This post strays from my usual Big Bend haunts to the spectacular state of Utah, one of my favorite places outside of Texas. This trip features one of my favorite pastimes, off-road Jeep camping, and the location is Canyonlands National Park. The planning and permits for this trip were executed by a great friend and ex-neighbor, now living in San Diego, David. We met in Monticello, Utah, and it is there our adventure begins.
Canyonlands National Park is divided into several “districts,” The Maze, Island in the Sky, Needles, and White Rim. Having visited The Maze together several years ago, we planned this trip for the Needles district, and a 4-day trip around the White Rim Road, an old uranium mining road built nearly a hundred years ago, which is a 100-mile long 4-wheel drive road that circles Island in the Sky near the rim that overlooks the Colorado and Green Rivers:As we enter the back country, we pass a famous landmark, “Newspaper Rock,” a large panel of pictographs left as testament to the presence of native peoples here over the past 2,000 years:The road we have selected to penetrate the Needles district is the Elephant Hill Road. The term “road” is really an oxymoron, as it is little more than a marked route up and over the slickrock formations that are so iconic to this part of Utah. It is designated by the National Park Service as the “most technically difficult 4-wheel drive road in all of Utah.” That is an understatement! David and I needed every bit of the customization (lift, skid plates, oversize tires, etc.) that we’ve added to our Rubicons to get through with no damage:
Camp for the next two nights was in the “Devil’s Kitchen” area, and we spent the first afternoon on a day hike along a trail near camp:First night out, we were treated to clear skies and beauiful starsa:Next morning after breakfast, we headed north into the heart of the Needles:Along the way, an unexpected surprise…a panel of pictographs under an overhang:Many hand prints, and a few older “shaman” figures that are familiar to this region:From here, a really technical obstacle confronts us, but we make it through with little difficulty:We reach the trailhead for the “Joint Trail,” a somewhat misleading name, that winds its way through a labyrinth of joints between huge rock slabs, to a fantastic overlook:Next morning, we wake to gray and overcast. The light rain begins as we are heading through the washes and down the “silver stairs” enroute back up and over Elephant Hill and back down:
After a night in Moab, we meet up with Jeff, a friend of David from San Diego, and he joins us for the 4-day trip around the White Rim Road. It begins with an exposed drop through the switchbacks of Shafer Trail Road, down 1500 feet to the plateau of the White Rim:Along this road, totally unmaintained through primitive backcountry for over 100 miles with no facilities, no gasoline, and no cellular service, we are treated to spectacular scenery:A stop at Musselman Arch, where we take a walk on the wild side:Campsite the first night on the White Rim, and a walk for a view of “Washerwoman Arch”:Fresh snow caps the La Sal Mountains, visible in the distance:A beautiful clear night with a crystalline moon:The “White Rim” describes the hard layer of white sandstone which caps the softer underlying layers of red sandstone. In places the White Rim Road ventures perilously close to the edge which falls off to the plateau a thousand feet below:The occasional mountain biker cruising this flat part of the White Rim Road:We reach an area of Canyonlands know as “Monument Valley,” with the Needles seen in the background:An unnamed arch we dub “Keyhole Arch”:At White Crack trail, we do some capstone hopping out to a high point for a 360 degree panoramic overlook at the spectacular land below:After a climb up “Murphy’s Hogback” we set up camp 2 on a high point for the night:Pancakes hit the spot on a cool morning:With rain in the distance, we break camp and get out on the road. Along the way we stop for several magnificent vistas where the Green River bends its way through the canyons below:The peninsula formed by this bend in the Green River has been inhabited for thousands of years by native peoples who hunted and farmed this rich bottom land. The remains of a cliff dwelling still stands on the side of the “Turk’s Head” formation at its center:Canoeists make their way through spots where the river widens and slows:The last big climb up and over a granite intrusion that prevents following the river, we drop down the back side to our final of three campsites for the evening, located at river level just above the river bank:Mountain bikers start the descent down:Camp along the Green River:The next morning we slog our way through mud, water, and more mud as the road snakes its way through “Potato Bottoms” to meet up with the gravel road that climbs back up to the Island in the Sky, and ultimately back to Moab:It’s no wonder why we’re continually drawn back to the canyonlands country of south central Utah. If you go, be sure you are properly equipped for desert survival and self-rescue. That said, the scenery and solitude makes it well worth the effort.