Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Gorgeous Gorges Trip, Day 8

Spring Break Day 8
Friday, March 20, 2015
Moab to Blanding, Utah
Canyonlands National Park

We had officially been on vacation for a week now. We had done so much hiking and exploring and were starting to wear out. But we still had one more national park in Utah to see - Canyonlands National Park! Neither of us had been here before, and we honestly didn't hear much about it from anyone else, so it was kind of the wild card here. We decided to take it easy, not wear ourselves out today, and just enjoy it as much as we could.

Canyonlands is a very large park that is split into 3 sections by the rivers that flow through: Islands in the Sky to the North, Needles in the Southeast, and The Maze to the West. It is impossible to drive from one part of the park to the other, and going to the Maze is only possible by backpacking. As fun as backpacking sounded, we had only set aside one day for this park, so it was out of the question. We decided to visit the Needles district because it was on our way back to Arizona.

It was really starting to warm up, so we probably would have benefitted from leaving much earlier than we did, but after our early morning the day before we felt like we deserved to sleep in. The drive from Moab to the visitor's center was over 1 ½ hours long, and there were significantly less people on the drive and in the park. We stopped in the visitor's center to find the best way to see the park today.

What we learned is that this park is excellent for backpacking and ATV-ing, but not necessarily for day visits. I took a look at the list of hikes in the area, and saw that they had a couple "Easy hikes" that were less than 2 miles, and then several "Strenuous hikes" that were 8+ miles. It seemed that everything worth seeing was 10+ miles of hiking. The one trail that had been recommended to us was Chesler Park, and so we decided to do an in-and-out hike rather than doing the 11 mile loop. As fun as it would have been, it was already after 10 and the temperature was creeping up.

We drove on a gravel road to the Elephant Hill Trailhead and started on the trail. One of the first comments made about the trail was "More primitive than the Arches primitive trail!" Thankfully it was never too steep and the uphill sections never lasted too long. A lot of the trail was walking along slick rock and following cairns, and I was really growing fond of this type of trail. It's not something we get to hike on often in Tucson!

When we set out, our original intention was just to do a 5 mile hike round trip to the Needles Overlook on Chesler park trail, but as we were going we noticed that there was a side trail we could take to make it an 8 mile loop trail, and decided as long as we were here we should just do it! We made it to the overlook after one last steep section. 

It was on this day where I came to the realization that everything we had seen on vacation could be summarized in 2 words: Cool Rocks. After having seen 4 other national parks before this one, it was kind of underwhelming and harder to get excited about. No offense Canyonlands...I'm sure if we had done the trip in reverse, it could have had a better chance at impressing us. And to be fair, we probably missed some pretty cool sights by not wanting to hike more than 10 miles.

After stopping at the overlook, we continued on the loop trail. It took us through this large open area of "scrub land." Curtis said that he's pretty sure this is what the Veldt in Africa looks like...large open areas with rock formations in the distance. It was an easy trail, just hot without any shade. We didn't see anyone for quite a while on this part.

Snow capped mountains peeking out at us.

The trail looped around through the scrub area and returned to the slick rock. This was all easy and we were able to move along quickly. 

The most exciting part of this trail was when we found this deep cave-like thing. It was just this narrow path that went in a ways before ending with being closed off. There was a narrow split at the top with light shining through. Even Curtis isn't sure what to call it, but it was exciting and much cooler inside. We stopped here for lunch.

The light shining through the top of the "cave"

After the cave, the trail met up with a wash, and we followed the wash back to where the loop ended, then hiked back to our Jeep. There were more people on this part of the trail. It was surprising to me how often we were passing other hikers - I didn't even realize how fast we were going, or was everyone else just walking really slow?

A very narrow section of trail

After we reached the Jeep, we decided to call it a day in Canyonlands, and knew that if we ever came back we should prepare for backpacking, and do so in the spring or fall and not in the heat of the summer! As we drove the 50 mile stretch back to highway 191, we stopped at a few more places to letterbox.

Newspaper Rock

Another awesome sight of the day was Newspaper Rock, which is 13 miles West of highway 191 on the road to Canyonlands. The rock shows petroglyphs from cultures dating back over 1500 years ago, and all the way to this century. It was definitely the coolest petroglyph site we've seen in our travels!

We finished our drive for the day to Blanding, Utah. There weren't very many restaurants around us, but there happened to be a Chinese restaurant right next to our hotel. We decided to walk over and have dinner at 5:30...and long story short, 3 hours later we were back in our hotel room, famished and ready to dig in to our takeout. Who knew that it'd take so long to get dinner in Blanding? Maybe because it was a Friday night, at possibly the only restaurant within over 60 miles, and there were only 3 servers working? Oh well. At the end of the day, we were fed and happy, and ready for the last 2 days of our vacation.

Day 8 Wrap Up: Hiked 9 miles (8 in Canyonlands, 1 for letterboxing) Drove 175 miles
Highlight: the cave-like thing!

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