Wednesday, May 14, 2014

SE Utah - May 2014 - Part 2

I spent 6 days exploring southeastern Utah. This included two national parks I'd never visited, Canyonlands and Arches. It would also take me back to Muley Point and to discover a few new areas between those destinations. 

I will divide the trip into three or four parts to aid digestion. This is part 2.

Remember you can see larger versions of the photos by clicking on one of them.

BLM Indian Creek Recreation Area
Canyonlands National Park: The Needles

Note that Canyonlands National Park is segmented into three distinct districts. Island in the Sky is to the north, is the most visited of the districts as it is close to Arches NP, and is located atop a high plateau; my visit there will be in a subsequent post. The Maze is the most undeveloped; I didn't visit this area. The Needles is located in an intermediate zone surrounded by high bluffs, but also containing deep canyons.

Monday, May 5th continued.

Newspaper Rock

North of Monticello, I turned west on SR 211 toward The Needles. My first stop was the BLM Newspaper Rock Recreation Site. This large petroglyph panel represents multiple cultures and times. No one really knows what it all means.

Newspaper Rock

I continued NW on 211 and checked out the Creek Pasture Camping Area. They recommended it to me in the Monticello BLM office, because it had trees and shade. All the shady spots were taken and those available were unappetizing. Plus, the sites seemed too close together for my comfort level. They'd also recommended the new Superbowl Camping Area, but I decided instead to drive up the road toward Lavender Canyon to see if I could find a nice dispersed campsite. I took a spur road and found a quiet spot with lots of shade. It was next to Indian Creek, but there was a fence between the site and the creek - probably to keep the cattle out of the creek. (By the way, the information on the Indian Creek area on the BLM website is woefully out of date. I recommend you contact the Monticello BLM office for current info.)

Dispersed camping on BLM land in Indian Creek Canyon.

Tuesday, May 6th

The Needles

I headed in to Canyonlands NP first thing after breakfast. Driving into the park I was astonished at the large numbers of wildflowers blooming. The Evening Primrose were especially prolific and interesting, as their blossoms are larger than the green part of the plant.

This species of Evening Primrose blooms all during the day.

I wanted to get a camping site at the park's Squaw Flat Campground. This is a first come, first served area. I was there a little after 9am, but both Campground A and B were full. As I was driving out of B, I noticed folks packing their car. I asked if they were leaving. They were, so I got a nice spot. I registered and put out my site-occupied bucket. Check out time is 10am and I noticed one or two other sites opening up about that time.

I then headed out the Scenic Drive to the Big Spring Overlook.

These pillars greet you as you walk toward the overlook from the parking area.

If you hike down this canyon about 5 miles you come to the Confluence Overlook
where the Colorado and Green Rivers join.

My next stop was the nearby Slickrock Foot Trail. This is a fairly easy 2.4 mile loop, but my old, beat-up knees were less than pleased by the ups and downs. There are four major viewpoints along the trail and you follow rock cairns in order to follow the trail.

An early section of the trail still primarily on soil.

Looking south from Viewpoint 1 with the Needles peeking over the canyon walls.
Lots of purple and yellow flowers in the foreground.

Follow the cairns. Note the cryptobiotic soil in the right foreground.
These fragile crusts are formed slowly by living organisms and are an essential part of the ecosystem.

A lovely trailside, floral tableau.

Another canyon viewpoint.

This checkerspot butterfly generously posed for a portrait.

Another viewpoint. The winds were beginning to really crank up at this point.

Baby Asters sheltering in the lee of a rock outcrop.

On the way back to the car the winds were very strong. The straw hat I was so happy to have at the beginning of the hike was a liability. I finally stuffed it into my daypack despite possible damage to its brim. Sand was getting underneath my contact lenses which was pretty miserable. I even got lost for a few minutes as I could't see well enough to spot the cairns marking the trail.

I returned to my campsite for lunch. It was shielded from the wind by a large rock wall and a few trees. It was very pleasant there for both me and a little chipmunk who refused to have his picture taken.

With the wind kicking the dust and sand around, I decided no more hikes for me this afternoon. A scenic drive might be just the thing.

Lockhart Basin Road

The young woman at the Visitor Center convinced me that the 4-wheel drive trails in the park were too technical for my tastes. I'm not sure that they are as bad as she made out, or if they are just tired of folks needed rescue. I thought I'd explore up a road I'd seen on the map just outside the park called the Lockhart Basin Road. As I stopped to chat with the ranger at the entrance station to say I was going exploring, she recommend that road as being interesting.

And interesting it was, at least after the first few miles of washboard where it passes by Hamburger Rock, another of the BLM camping areas. The road then the winds into the Indian Creek Canyon where there are more dispersed camping areas. It fords the creek and climbs up the side of a hill, then squeezes between two large rock pillars right at the top and makes a sharp turn to become a very narrow road with a steep drop off, where you come to a gate. Then down the hill to gently wind in the canyon area, eventually coming out onto the flats where there are views of the tall bluffs to the north.

Lockhart Basin Road

I recognized from an earlier examination of a map of the area that the point of the bluff that extends the farthest into the canyon was the Needles Overlook. I drove to a location under the overlook and called it far enough for the day. I'd gone nearly 8 miles. My intention was to drive out to the overlook later on the trip.

Parked below the Needles Overlook. I loved these striped boulders.

I headed back into the park to set up camp.

My lucky campsite. Had I found one in area A, I would not have been shielded from the winds.

The view across from my campsite as the sinking sun begins to color the sky.

Despite the promise of the previous photo. There wasn't really much of a sunset this night.
I did the best I could to grab a silhouette with what little color there was in the sky.

Tuesday, May 6th

The morning looked promising, so I headed out the hard-packed road toward Elephant Hill.

A view of the eponymous Needles from Elephant Hill Road.

I'm guessing this is Elephant Hill.

Not far from the Visitor Center is a small parking area signed as Roadside Ruin.
Follow the short loop trail and you see this ancient granary structure under a rock overhang.

Not far from the granary was this gorgeous group of cactus blossoms.

Leaving Canyonlands for now

About halfway back to US-191 the canyon walls come closer together. The highway proceeds through
the gap. You can see the Abajo Mountains to the south, in the background.

Upon hitting US-191 I turned north toward Moab where I'd get a hot meal and information on camping in BLM lands around Arches, since I knew those reserved campsites were long filled.

Stay tuned for the next installment which will include Arches National Park.

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