Canyonlands National Park

For my first foray into Canyonlands I landed on the area aptly named Island in the Sky; a mesa surrounded by canyons on the northeast side of the park, near Arches and Moab. It was gusty the day I arrived. Blustery. Having had this landscape on my mind since the beginning of the trip, I immediately sought out canyon rims, cliff sides and open spaces. The wind certainly added to the  thrill. Nothing like a fluctuating gale to batter, buffet and jostle you while standing next to a certain, plummeting death. That’ll get your heart rate up.

I was camped at Willow Creek campground, which was a perfect spot to explore Aztec Butte, Green River Overlook, Grand View Point and all sorts of trails in between.

Granary near Aztec Butte
Granary near Aztec Butte
Grand View Overlook
Grand View Overlook
Taking in the sunset at the Green River Overlook
Taking in the sunset at the Green River Overlook

On my second day in the park the wind died down, and the early September weather was perfect for a hike. After a talk with a very helpful ranger, I  decided on the Neck Spring trail. The trail head begins opposite Shafer Canyon and covers diverse territory. I scrambled down from the mesa top to the canyon floor, wandered through thickets, around cottonwoods nestled into springs strewn with cowboy relics and pushed through soft, sandy pathways marked with animal tracks (even saw a ringtail print!)

Cowboy relics left on the Neck Spring trail
Cowboy relics left on the Neck Spring trail

I strode out onto a ledge for a look into Taylor Canyon, gripped my way up the sandstone slabs to gain the mesa top again and finished off the hike in a spattering of rain next to Shafer Canyon.

A view into Taylor Canyon from the Neck Spring trail
A view into Taylor Canyon from the Neck Spring trail

Neck Spring trail ends at the Shafer Canyon overlook. You get a long, lingering look at the Shafer Trail Road which leads to the White Rim Road which leads to about a million and a half breath stealing, tear educing, awe striking views into an icon of the southwest.

The Shafer Trail Road into Shafer Canyon
The Shafer Trail Road into Shafer Canyon and bliss

Rains made the Shafer road a hazard for anything but a knobby tired, jacked up, rock climbing rig. Lady Bird, my little Subaru Outback Sport, wasn’t going to conquer the quicksand between me and blissed out canyon views. Until next time, Island in the Sky…when we can spend more time together.

Just about a month after my first visit to Canyonlands, I came back through the south end for a night in the Needles. I came in about 20 minutes before the rain did, just to find Squaw Flat campground full. I was racing the rain. It looked really bad; low grey clouds that seemed to drag along the canyon floor, a black band near the horizon line, a chill that stung my fingertips. I secured a site at the Needles Outpost campground in time for the sky to drop buckets.

I stayed in the car, hoping it would let up enough for me to put my tent up. No dice. The rain came down harder. From the driver’s seat I looked over my right shoulder, eyed the backseat of the car and made peace with a cramped night squeezed between freeze dried food and a cooler.

When I was settled in and reading, the lightening came; A big flash followed immediately by a crashing boom. I was up in a snap, looking out of the windshield. I could see the lighting moving. It was diffused by the low clouds. It was moving fast and moving towards me. The third flash and boom was about a hundred yards away. I knew it was coming at me. If not right on top of me, then very, very close. I moved to the center of the backseat, pulled the sleeping bag around me, put my pillow in one window and my rain jacket & sweatshirt in the other in case the windows blew out. I was that certain. Then the lightening just stopped. Right when I was ready for the worst. Thank goodness. 

The next morning I took a drive out to Pothole Point, figuring that all pools would provide excellent reflections of the rising sun. The colors were muted, but the potholes were full.

Pothole Point, Needles
Pothole Point, Needles

Soon after the sun was up, I was on the road. Capitol Reef and Kodachrome Canyon was on my list. I didn’t see anything close to what Needles has to offer. It’s a do-over for sure.

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