A Week in Canyonlands

The past seven days have been spent in Canyonlands National Park in Utah. We’ve had no internet connection and only one bar on cell phones, so once again, this post is a partial recap of what we’ve done. I’ll catch up on the rest in the next post.

Our last morning in Natural Bridges was indeed very cold and cloudy. There were a few snowflakes floating around, but no more than that. We decided to break camp and head for Blanding to restock and hook-up for a day. From Blanding, we headed straight to Canyonlands. This was a week ago last Tuesday and we hoped to be able to get a campsite in the park, but it is already busy here and it being spring break and Easter week, we missed out on our first try. No matter, there is excellent BLM camping in several places just outside the park, so we ended up in one of these spots for the night. Actually, many of these spots are better than the campground. The exposure is more open for using the solar panels – sun till 7:00 PM verses about 4:00 PM because of the rocks that all the campsites abut. The view is also better, with panoramic sight lines all around. The tradeoff is that everything we do requires 5-8 mile drive, as most trailheads leave right from the campgrounds. While there is no dump station in the park, fresh water is available and slop sinks at the restroom allow us to dump off some of the gray water. At a small rustic private RV park just outside the park boundary, called Canyonlands Outpost, you can dump the black if need be – for a price. $15 to dump. Gas is available if you are desperate for $6.50/gallon. Camping there is $20.00/night, but why do that when for $7.50 in park or free outside better sites are waiting?

So after setting up outside the park, we headed in to do a little hike. On the way back to the main road, I noticed another RV coming in. I can see it’s a Lazy Daze because of the fake windows, but also on the windows is a stencil that says “KOKO”. I only know Koko (aka Don and Dorothy Malpas) from the the Lazy Daze Yahoo web group I belong to, but you get to know people, at least to some degree this way, so we stopped to let them know where we were camped. We continued into the park for a hike on the 2.4 mile Slickrock trail. It was a beautiful afternoon with light breezes and we had a nice break-in hike.

Returning to our campsite, we see that Don and Dorothy have camped right over the rise from us. Don comes right over and asks us to evening cocktails. This started a trend that will continue up through Moab later into the next week. Don and Dorothy are great. A couple of southerners, they seem to break many of the stereotypes we northerners have wrongly come to expect. They are not gun totin’, tobacco chewin’ rednecks – well maybe their necks are a little red. Don has a bit of the blarney about him and Dorothy is always ready with a smile and warm words. They know many of the same LD’ers we have met along the way and I am happy to count them as new friends. They also agreed to let me photograph them for my Nomads project. I really admire folks like this. They both have health issues, but have adapted and continue to travel. They pull a jeep and 2 kayaks along with them and stay very active. Hope to see more of them along the way.

The next morning, Wednesday, Mary and I headed into the park to lurk for a campground. This technique involves trolling through the campground looking for people packing up to leave, placing chairs or something else in the driveway and waiting for them to leave. We knew several would be opening up as their tags showed departure dates. Because people often extend their stays, this is not always foolproof. We got there at about 8:15 AM and already several other people had beat us to campsites and a few others  had extended. I finally found one site with people getting ready to leave. Checkout time is supposed to be 10:00 AM, but they didn’t leave till 11:00. By the time we got set-up, it was after noon and we just hung out the remainder of the day until Don and Dorothy came by for evening cocktails.

Thursday we set out on the longest planned hike of the trip so far. This was going to be a 7 mile hike around and through Lost Canyon. I don’t think we’ve ever done this portion of the trail before, so it was going to be new territory for us. Unfortunately we misinterpreted a sign along the trail and went the wrong way. We ended up at Peekaboo Springs. We didn’t realize it was wrong until we got to within a mile of the trails’ end. It is a spectacular hike in, with the trail going through several huge sandstone amphitheaters, and views, views, views. If this isn’t nice, what is? We’ve done this hike before, and if you go all the way to the pictographs, it’s a total of 11 miles. When we realized our mistake we turned back and kept the hike to 9. Our hike through Lost Canyon will have to wait till next trip. We were beat afterward, so it was a rum a potato chip finish to the day and us.

Friday our friends Don and Janet who live in nearby La Sal joined us with their trick-out 4-wheel drive jeep for an amazing off-road trip around the park. Access to the backcountry is pretty extensive, but first you must get past Elephant Hill. This part of the trail is rated at 3.4 on a difficulty scale of 10. It should be much higher. It involves high drop-offs, more than hairpin turns – sometimes driving backwards steeply backwards to negotiate. Once past this spot, most of the rest is much easier. Still very rough in parts, but now you are in the backcountry to places few get to go.

Don and Janet are very knowledgeable about the area and are a lot of fun to be with. Their viewpoint about 4-wheeling is not the thrill of conquering the path, but getting to the wonderful places the paths provide. Don’s many years of doing this has made him a very skillful driver and we rarely felt in fear of our lives. This includes a spot called Bobby Hole – a very steep, rocky and slippery incline even he was a little nervous about initially. It is rated at about a 7 on the scale, but it actually went really well.

After that he brought us to several sites with wonderful pictographs, other sites with ancient stone dwellings. Later, he brought us out to Cathedral Point, way above Lavender and Davis Canyons, with amazing views of arches and cliff dwellings that because of long term road closures, are otherwise inaccessible at  this time.

Saturday was mostly a down day. We got a late start and took a 40 mile drive back to Monticello. We wanted to check out a road through the Abaho mountains we had some questions about, and needed to buy a few groceries and take care of some business in town. By the time we got back, it was cocktail time again with Don and Dorothy at their place with a wonderful sunset. I photographed them here just before we left for the day.

Sunday we set out on our favorite hike in the park. It winds it way up and down through several canyons, past sandstone spires, and eventually ends up in an area called Chesler Park. Chesler is a wide open area of spires and meadows. It is so quiet and peaceful with views that seem to go on forever. We just love it. We were still feeling pretty good by the time we hit the 3 mile mark at Chesler, so we decided to take a spur trail toward Devil’s Garden. We hike about a mile in before stopping for lunch in a nice shady spot. We felt the extra two miles we added on, but were still feeling good by hikes end.

Hikers on the trail.

These several days have been just about perfect weather. Saturday and Sunday, temps were in the 70’s, and later 80’s. We had some pretty strong winds earlier in the week with sustained gusts around 35-45 mph at times. We were glad to be able to hunker down in the Lazy Daze.

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One Response to A Week in Canyonlands

  1. Jim says:

    Great photos as usual. That is a spectacular place. Glad you got to meet Don and Dorothy. They like their Happy Hours!

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