Needles, Arches & Snakes


Crew picture at Delicate Arch

Crew picture at Delicate Arch

A couple of weeks ago, we again found the opportunity between semesters to enjoy a family vacation.

Once again, our destination was the great State of Utah. We enjoy short backpacking excursions and day hikes. In early/mid May, many of the most desirable areas in the United States to enjoy such pursuits still lay under a blanket of snow. This is not the case in Utah, where May typically is the driest month and offers up warm sunny days and cool nights. Perfect hiking weather.

The last time we visited, we spent our time in the environs of Escalante. This time, we set out to explore deeper into the country that is contained within the boundaries of Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.

Canyonlands National Park is huge. It is separated into distinct districts by the mighty Green and Colorado Rivers. Much of the Park is accessible only on foot or via Jeep trails. Our venture took us into the Needles District for a two-night backpacking trip and camp in Chesler Park. After the backpacking, we vacationed in a more civilized manner, driving through the region, taking on day hikes and retiring to a nice condo we rented just south of Moab.

The entire trip is chronicled here in this 20 minute video.

We flew from Atlanta direct to Salt Lake City, got our four wheel drive rental car and drove to REI to get a fuel canister for our backpacking stove. From there, we drove the 4 hours or so to Moab.

The next morning , we got an early start and drove south to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Along the way, we stopped at Newspaper Rock, a well preserved rock panel featuring a large collection of petroglyphs.

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Newspaper Rock. Note, how–even in pre-history–there was a liberal slant to the media.

After snapping a few pictures, we proceeded into the Visitor Center of the Park were we picked up the backcountry permit I had reserved and marked our map to record the latest information for reliable water sources. Our camp in Chesler Park is a dry camp–no water in the area. The nearest spring was about 2 miles away (a 4 mile round trip), so we each packed in a fair amount of water: 6 liters each. This added considerably to our pack weight. One liter of water weighs 2.204 pounds. So each of us was carrying 13 + pounds of water, exclusive of our tent, sleeping bags, food, clothing and so forth.

Click to expand

Click to expand

Yes, you need a backcountry permit to enjoy camping in the area. As is typically the case, the limited campsites are filled up fast, so you need to plan accordingly. You also need to pack out your own waste. And I don’t just mean your garbage. You can purchase wag bags at the Visitor Center. Although there were no bears in the area we camped, we opted to use our bear canister because there are plenty of critters that can defeat a bear bag.

From the Visitor Center, we drove up the dirt road to the Elephant Hill Trailhead, to begin our trek.

From the very start, the views in the Needles district, with the La Sal Mountains in the background, did not disappoint.

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IMG_9721As we approached Chesler Park, the Needles revealed themselves.

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Approaching camp

Approaching camp

Chesler Park views from camp.

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That first evening, while relaxing at our campsite, minding our own business, we we visited by a rattlesnake.

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Daniel was sitting in that chair when it appeared. Eileen was lying on a mat on the ground. Needless to say, they both quickly gave the snake a wide berth. After Daniel took these pictures, the snake was deftly removed with the aide of my hiking sticks. But for the rest of our time at camp we kept vigilant for poisonous interlopers.

The next morning, after breakfast, we set out to hike the Joint Trail. The Joint Trail is a really cool crack in the rock with narrow passage. It’s good fun. The Joint Trail portion of the video above can be seen here.

En route to the Joint Trail.

Recording the Joint Trail video.

Recording the Joint Trail video.

After the Joint Trail, we headed back to camp for lunch.

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After lunch, Daniel and I headed out on a 6 mile round trip hike to Druid Arch and to refill our water supply.

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Druid Arch

Later that evening, while exploring the canyons around our camp, we encountered this beautiful four foot long (non-venomous) Gopher (aka Bull) snake.

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Click on picture to see the snake moving!

Everything gets hung to avoid getting gnawed at.

Everything gets hung to avoid getting gnawed at.

The following morning, we broke camp and set our back to the Elephant Hill trailhead and our car.

Morning light in Chesler Park

Morning light in Chesler Park

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Last look down to Chesler Park.

Last look down to Chesler Park.

Down into Elephant Canyon.

Down into Elephant Canyon.

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Approaching Elephant Hill trailhead.

Approaching Elephant Hill trailhead.

Back in Moab, we celebrated our return to civilization by defiling our bodies with greasy food and good beer.

The next day, we headed up to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. Just before the entrance, we turned into Dead Horse Point State Park to take in the Colorado River overlook.

Colorado River bend overlook

Colorado River bend overlook

Potash mine and La Sal Mountains

Potash mine and La Sal Mountains

After seeing the Colorado from above, we headed over to the National Park visitor center to get the status of the Shafer Trail. The Shafer Trail is a winding dirt road that drops down from the canyon rim, with many twists and turns, reaching the bottom after about four miles. Browsing around the internet, the Shafer Trail is variously described as either the most harrowing experience of one’s life or as no big deal. From my experience, I would classify it as fun/engaging. In any event, you would never want to do this in the rain or snow when the road is wet, icy, or muddy. Hence , the stop at the Visitor Center to get the latest intel on the Road status.

Once we wound our way to the bottom of the Shafer Trail, we turned onto Potash Road (which is part dirt and part paved) back to Moab. Before Moab, we stopped and hiked to the highly recommended Corona Arch (3 miles, RT). We also checked out petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks as we neared town.

The Corona Arch is now fairly well known due to a YouTube video that went viral in 2012.

We had no such ambitions. We only sought to enjoy the majesty of the arch.

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Colorado River along Potash Road

Colorado River along Potash Road

For our final day, we ventured into Arches National Park to hike to Delicate Arch (3 miles, RT) and then tour some of the various arches in the Park.

At the very beginning of the trail, there’s an opportunity to view some petroglyphs.

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Double Arch

Double Arch

Utah is such a great place to be. We always enjoy our time there. I need to start planning for our return trip!

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One Response to Needles, Arches & Snakes

  1. Pingback: Round 10, P90X3, Days 82 – 90: Another Ending. Or Beginning? | Bodamer Blog

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