We didn’t make it into Canyonlands. At the first sign of nice weather, everyone comes out here and the small campground in the park is full. Luckily there is a good campground right outside the park limits. Lucky, because the park is 34 miles from the main highway with no developed campgrounds (though there’s lots of undeveloped areas). It’s still hard to believe that certain government flacks were seriously looking at using this beautiful area as a spent nuclear fuel storage area. (Not that I approve of Yucca Mountain in Nevada, either.) Anyway, we tried again and failed to secure a campsite in the park Thursday morning, so we probably are ensconced here for the duration of our stay. We got out for a walk at Pothole Point in the late afternoon, and while the rocks didn’t completely wow me, the clouds were spectacular – from deep-gray cloud explosions to blinding-white fluffy sheep-shaped clouds. One way or another, it’s always amazing here, with crazy weather and ever-changing light.
On Friday, we did the hike to Chesler Park, one of our very favorite hikes in the country. It started out with high clouds, but still was very nice. It’s fun to walk by rocks and trees that we remember photographing on past trips (that’s going back 25 years or so). Spring is beginning to spring here; there’s some Indian Paintbrush and locoweed blooming. The Needle rock formations are amazing, as usual. We enjoyed our lunch at Chesler, then hiked back and were back at our campground by 2:30. Later that afternoon, our friends, Don and Janet Curley, showed up with their Outfitter Pop-top Camper and a rented Jeep Rubicon (their Jeep is currently under the weather). We had a cozy dinner in our Lazy Daze, since the wind was blowing about 35 miles per hour and we didn’t want sand in our chicken.
The next morning, bright and early we went off on our first real off-road experience. Don and Janet have been off-roading for years and I felt very comfortable riding in the back seat, where I couldn’t get a good look at the road ahead. The Elephant Hill Road is considered very difficult in places and it is frightening right at the beginning; a very steep incline with lots of boulders and rock ledges. There’s one spot where you go down a portion of road in reverse. Don had no problem with any of it and we eventually were going down the Devil’s Lane, a sandy track. There was a vehicle stopped in front of us, and as the driver got out and walked back to us, we thought he had broken down. Instead, he pointed out a fantastic panel of rock art that Don said he had never noticed before. The big benefit of off-roading in Southern Utah is that there are ancient ruins and rock art all over the place. We ended up east of Chesler Park, and a short hike through incredible fissured rocks got us into Chesler for lunch. After that, we drove out to the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers, a thousand feet below us. The two rivers are very different colors, so it’s obvious where they meet.
The next day we headed up Salt Creek and Horse Canyon. Don told us that this should be an easier road, but when we went for a backcountry pass, the ranger told us to look out for lots of heavy sand, lots of spots with water, and quicksand here and there. As soon as we were on the narrow track, there was deep sand with deep pools of water. Don sped up so as not to get stuck. I don’t know how fast we were going, but it felt like Mister Toad’s Wild Ride. The jeep was flying through the water so fast that sheets of it kept getting thrown up and you couldn’t see through the windshield for about 5 seconds. There were quick hard turns going at the same time. I guess it lasted 7 or 8 minutes but it seemed like a really long time. Wow! My mouth was hanging open the entire time. Totally amazing – and exhilarating! The last time I got a thrill like that was on the old roller coaster at Santa Cruz. There are holes in the bottom of the Jeep, and we had to drain out water that had flown in. Don later said that he’s driven through water and heavy sand before, but never for that long a stretch. I’m now totally converted to off-roading – as long as Don is driving.
Anyway, we saw some very good petroglyphs, pictographs and ruins that day, as well as Paul Bunyon’s Potty, a butt-shaped arch that lives up to its name. We went through the water on the way back, but because we were expecting it, it didn’t seem quite as drastic as the morning ride. Still, a great day. Don grilled steaks that night, and we celebrated the day. Unfortunately, they had to return the Jeep on Monday, so we parted ways until the next time.