Canyonlands – Needles District

Pothole Point
Friday, May 10We were out of camp early on Thursday to get resupplied and dump tanks in Moab. We just need to drive the 50 or so miles into the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. There seems to be a brief window of cooler weather lined up for the next several days, so we needed to take advantage of it as more hot weather is forecast. I am really hoping the remoteness of this unit of Canyonlands will mean less crowds. It’s a pretty long drive from Moab to only be able to drive around to a few overlooks. This section seems best suited for hikers – many miles of trails – though 4-wheeling roads are big and a climbing explosion at points outside the park are drawing more and more folks.

We set-up camp at our favorite BLM spot about 6 miles outside of the park. We have wonderful views all around and, while the gravel road to get here is pretty busy, this spot is sort of behind a slight rise and is protected from most dust and noise.Friday morning we were out for our first walkabout. We visited various spots that were short, easy walks to just get ourselves used to being here again. Out to Pothole Point first. So many place in the park have become sort of touchstones for me – places I have to visit wether I make images or not – just because I like being there. It is an easy short trail that leads, to and around, a large area of potholed sandstone slabs. Along the way, a few sandy areas sprouted wildflowers, but the main attraction are the potholes. With all the rain in the area, I’d hoped the potholes would have contained more water, but it was difficult to find any water at all. Just a few large pools. When there is lots of water, the pools become alive with critters, snails, shrimp and larva of many types grow and hatch in these transitory pools. In one pool, dozens of tiny snals were lined up along the edge like campers at a lake.We strolled along the trail, finding reflections in pools and wildflowers sprouting from small crevices. Still I could find no fully blooming yucca.  Once out on the main open section of sandstone, Wide views of the sandstone towers Needles is named for. The views are expansive and offer a tease for future hikes. The park road dead-ends just down a mile or two. Also there, the Confluence trailhead begins. We are thinking this will be one of the hikes we do – at least partially – at some point. But for now, we just walked around some of the massive formations at the start of the trail. Some nice views of the surrounding canyons can be seen from this high vantage, but as usual, I started looking down at the colorful sandstone layers.

Squaw Flat AreaWe had some lunch at a nearby picnic area and then decided to climb the sandstone formations around the Squaw Flat campground just a few miles away. We’ve camped there many times but as of late, we don’t even try for a space anymore. It can be done, but not worth the time with what we have left before the end of the trip.To climb the formation we only needed to follow the well worn trail over several sandstone shelfs. One is so steep a climbing cable was installed to aid hikers. But it really isn’t difficult to climb. The views from the top are worth the effort to get there.Once on top we could walk along the spine to get a look at several small sandstone amphitheaters carved by wind and rain. Patterns in the rock, both of color and texture continue to challenge me to make images. One particular bowl has attracted me for years. A small juniper tree sits in a paper thin layer of soil and looks out over the canyons below.I don’t know that I have ever fully seen this spot. I keep trying different approaches but still I come up short. Today of course, the flat light was not helping. This area also contains a portion of the Chesler Park trail – at least one of the trails that goes there. I followed it just a little as it dropped out of the bowl I was working in, to look at some of the other views. So many nice scenes of red rock with potholes and sandstone spires. We’re planning a longer hike for Saturday, so decided not to get ourselves too tired today. We wanted to do the hike to Chesler Park – our favorite place – today, but neither of our bodies wee feeling up to the 6 mile walk. Hoping tomorrow will be cool enough. It was a real shame we were not up to hiking it today. It is the coolest day of the week and would have been perfect for a long hike.We turned around and made our way back to the car and to camp. Much later back in camp and after dinner, I noticed how the cloud cover we’ve had all day was finally breaking up. As the sun broke through – about 20 minutes before sunset, it illuminated everything with low warm light. It was quite windy, but I couldn’t resist such nice light so out I went. At first I was just looking at the patches of the various flowers growing around me. Soon, I noticed a rainbow forming off in the distance. Then it became a double. This kept me plenty busy until it gradually began to fade. All that was left was some beautiful light illuminating verga as it fell over a distant mesa. It is just the perfect thing to be able to camp where something like this can occur. I just had to step out of the rig.

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