Canyonlands National Park- Needles District
Habakkuk 2:20 says, "But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him."
Oh...the many ways you can begin to characterize the beauty of the Canyonlands. You can start with the obvious...the spectacular ways water carves and sculpts the canyons...the way erosion has perfectly shaped all the towers, spires, needles, and arches that just make up but a few of the many rock formations. You can focus on the desert palette...on how it's vibrant hues are perfectly painted in layers on those rock faces or how they come off the sky when the sun goes down. You could also take a gaze upwards at the midnight sky...where each star shines more brilliant than the next!
However, what amazed me most of all, were the several moments I heard nothing at all. I mean absolute and complete silence. The Earth literally stood still around me. No breeze...not one bird chirping...no bug buzzing by...it's as if I were in a vacuum and all noise cease to exist. All I could hear was the inner ringing of my ear. I looked around for movement...and found none. Then I was humbled!
Being in these quiet and still moments in a place of wondrous creation did not remind me of God the Creator. No...I could see the creator clearly as soon as I drove into the region. Everything around me, still and in complete silence reminded me of God, the sovereign and all powerful...The One who is in control of all! To see all the wonder coming to a complete halt and be silent before Him was a reminder to bow down to the One who is God of all!
It was also a reminder of who we are and how much we mean to Him. You see, though God continues to shape and mold beauty all around us...we still are his most beautiful creation! He carved and sculpted us in His image (Genesis 1:26). He then breathed life into us and then instilled purpose like no other thing on Earth. We are God's most proud creation...
...and just like the mighty towers and the desert winds bow down in silence...we too shall stand in silence before him. To stop everything we are doing, come to a complete halt and bow down and revere and honor the one who is sovereign and all powerful...the One who is in control of all our lives!
Canyonlands National Park-Needles District
Who: Brad Hardin (Brother in Law) and me
When: March 29-31, 2012
What: Backpacking to Chesler Park, Druid Arch, Squaw Canyon and hiking to the Confluence.
Mileage: 34.9 miles (but really, we hiked, scrambled, and scooted more mileage than the official trail map indicates...we went off trail many times...sometime on purpose to scramble up a butte or by accident due to missing a cairn and heading off in the wrong direction.)
...a quick explanation of the picture above...I figure I would post the official park description instead of butchering it myself...this petroglyph can be found on the road into the Needles District.
TH to Chesler Park Backcountry site 3, Joint Trail, and complete the Chesler Park Loop
Mileage: 10.4 miles
Brad and I arrived at the Needles after about a 14.5 hour drive from my home outside Ft. Worth, TX. We drove over night...the drive felt quick. We alternated driving...the other would sleep. So really, it only felt like a 7 hour drive or so. The drive into the Needles is very dramatic. You come off the Highway (which is located above the Colorado Plateau) and within minutes, you drop into the canyon...but what's really cool about the drive in is you cannot see the Canyonlands from the highway. It just appears in very very dramatic fashion. We popped into the headquarters for a few minutes and got the good news that there were a few reliable water sources in the area...that's all we needed to know. We drove over to the trail head (TH), put on our packs...and got going.
Couple of things to note...1) pay very close attention to cairns (pictured above). They lead the way when you are on slickrock or not on an established trail. And quite frankly, there are many many times you are not on a trail...so you have to rely on these cairns to navigate your route. Good news...they are easy to spot if you are looking out for them. Unfortunately, Brad and I got off trail several times because the scenery was too distracting...I'm sure we are not the first. (Also note...these cairns will come in all sizes...sometimes just a few pebbles stacked together.)
2) Do not step on the microbiotic soil! This bacteria is the base of a living groundcover that helps all the desert plants in the area survive. It's also all over the place! So you have to be very careful where you step...Unfortunately, once you step on this very sensitive soil crust, there is a chance the impacted area may never recover again. I really can't begin to describe the scientific process of this microbiotic soil and it's benefits to the ecosystem here...I'm not smart enough. So visit the Canyonlands website and learn more about this really cool soil.
After about a quarter mile of hiking on slickrock from the TH, we come up over the top and get our first views of the Needles. Our destination this day was Chesler Park...where we reserved a backcountry site...which is located on the other side of those needles. And the geography in front of you is what we were going to go through to get there. This includes hiking and scrambling on more slickrock, through smaller canyons and joints (kinda looks like slot canyons).
This is one example of a joint we went through...there were many of these we had to go through to stay on trail. Each one is unique and most of all, it gave you a temporary break from the sun. On top of the much needed shade, it is noticeably cooler in the joints, caves, and/or slots.
Another important factor to consider in this area of the Needles...Where I am standing...from this point forward, there are no more water sources. So from Elephant Canyon to the West...which includes Chesler Park, you better have enough water to get you through the day and next...and if you plan on staying longer on this side of the Park...be prepared to carry a 50+ pound pack (major suckage!). We knew we were only staying in Chesler for one night...so we both had about 5 liters from the start of the day to drink and cook with. Before I got on the TH that day, I drank about a 1/2 a gallon of water...so I could keep my pack under 40 pounds.
We entered Chesler Park via the northern Chesler Park Loop. These were our first views from the saddle after coming up from Elephant Canyon. Chesler Park is different from the rest of the park...it is a scenic expanse of desert grasses surrounded by very tall spires. The area is fairly level and the views towards the West are incredible. You can see the Grabens and the Maze district from Chesler Park.
