which join to its south.  Vistas tower over both rivers and roads whisk you along from one overlook to the next.  Honestly, it was a letdown after our experience at Needles the previous day, compounded by the limited visibility.  I hesitated even getting my camera out and only did a couple of times.

Back in Moab my tent held up like a champ after I quickly abandoned my attempt at getting stakes into our dirt pad and moved to a patch of grass.  Joe and I amused ourselves watching our neighbors trying to get their tents together.  Once they did we went over to say hi and Joe showed them how to use their campe stove.  Turns out they were a group of engineers from MIT.  The best schooling in the world can’t replace experience!

Despite the ominous sky we had one great day and made what we could out of the second.  Mainly, we were grateful that we were able to enjoy our hike in Needles before the wind took over.

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jun 3 2010

    WOW! These pictures are fantastic! So weird though. I know a million people going to that canyon right now. Must be the time of year or something.

    • Jun 4 2010

      Thanks Erica, glad you like them!

  2. Jun 7 2010

    Glad you guys have time before the wind, the picture collection is really breathtaking!


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