May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you -- beyond that next turning of the canyon walls -Edward Abbey
Max here. Sonja and I were planning our annual summer backcountry trips to Rocky Mountain National Park. To obtain the permits for the days that you want you have to be on it, and apply the day they go on sale. We lucked out this year and we have three dates at some of the most coveted spots in the park. While we were booking our dates for RMNP I happened to glance at the backcountry reservation system for Canyonlands National Park and noticed that there was ONE night available at a super prime campsite called Elephant Canyon 2 between March and May. That one night was exactly 5 days away. The best time to be in the Canyonlands is in the spring and fall, the summer is so hot that it is almost unbearable. There it was, staring at us, we had one chance to get this spot this season if we wanted to go. We decided to pull the trigger and go for a spur of the moment trip to Utah. Life is for the living.
I have a bit of history with the desert southwest. I spent a week in the Canyonlands rafting through Cataract Canyon in high school, and I spent a month rafting the Grand Canyon in December of 2009. There are events in your life that change everything going forward. For me it was meeting Sonja, the first time I guided a raft in a river, catching a Steelhead Trout, my time in the desert, and catching my first Tarpon. Every time I visit the desert I come back with a new perspective. It is a freeing, humbling, quiet and peaceful place. Like people all over the world, I have a special connection with the solitude of the desert. I love it.
It is about eight hours to Canyonlands National Park from Fort Collins but it seems to go quickly because most of the ride is beautiful (and because my wife is hilarious and awesome- wait- who wrote this part?). We camped just outside the park in Indian Creek at a campground called Hamburger Rock.
The forecast called for rain the first night so we decided to keep everything easy and sleep in the car. We are glad that we did! A large powerful thunder storm rolled though the area, it rained and thundered, then it hailed, then the wind blew, and we woke up to snow in the desert. Not uncommon, but really amazing to look at.
We checked in at the visitor center and headed into the park. Here we are at the Chesler Park Trailhead. Apparently a mountain lion had been spotted in the area. A little unnerving, but the Park Service probably has to let people know. What are ya gonna do? Fight back if attacked, I guess, make noise when you can. We most definitely did not see a mountain lion or signs of a mountain lion (other than the warning sign at the trailhead).
After hiking for a short time we were able to see The Needles firsthand. I'm not going to lie to you. This place is amazing and special!
We got to our campsite at Elephant Canyon 2 after a couple hours of hiking and taking photos. The hike into the canyon is not difficult, but it is not really something that you want to do quickly. It is nice to take your time and breathe it in. Look a little longer maybe. Idunno, you just have to see it for yourself. After getting to our super bitchin' camp (not our video) we put up our tent and headed into Elephant Canyon to check out Druid Arch. You can find all kinds of trail guides for the area so I won't write another one...Instead here are some of our photos from the hike.
We worked our way back to camp and made dinner and started drinking box wine (of course). We spent the night hanging out at the campsite and listening to owls while watching the stars. It was amazing. It was so quiet that the silence was deafening. In the morning we hung out around camp and then hiked out. We didn't make it into Chesler Park this trip, the Shangri-La of the Needles District. We were on a short timeline and we needed to get back to Colorado, but it is a short trip and we will definitely be back this fall.
The only way to get to the heart of the Needles is really to hike. It is unique and special that way. When the park was built there was talk of extending the road into Chesler Park, but it would be difficult to maintain the natural beauty of the area. It is really great that people like Bates Wilson and Stewart Udall had a vision for the park and it is a lot the way they wanted it. They cared and they did not want it spoiled. It is special that you can get so intimate and so close with the area and the only way to do so is to walk. If you want to know you have to go. We both highly recommend it and hope you can make it.