What a smashing day. We learned our lesson from the disaster of Murphy Loop and brought ample water, good eats, sunscreen and our A-game to this new landscape. I wish I could fully describe how otherworldly the terrain is in the Needles district of Canyonlands. We were in the southeastern slice of the park, and our hike led us to the Confluence, where the Green and Colorado Rivers meet and run on together through Cataract Canyon toward Arizona and the Grand Canyon itself. I know some folks who have a permit to raft the Colorado in January of next year, and all I can say is buckle up kids, because this terrain is knock-your-socks-off, slap-your-grandma spectacular.
The three districts of Canyonlands are geographically divided by water, but could also be identified through their gradual inaccessibility. Island in the Sky is nearest to Arches National Park and the bustling town of Moab, where everyone in their right mind stocks up on water (no potable water is available in Arches, Island in the Sky or the Maze) and all other necessary munitions and luxuries (Ice! Lattes!). I’ll talk a bit about Arches later, but HOLY COW there are a lot of people running around that place, and each of them must drive at least three cars simultaneously. I swear. Needless to say, we didn’t spend much time hanging out with the masses there.
As I was saying earlier, Island in the Sky is nearest to outfitters, amenities and supplies, and therefore seems to be the most populated of the Canyonlands districts (which means that it is still “cricket…cricket” quiet compared to Arches). The Needles is next in line with a far less dense group of visitors. The Maze, an area that we unfortunately didn’t get to (it takes about 4 more hours to reach) is unmanned by the Parks Service and has been deemed “primitive”, which probably means “totally awesome and you should have come here”.
For us to reach the Needles, we journeyed an hour or so south from Moab, then turned east and slithered into the park near the small, sleepy town of Monticello where I purchased one of the most disgustingly sweet root beer slushies I’ve ever had. Once you pass through the park gate, you still have another 22 painfully gorgeous miles to drive before you reach the Squaw Flat campground. Even though we had left Moab fairly early, we were still pretty nervous that we’d get all the way in and find no available sites, only to have to drive all the way back to the Needles Outpost, a privately owned campground near the park entrance. Anywhere else this might have been our fate, but not there, not then –the place was only half occupied, and we still got to choose – choose, I tell you!! – our sleeping quarters. The sites were nestled in amongst gargantuan (read: McDonald’s-sized) boulders that were perfect for scrambling onto in the evenings to watch the sunset burn down into the horizon.
The other glory of the Needles is that they somehow manage to pipe potable water in to the Visitor’s Center as well as the campground, which felt like a real lucky streak for dirty, thirsty visitors like us. It would have been unfortunate to have to cart in a trunk-full of water without having to leave our clothes behind in town. Exhibitionism in the desert is not highly recommended, unless you’re ready to paint your body in what C refers to as "sunscream", Australian zinc oxide sunscreen, which I’m not.
The hike was meandering and the terrain diverse, with great “needles” or pillars rising above us in one moment, then a great savannah surrounding our tiny footsteps at the next, and we were constantly aware of the real possibility of catching a glimpse of a mountain lion or stepping on a diamondback rattlesnake. By the time we returned back to the campsite and caught a Ranger talk on Ancient Puebloans, we were ready to cram some dehydrated Kung Pao chicken and rice down our gabbers (not so good if you’re curious) and slip into our two person Big Agnes sack (wicked good if you’re curious) for some sweet dreams, because let’s face it, the scenery was nice, and neither of us smelled like dead fish yet.