Hiking in Canyonlands NP

For the first time in weeks, I had to set the alarm clock, because on Friday, October 8, we were going to drive all the way south of Moab to the Canyonlands southern entrance, over 80 miles away. More than a sightseeing trip, our goal was to hike one of the dozens of hikes through the Needles rock formations, and we promptly departed at 8am, breakfast and lunch packed. We ate the breakfast sandwiches as we traveled south of Moab, and reached the national park’s Welcome Center about 9:30. Luckily, Dan was compelled to take only a few pictures along the way, and when we finally reached our trailhead, it was about 10am, and still nice and cool.

It looked as though the day was going to be perfect and blissfully cool. The Needles area of the park is historically a hot place to hike, but it was still 47 degrees when we started up the primitive steps that transported us from the parking lot into an amazing rock maze. In the beginning, we lost our way once, as I missed the rock cairns that were the only clues as to where the trail went over the rocks. Finding the cairns became a treasure hunt as we climbed up, over, around and through the huge rock hills. The trail not only gave us beautiful views, but we traveled through narrow, one way slot canyons, across sandy “green areas”, and climbed big, rocky hills. It was tiring hiking, and after the first 3 miles we knew we had to make a decision to either take an additional 5 mile loop or return to the car. Six miles seemed too short, but 11 miles seemed more than we wanted to undertake. There were many, well marked trail intersections where Dan consulted his maps, so we knew when we had reached the magic 3 mile point.

After Dan studied the maps a little longer, he concluded that there was a smaller loop shown on the map which would make our total hike only 8 and 1/2 miles instead of the 11 we intended, but it was not a trail mentioned by either of the park rangers we had consulted. Since it was not yet lunchtime, I agreed on the shorter loop hike, and we started across the sandy mesa, not having a clue what to expect. The first mile of the loop took across more of the sandy desert with the rock formations surrounding us, but soon we were led by cairns down towards a canyon where we had to do some rock scrambling to stay with the trail. We lunched in an incredible place, sitting on the rock ledge over the “trail” which was really just a scramble through a tight canyon. It was a cool, shady, magical place and it was hard to get our old bones going after lunch for the last 3 miles of adventure. There were lots of sit on your butt and slide to the rocks below, and more of the long, improbable steps down, but it was thrilling as we followed the cairns wherever they led us. After a particularly interesting trek of descending along the side of the canyon, we found ourselves walking in a big wash area which we followed off and on all the back to the intersection of the trail we been on earlier. But having completed the “loop”, there were still 1.5 miles left to get back to the parking lot, and we were getting tired. It was just after 3pm when we descended the long series of steps down into the parking area, and in spite of the fact that we were sweaty and hot, the car stated the temperature to be only in the 60′s. As we made our way out of the park, the temperature dipped into the 50′s, so we have no idea what it was while we were hiking, but we were thankful it was a “cool” day in the desert, or we would have been miserable, indeed. Totally different from mountain hiking, we rather enjoyed the rock hiking, where instead of a “trail” there could be long periods of walking along smooth rock formations with no foot path, following the “crumbs” left by others to find our way. We were thrilled with our first trip to the Needles, in spite of its remoteness and distance from Moab. Without picture stops, we found that the trip back to the RV park in north Moab was really just over and hour and a half, perfectly doable, especially since there are no places to park a motorcoach any closer.

We spent Saturday, October 9, doing absolutely nothing except a little bit of getting ready to leave. I could not even motivate myself to go to the swimming pool as the air temperature was quite cool, never reaching 70 degrees.

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