Canyonlands – Needles

I’ve been wanting to do a trip in Needles for a long time. It’s got a reputation of having phenomenally spectacular scenery. It’s only fitting that I forget my camera on this trip, and only realize it when I have no opportunity to buy a mediocre replacement (something I’ve wanted to do anyway so I can pack that on mt biking rides instead of my nice one). I camped a few miles outside the park after 6 hours of driving, and the wind was howling under a moon-less sky with freezing temperatures. I didn’t bother with a tent – I just slept inside the truck.

The next morning Brittany and I met up, but not before I was given 20 questions by a national park cop about why I was napping in my truck at 9am, and him not believing that I camped outside the park. Oh what fun!

Our first destination was the Confluence Overlook. It was a pretty sweet section of trail with an initial drop down into a canyon and a climb out the other side. From there it was up and over slickrock sections, across lengthy valleys, up drainages, and then through some fun, quick downclimbs. The Confluence was cool. I’ve never seen it before. It was like pea soup mixing in with lentil soup. Those were the colours du jour, anyway.

Our next leg was 2.5 miles through “Cyclone Alley” it was more like Tumbleweed Alley. The canyon itself was one long 500 ft wide stretch with straight canyon walls the whole way through, and it was just a collection bin for tumbleweeds. It sucked.

After a few miles of scenic hiking, we were at our campsite, DP1, in the Devil’s Kitchen. The campsite is nestled in-between two sandstone fins. We had 12 ft piles of tumbleweeds on one side, stacked up against a tree, and in another tree, tumbleweeds were stuck all throughout it. While it was nice and warm outside the campsite, as soon as the sun dropped behind the fins around 5pm, it got cold, and the wind – which only existed at our site – made it colder. It would’ve been awesome a month from now when the temps were higher.

While I was sunning myself on some rocks outside the campsite I heard a group of people approach the turnoff for the campsite. Their conversation is as follows: Oh finally! That was the longest 0.2 miles I’ve ever hiked! Oh wait, DP1? Where the **** is DP1? Pull out the map…….wait……how in the hell did we get over here? Let me see that. Oh great, you were holding it the wrong way. That’s just great. Conversation ends. They kept going the same direction. Apparently they got all bent out of shape after going the wrong way on a loop trail, and they weren’t that far from the Devil’s Kitchen 4×4 campground.

The next day we were off to Chesler Park! We were told that we absolutely had to check out the Joint Trail and that the cool stuff started out right from the trail junction we were going to hit. When I got there, I saw nothing but more valley, so I decided to head off and hope that the cool stuff started when I reached the rocky area in the distance. When I got there, the trail headed East through more valley. I was debating whether to keep going or head back. I heard voices, so I dropped my pack and headed towards them. When I found the people a girl in the group greeted me like I was someone they were waiting for….I wasn’t him. So I told them my story, and they were like, well, it is really cool, and totally worth it, and it starts right here.

They pointed down a dark stairway which descended into the darkness of a crack in the earth. It was straight out of something from Indiana Jones. I felt like I should’ve been carrying a flaming torch. It was a surreal feeling as I descended the rock staircase and the cool air surrounded me. As my eyes, adjusted I looked down a long, straight section of narrows about three feet wide. Light intermittently broke the darkness. As I approached one of the lit sections I looked one way and the other down long stretches of cracks that were identical to the one I was in. Some were narrower than others. I went down the first set – sideways – and found that these canyons were just one big cross-hatched grid of narrows. I went back to the main section and kept heading down, deeper and deeper. Soon a series of massive boulders appeared, and I noticed a few cairns here and there. I made my way around them, and found a lot of cairns. I’m talking a few dozen in the narrows. As I walked through them, a cave like passage on the right opened up, with light coming in from the back, I saw over a hundred cairns lining the walls, and the floor. I was in total awe. The sheer number of cairns all over the place was mind-boggling. Some were tiny cairns, some were big cairns, some were cairns formed into arches. I dubbed it the Hall of Cairns. I didn’t see any inukshuks though. That was disappointing. Reaching the end of the Hall of Cairns, I broke through into full light again and descended another series of rock stairs into a picturesque scene. This section of the Needles was stunning. I had much more to see that day, so I headed back, but not before building an inukshuk in the Hall of Cairns. I must say, he was the best one I’ve ever built.

After leaving the Chesler Park area into the area East, the scenery was just incredible. Deep canyons with towering cliffs everywhere. The rock alternated bands of red and white colors. I can’t do justice of the scenery in text, so I won’t bother. After we dropped all the way down into the creekbed of Elephant Canyon we made our way into the Squaw Canyon area. To get there we had to climb up and over a ridge complete with a ladder built out of dead tree trunks and limbs, held together with bolts, bailing wire, then up a series of moki steps, and down the other side on a more reassuring steel ladder. A little ways up the trail we climbed up a tree trunk with foot notches into a small cave/canyon between two fins. Initially you just hop back and forth, and walk with your legs spanning the gap, but towards towards the end it is too narrow to get through with a pack on, and logs have been dropped into the gap. After shimmying through that obstacle it wasn’t long before we dropped into the creekbed and found our campsite, SQ2. This one had almost no shade, and tons of no-see-ums, fueled from the swamp like area all along the creek.

The rest of the trip out was unremarkable. It was somewhere between 25-30 miles…I think. It was a fantastic trip. The scenery is phenomenal. Chesler Park didn’t do much for me. All the area around it is just awesome.

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