We hiked 1.3 miles to our site from the saddle. If you look at the picture above...our site is located right under the far right spire, hidden behind the small collection of trees.
The campsites are awesome They are clean and mostly shaded by the Junipers. They are sandy, so if it gets too windy, you want to make sure your tent is protected...especially if your tent body is mainly mesh like ours is. The pad sites are located on the West of the spires so you get incredible views of the sunset over the Grabens and Maze district.
After setting up camp and taking a quick break, we got back on the loop trail and headed towards the joint trail. As mentioned above, the joints are actually a fracture in the rock layers where no movement has occurred. This is different than a fault...which does move. So these slot canyons are really not canyons at all...they are just really wide cracks in these huge blocks of sandstone. The trail leads right into the joints...which you can see above on the left...
Self Portrait...in a joint. Both Brad and I were giddy in here. It's like were were small kids again, navigating through a maze, chimneying, scooting, climbing, and making our way through the joint trail. There are also numerous of joints that cut across the main joint trail...we spent a lot of time exploring the area...
Some of them get very narrow...that's Brad above...If you don't know Brad...you can't get any slimmer than him. He is almost 6ft and 140 pounds...he barely slivered through this joint.
This is what it looks like above the joint trail...we scrambled...well, really climbed a short section at the end of one of the crossing joints to get up to this point. Being up here was awesome...you can see how powerful the winds are over time, slowly carving those layers in the sandstone.
Another view of Chesler Park, with microbiotic soil around us...
A view of the pass we came in on...
After several hours of hiking around the joint trail and Chesler Park loop, we finally made it back to camp. This was the view from our campsite looking up at the spires as the sun started to go down...just amazing.
A view from our camp at dusk...those are the grabens off in the distance...
To Druid Arch, Squaw and Lost Canyon
We woke up to a cool morning, ate breakfast, packed up and headed towards Druid Arch via Elephant Canyon. As we left the Chesler Park area and dropped into the Canyon, this is what surrounded us...Huge, towering walls! All of the hiking is on slick rock until you get down the the canyon bottom.
Brad and I decided to hang our packs in the trees when we got to the Druid Arch junction. It was going to be a 4 mile roundtrip hike up to the arch and more than 400' of elevation gain. We were also hoping to find a water source in this canyon and filter the rest of the days water. The 400' ascent would be gradual for most of the trail in...as the picture above indicates. But the last .25 mile is steep!
The spires in Elephant Canyon are incredible...they came in all shapes and sizes. If there were not an arch as the centerpiece on this trail...just the spires alone would be worth the hike in.
...but the Arch is the centerpiece...This is Druid Arch...and it's impressive. If you come to Canyonlands...this is a must do...
...but just know that this is the canyon you will be coming up through. It's long and moderately difficult...and if you don't have a way to sanitize your water, you better bring a lot of it. We had a Steripen to zap our water...it uses UV rays to kill all bacteria, protozoa, and viruses.
So we went back down the canyon, retrieved our packs, had lunch, and moved on...we still needed to travel close to 4.5 miles on what had already been a long day...After leaving Elephant Canyon, we headed East into Squaw Canyon...where our backcountry site was located.
To get over some of the smaller passes, the Park installed ladders for hikers to make their way through. The one above is located in Squaw Canyon...
What's really great and unique about this place is that at every corner, junction, and hilltop, it seemed to get better...It always felt different...and it definitely motivated us to keep moving. We finally arrived at our site, set up, filtered water, and got moving again...we continued East towards Peekaboo camp via Lost canyon loop. We didn't make it all the way to Peakboo to visit all the petroglyphs there...but that's ok, we were losing light and we did not want to miss the sunset and the views from up above a butte.
We scrambled up a butte and probably spent the most time in one place at this point...the views were spectacular. This was the only place we got a full 360 view of the Needles district...
...and this is our sunset from our butte...
almost 12 miles
This was our view on the hike out back to the car...this region of the Canyonlands is called Island in the Sky. We did not spend any time over there...but will one day. It was a short 2 mile hike back to the car, where we ate breakfast and cleaned up a little. We called an audible the day before...the original plan was to hike to Salt Creek today, but instead...we wanted to go take a look at the Confluence...it was a quick drive and then a roundtrip hike of 10 miles...so were still in for a long day.
Hiking to the confluence...with a view of Island in the Sky...The trail to the confluence is a little different than the rest of the Needles district. Outside of the initial hike down a small canyon and back up...it was mainly open country over slick rock and desert brush...the best part of the hike to the confluence is the non-stop views of the Needles from the North.
So this is the Confluence...which is basically the Colorado and Green River coming together. The same river that is carving this canyon is the one that has carved the Grand Canyon. It is an amazing, peaceful place...
It reminded me of a mini grand canyon...so after spending about 20 minutes or so taking in the views...we hiked back to the car and concluded our Canyonlands trip. We then drove to Durango, CO to enjoy a celebratory dinner and brew.
These are the famous Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Steam Locomotives...I will be on this train shortly, when I go climb the Chicago Basin 14ers...can't wait!
...we chose Durango's most popular microbrew...Steamwork's Brewing company! Ordered a huge burger and...
...ooops! Had a really really good time!