Monday, April 05, 2010


Once upon a time, way back when I was a kid, my mom took my brother and me camping in the Needles District of Canyonlands with some of her work friends. We'd only recently moved to Utah and after spending my early years in western Washington state with a brief stint on the central coast of California, the desert was new and strange. We had a great time running around on the slick rock and chasing lizards through narrow cracks. I don't remember a lot from the trip, but it holds a sort of fairy tale place in my memory.

A couple of weeks ago, I went back for the first time. I had planned to take Mary on a backpacking trip in the spring (thanks for watching the kids Grandma Kathe) and wanted to go to Needles, but in the decades since my last visit, the park has gotten more restrictive and more crowded. By the time I called to get a permit, nothing was available.

We looked into some other destinations, but I had my heart set on Needles. So, when the day finally came, we loaded up our backpacks (just in case something opened up while we were pulling into the visitor's center) and figured that if we couldn't get a permit, we could just stay at the campground and see what we could with day hikes.

We ended up with a great campsite and it turns out you can see quite a lot on day hikes. Here are a few pictures to prove it:

A trailhead about 50 yards from our campsite headed up over the Navaho sandstone...

up some steps in the Entrada sandstone...

and down into Big Springs Canyon.

After hiking down Big Springs Canyon, we hiked up onto a fin from which you could look...
west and back into Big Springs Canyon or...

east into Squaw Canyon with the La Sal mountains in the background.

Mary enjoyed the stiff breeze as we hiked down into Squaw Canyon.

The later parts of the hike out Squaw Canyon were a little less interesting, but the running water and old trees added a little flair.

The next day the weather looked a bit menacing as we drove out on the Elephant Hill access road, hopped onto the Chesler Park Trail and headed for Druid Arch.

From the trailhead, the trail climbs quickly, including this nice stairway.

Once we were up out of the canyon we could see the snow obscuring the view to the south.

There was something interesting around just about every turn on the Chesler Park Trail.

We met up with the snow as we hiked south into Elephant Canyon. Yes, we are the same people who caused it to snow several inches in mid-August during our Uinta trip last year. Hiking with us is not for the faint of heart.

The snow fell harder as we got closer to Druid Arch, saturating the colors and keeping people away, so we had the place almost completely to ourselves.

The weather was clearing as we climbed this ladder toward the end of the trail with a side view of the arch in the background.

A photo doesn't do justice to size and weight of Druid Arch, but here's one anyway.

The view back up Elephant Canyon from the arch was impressive as the sky cleared.

We hiked back out Elephant Canyon and headed west toward Chesler Park.

On the trail we made a contribution to this cairn collection...

and took one more look into the Seussian world of Elephant Canyon before we...

passed through the gap up into Chesler Park...

where a hail storm was waiting for us and pelted us for half an hour or so before passing on and leaving us with...

some blue skies as we hiked hiked east toward the edge of the park ...

and looked down into the canyons below.

In farewell, one more nice snowstorm moved in and dumped on us as we hiked out.

The next morning there was ice on the potholes as we started out.

We hiked a few shorter trails, saw some shrimp coming to life in the potholes...

took a last look back at the Needles and headed for home.

OK, that turned out to be quite a few pictures. You can see these pictures and a few more in this Picasa web album and you can see some of the snow falling in this video on YouTube.

Overall the trip was a great success and I can't wait until July when reservations open up for next year's backcountry permits.

No comments: