Saturday, May 17, 2014

SE Utah - May 2014 - Part 4

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 divided the trip report into four parts to aid digestion. This is part 4, the final installment.

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

Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky
and Canyon Rims National Recreation Area

May 7, 2014 continued

Dubinky Road

I think I mentioned I'd stopped at the Interagency Information Center on Main Street in Moab for info on dispersed camping on BLM lands around Moab. Due to the high number of visitors, this area is controlled much more strictly than your usual BLM lands in the west. You really need a map to determine if you are required to camp in a campground, camp area, designated area, etc. and the rules for trash and waste. All campgrounds and sites are first come, first serve. They have a whole 8 page "newspaper" with maps, lists and descriptions to help you figure all this out, it is a must have.

With the help of a knowledgeable gentleman, we determined that the dispersed campsites out Dubinky Road, between Arches and Canyonlands: Island in the Sky, might suit me. You get there by turning at the (very small) sign for Lone Mesa Group Camp off State Route 313. I missed the turn the first time in broad daylight.

To greatly shorten the story, I passed by a few areas already full of 5er's, RVs and ATVs. I found a narrow "designated" road headed south and I was hoping to find a hill, bluff, tree, or something to block my camper from the winds. I drove through a wide prairie, which I later learned is Dubinky Flat, to what seemed like the middle of nowhere. I would have turned back, but the road was too narrow and about 2 feet below grade. By the time I found a place I could have turned around, there was a giant, interesting looking, hill-shaped rock about a mile ahead and I wound my way there hoping for a sheltered camping spot. I switched on the 4WD toward the end as the road, and especially the turn-off, became very sandy.

I found a great spot as it turns out, in the lee of the giant rock. There was a good sized piñon to boot, and previous campers had left a large rock fire ring (complete with empty ammunition boxes) and a stack of cut wood. But best of all was the shelter from the wind. Again it was too cloudy for my hoped for star photography. I spent a quiet night.

May 8th

Another cloudy day, but with some morning light. It was pleasant enough to take a few photos and explore "my" rock, though I did not climb to the top.

Campsite and a small shoulder of the rock.

Looking down at my camp, from that shoulder.

From the vantage of the rock's shoulder (or maybe its ankle) I could see large trucks on a road to the south. I was later able to determine that road led to an oil well and became heavily used by tank trucks and what looked like strange cement mixers, but may have been carrying fracking mixture for all I know. I was glad I was off the beaten path. I had breakfast, took a little hike, then packed up to drive to Canyonlands, taking a photo of the rock hill as I retraced my path back to Dubinky Road and 313.

Campsite beside the rock hill. Estimating from a topo map, it's about 150' tall.

Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky

Island in the Sky is a narrow, branching mesa along the top of 1000 foot cliffs. There are foot trails, but not nearly as many as at The Needles. As my feet and knees were sore, I was happy enough to drive to the various overlooks and take one short, steep hike to look over the mysterious Upheaval Dome. The park is also noted for the famous White Rim Road - an adventure saved for another trip.

View from across the road from the Visitor Center

I drove first to Upheaval Dome, in the forlorn hope that the skies would clear later. It was an interesting hike. I took a large panorama from the first overlook. After processing it at home, I've decided not to save it as it just looks like an uninteresting pile of dirt. It's one of those very cool places that you just have to see with your own eyes.

Flowers along the trail to the dome overlook.

Next, I headed to the Green River Overlook. Another spectacular vista that you have to see with your own eyes. Again, my panorama does not do it justice, so I'll only display two photos of details of the scene. I did have a nice conversation with a young man who was a park service volunteer. I asked him about the White Rim Road, a section of which was laid out before us, down below. He allowed it was great fun and easy for the most part, only a few very steep, very narrow sections -  he mentioned Murphy's Hogback. We could actually see two jeeps moving along the road. He said there were some rough spots, but no steps or other technical features that should cause trouble for a Tacoma. To drive the road does take advanced planning as it is at least a two day drive and backcountry permits must be obtained. In prime season, those should be reserved ahead of time. Watching videos at home makes me really want to take that adventure.

Cliff edge and vista from Green River Overlook.

Zoomed in on a small section of the view, showing a gooseneck of the Green River
and a piece of the White Rim Road on the left and right.

Next stop was the picnic area at White Rim Overlook.

A view from the picnic area. I think this might be Gooseberry Canyon.

After lunch I drove to the Grand View Overlook. Had the weather been nicer, it actually drizzled for a few minutes, I might have told my knees to buckle up and taken the hike to the actual Grand View Point as it was only 2 miles there and back. So you'll have to be content to accept this panorama and a closer view of Monument Basin.

Monument Basin from Grand View Overlook.

Zooming in on a section of the basin. Notice the road and the white canyon rim.

It was time to start heading out of the park, as I wanted to get across and down to the Canyon Rims area for my last night before heading home.

I believe this is Buck Canyon, and again you can see White Rim Road.

Colorado River Recreation Area

In one of the national park visitor centers I'd admired a large relief map. In doing so I noticed a deep, winding canyon of which I was unaware, stretching northwest from above Moab. I decided to briefly explore up that way on State Route 128, before continuing south. The photo below is not the most dramatic, as I waited for a safe pull-out to take the picture.

Colorado River along Utah 128

There are many BLM camping areas along the river. I'd seen them listed on their website and maps, but was still surprised by the reality. Some of them are right on the Colorado and fairly secluded from one another, in others you'd be watching your neighbors as much as the scenery. Still, no getting around the fantastic views of the river and canyon walls. Moab has a great bike lane system and there is a beautiful, smooth asphalt path that runs along the river and provides great access to the first few camping areas. As none of the individual sites are reservable, theoretically you have as good a chance as anyone of getting a primo site. But I suspect there are large families or small groups of friends who send advanced scouts a few days ahead to try and snag a good one; I know that's what I would have done back in the day!

A nice couple from Colorado in a big Lance pop-up camper, who I met later that night, said there were good sites downstream on Utah 279. I may have a to check those out next time.

Canyon Rims National Recreation Area

After having a green chile cheese burger in Moab, I continued south on US-191, then took the turn onto the paved Needles Lookout Road toward the BLM Canyon Rims NRA. (The BLM may be the nemesis of a certain dead-beat rancher, but they're a godsend for those of us who love to camp and enjoy the wild spaces of the American Southwest!)

I took a look at their Windwhistle Campground, which is about 9 miles in from the main highway. It looked pretty nice and is situated in an area with large cliffs and a lovely view. Still, I wanted to go to the Needles Overlook and would check out areas for dispersed camping out that way.

The Needles Overlook is extremely nice. The BLM has done a wonderful job. There are easy sidewalks for those who need them, fun climbs for others, picnic tables, natural landscaping, informational placards and vault toilets. The views are spectacular.

Looking toward the north toward Island of the Sky.

Looking southerly across Indian Creek Canyon with the Abajo Mountains in the background.
You can see the Lockhart Basin Rd, which I drove a few days before.

Turn around to see the La Sal Mountains to the northeast.

As I drove away from the overlook, I took a dirt road north where I'd look for a campsite. Not too many that way that weren't taken, unless I wanted to be out in the open, susceptible to high winds. There were a couple of sites with fantastic views south of the paved road a few miles east of the lookout, but according to one BLM map these were not designated sites, though people had obviously camped there. I stopped there, relaxed a while and admired the views, but decided I'd been beaten by the wind enough on this trip and headed back to the Windwhistle Campground which was sheltered by the surrounding cliffs.

My site at Windwhistle.

There is also quite a nice nature trail located past the group campsite. It is in an alcove in the cliffs and worth checking out if you're in the area. I took the following photo as the sun was going down.

Windwhistle Rock in the early evening light.

Despite the promise of the photo above, there was no sunset worth photographing that night, either.

May 9th

I got up early, didn't even stop for breakfast, but broke camp and drove quickly back out to Needles Overlook. I was hoping for a nice sunrise or early light on the canyons and cliffs. Alas, the weather continued to not cooperate. Here is a panorama, similar to the one taken the previous afternoon, though from a slightly different spot. You can see the shadow of the overlook stretching across the valley.

Indian Creek Canyon vista.

That's pretty much it, folks. I headed back to the highway, turned south on 191 toward Monticello. I found a little cafe on US-491 that I'd be taking to Cortez, Colorado, before turning south to New Mexico. It is called PJ's and I recommend it to you. You have to order your food and pay at the counter, but then they bring it to your table. Every item was freshly cooked and delicious. They even placed little Ball jars of homemade marmalade on the table. Now normally I'm not a big fan, as it is a little tart for my taste, but this was mild, sweet and delicious. I can't recommend that famous diner in Moab, but PJ's breakfast restore my faith in mankind :-)

I hope you enjoyed "coming along" on my camping trip to SE Utah. Leave your questions or comments, below, as I enjoy those. And I hope to meet you on the trail.


  1. Nice series of reports, Bill. Looks like a good trip. The photos are great in spite of the weather. We are going to add this area to our list of future spots to visit. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for your nice comment. Yes, if you haven't been to these areas, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Feel free to ask me questions later, when you're ready to go.

  2. Great photos showing the vastness of Canyonlands NP. Once stood where you were looking down at the White Rim Road. That led to a a series of adventures. It is difficult to capture the scope and size those vistas but your photos give a blog visitor a taste of the rich panoramas that seem to be everywhere. Very well done.

    1. Thanks, Mr. Johnson. Did you blog about those particular adventures? Didn't see them on your current blog. I appreciate your kind words for my photographs - you're right, they have to be seen to be really understood.

    2. It was pre-blog, BB. After observing the White Rim Trail below we spent two days driving the road, camping at White Crack and had to fight our way through a series of mudslides near the end. That road is on my list of top ten drives. Driving along the Green River on the second half of WRT inspired us to undertake a spectacular six day paddle trip through deep canyons on that river to the Confluence with the Colorado. Amazing journey. Looking at a map during our paddle led to a five day drive into the Maze District of western Canyonlands NP. If you desire remoteness, the Maze District is the place to go. Have made three trips into that region and encountered a total of two other vehicles in ten days of travel. Backpacking in the deep meandering canyons of the Maze was surreal. All that, after seeing the thin wandering line of the WRT down below from our position high on the Island in the Sky. I have blathered enough. Thank you again for the wonderful photographs of that magnificent region. Cheers.

    3. Thanks for taking the time to share a glimpse of your further adventures. Sounds like you made some great memories on those trips. Yes, the view of the WRT is an enticing invitation to explore.

  3. You've got some astounding landscapes in the US, and your pictures really did them justice (yes, in spite of your comments about the weather not cooperating). Must be great to visit these place in the flesh. I really enjoyed this 4-part Utah trip-report Bill, and as I slowly work my way forward in time, I look forwards to more of your interesting stories and great photos. :-)

    1. Thanks, Peter. You're doing better than I am, at any rate ;-)


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