Friday took us to Natural Bridges National Park. With only 12 campsites, we managed to beat out a motorcycle for the last available site. We were about 2 feet away from another rig in the adjoining camp, but we stepped out into a wide, private space surrounded by junipers. It was warm and breezy and after relaxing a while, we drove the 9-mile road that loops around the edge of the mesa. The primary viewpoints are those looking down at the three, huge bridges down in the canyon. From above, they are often difficult to spot because it’s hard to differentiate what’s behind them from what’s in front of them.
The next day we planned a 5.3-mile hike that turned into a 7-mile hike. Funny, how that happens. A little of it is due to us wandering around an area to photograph and a little of it is due to getting lost. It was a nice hike, although the last 2 miles across a relatively flat mesa is a slog.
Sunday included another descent into a canyon. It was down 400 feet, spend some time at a pool of water, then slowly ascend again. I started to look at rocks and couldn’t think of many names describing rocks once they have fallen away from the main mass. The words that come to mind: boulders, slabs, stones, rocks, pebbles. The thesaurus provided one more descriptive term: cobbles. That’s not a whole lot of terms. I wonder if there are more words in other languages. The weather gradually deteriorated that day, getting gusty and cold. We had planned to dry camp in a remote area and hike to a petroglyph panel on Monday, but the cold weather sent us scurrying to Blanding, where we could use electricity to run our heater. So it was Canyonlands for Tuesday.
As expected, we didn’t nab a campsite in Needles’ Squaw Flat Campground. So we camped on BLM land, Indian Creek, about 5 miles outside Needles. It was beautiful out there. After settling in, we drove out to hike the Slickrock Trail, one of our favorites. As we bumped our way to the highway, a tan Lazy Daze was heading towards us. Dave recognized “Koko” emblazoned on the front of their rig from the Lazy Daze Yahoo user group, so we stopped for a moment and told them where we were parked. Our hike was uneventful and fairly unspectacular. We have had so much incredible weather here (mostly involving clouds) that a clear day is kind of boring, photographically.
We returned to our rig and after dinner, we went over to visit with Don and Dorothy. They are a fun couple, enjoying life on the road, though they have maintained a home in Alabama. They aren’t hiking as much as they used to, but they carry a couple of kayaks and paddle when they can. They are interested in learning more about various aspects of the country they travel through. It is so much fun to talk to people who travel like this. We all agree that we are so lucky to be retired and free to spend significant time on the road. It’s a very positive group of people.
On Wednesday, we entered the park early to try to get a campsite inside the park. Being Easter Week, the park is as full as it ever gets. A few people due to check out had already promised their sites to somebody else. We managed to get one, but I’m thinking that maybe we should carry an extra six-pack of beer with which to bribe campsite occupiers. We set up in Campsite #1 and hosted Don and Dorothy for evening cocktails. A very pleasant time ensued.
I’d worked out a 7.5-mile hike for Thursday. But I got the trails mixed up and we ended up retracing most of an 11-mile (round trip) hike to Peekaboo Canyon. The best part of that hike was a mile or so along 3 spectacular amphitheaters. The wind was blowing hard by early afternoon, and my hiking pants were flapping hard. We reached the really windy top of a rock formation and were amazed to see Peekaboo Canyon. We knew then that we were going to have retrace our steps and miss Lost Canyon. Oh well, next time.
Friday involved no hiking, but did involve a whole lot of getting in and out of the back seat of a Jeep. Don and Janet Curley are friends who loved southeast Utah so much that they moved from California to here. They live in the small town of La Sal and enjoy their life on the foothills of the La Sal Mountains. They love to explore the area with their camper and their Jeep. They worked out a couple of possible 4-wheel-drive possibilities for us, depending on which roads were open and passable. The drive they chose began at Elephant Hill in Needles, graded a 3.4 on the road difficulty score. I would probably score it as a 7 or so, but the only time we’ve been out in a Jeep is with Don and Janet on a trip a couple of years ago.
The route included pictographs and ruins, and then Don decided to “go for it” which meant driving a route into the Abajo Mountains on a road they may well still have ice on it. Turning around if the road wasn’t passable wasn’t a great option due to the amount of gas available – we might run out. While pondering this, Don said we’d also be doing Bobby’s Hole, a really steep hill graded 7 out of 10 in difficulty. Both Janet and I said we’d get out so we could take pictures and video of Don driving up. Don forewarned us: “I’m not stopping to pick you up in the middle of the hill. Janet and I puffed our way up the very steep slope to good vantage points and up the guys drove. Don made it look easy. Unfortunately, I managed to get about 5 seconds of the trip. For some reason, the video just cut off. Too bad.
The road steadily rose after that up to 8,000 feet plus. We got to the north-facing section that Don was concerned about, but the road was clear, other than some ice on the side of the road and some mud. The payoff on this route was Cathedral Point, a very high, 3-mile peninsula overlooking Salt Creek and Lavender Canyons. The light was getting lower and the view was spectacular. Don pulled out a really good pair of binoculars and we looked for arches and windows in the candy-colored rock below. What a great afternoon. These are places we could never reach in our low-clearance Rav.
We got back to our rig around 7:30 and enjoyed Janet’s margaritas, then ate dinner at our intimate (small) table. A great day.
We spent Saturday relaxing and then drove to Monticello for gas, groceries, alcohol and internet access. Don had laughed when I mentioned replenishing our wine stores in Monticello. As he said, the state-licensed liquor store looks like a jail – a very small gray, one-story building. Inside, there is one long counter, back by shelves of hard liquor and one short counter, with 13 different bottles of wine displayed: one French, 3 Australian and 9 mostly California bottles. You picked what you wanted and the very nice guy would pull your bottles from boxes behind the counter. He helped me select a bottle of Tequila, but said he couldn’t help with the rum because he didn’t drink rum. Not too much like Beverages and More. We dropped in on Don and Dorothy and told more tall tales. Then Dave photographed them with their kayaks in front of their Lazy Daze for his Nomads project. We are planning to get together in the Moab area, as we are both going to be around for at least another week. It is a pleasure to spend a lot of time in one area.
Chesler Park is one of our favorite places in the country, so we planned the 6-mile hike for Easter Sunday. We departed fairly early and were rewarded with solitude. The trail takes the hiker up and down steep rock formations by means of slab stairs, fool holes carved in the rock, piled rocks, and narrow crevasses between huge boulders. We also crossed about 3 large “parks” (flat, sandy areas with juniper, cacti, Indian Paintbrush, and other plants we don’t know the name of. There were several types of bright yellow flowers blooming that was nice to see because it’s a little early for much to be in bloom. The afternoon return hike was quite warm, but not bad. We returned to the rig, tired but not exhausted. Then (thank you, thank you, Janet) we lounged around in the balmy weather and drank the rest of the Margaritas that Janet had left us. After napping and eating dinner, we were sober enough to attend the campfire and learned how the ancient ones found and stored food and water, defended themselves and obtained pretty knick-knacks (like parrot-feather sashes).
After a sunrise foray up into the rocks behind the campground, Monday was a sit-around kind of day. We read our books, updated our blogs and Dave watched some of the Giants game in Colorado. It’s a good day to laze around because the high today is somewhere in the 80’s.
We had time for one short walk on Tuesday. We chose the Cave Spring Trail, a traipse around a rock formation that passes by some old cowboy and Anasazi camps. It’s been a great stay at Needles.
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