- Utah’s Incredible Backcountry Trails by David Day, Rincon Publishing, Orem UT
- Canyonlands National Park Favorite Jeep Roads & Hiking Trails by David Day, Rincon Publishing, Orem UT
- Needles District Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic
- NPS Website - http://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm
- NPS Map - http://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/upload/tripmap.pdf
More cairns in one place than we’ve ever seen. Taller and more elaborate. They actually confuse the route a bit. When you get to Cairn Temple make a 90 degree turn (right if you’re going west. Left if you’re going east).
The signs at trail intersections in Cayonlands are the best we have experienced in our 20 years of hiking; clear, consicse with distances. The trail descends into a water shed which leads out to Druid Arch. We had planned to make DA optional, so we talked it over at that point. We decided we had enough day left and maybe enough energy but we did not have enough water, and no filter to clean the water near the Arch. We followed the water shed in the opposite direction and it took us right back to EC1. We were happy enough to be done for the day and found shade in which to rest before dinner. Slept under the stars.
EC1 to the Colorado River – The plan was to hike through the Lower Red Canyon down to the Colorado River, then down the river to the Confluence with the Green, then to take a trail described in a book up to the rim and hike on jeep trails back to the car, a 3 day loop. We had to retrace some of yesterday’s steps but this time with full packs. Go to King Kong’s foot but turn right, not left. Follow the sign to Devil’s Kitchen, Jeep Camp. At one point we had to take our packs off and carry them as we were all bent over, to get under a very low spot. Since we had the packs off and it was shady, we took our first break there.
The perfect break spot. Completely flat and level sandstone under the shade of a big tree. We then walked a half mile of jeep road which lead us to the first open meadow and a trail that lead directly to a vertical face. The trail hugged the edge as it worked its way up to the top of the first graben (long, narrow butte), then descended into the next meadow. Basically, the rest of the day was repeating this three more times. In the three final grabens, it looks like you might get to walk through rather than over but alas, due to chock stones and pour offs in the creek beds, the trail always goes over. The final descent not only takes you back down the final graben but includes the whole descent to the level of the Colorado River. We called this stretch the stairs. You can see the nice level trail at the bottom of a very long time as you pick your way down.
Near the leveling off point we took a break in the limited shade of a tree and a slanted boulder. We later took a longer break in the shade of a large sandstone overhang. At that point we were also waiting for the sun to get lower in the sky to minimize our exposure at our river camp site. The final hour is mostly loose sand. The trail actually leads you away from the mouth of the water shed and back east towards the confluence. We were not sure where we would be able to get through the Tamarisk to reach the river. We concluded that going east wasn’t helpful, so we backtracked and found a path down into the water shed, which leads to a wonderful sandy beach campsite.
The water is silty so we let it settle out in the bucket. We filtered Colorado River water for three days and eventually clogged one of our two filters. There was a party of canoes across the river at Spanish Bottom, waiting to be picked up by the jet boat.
Upstream to the Confluence – Norm had been inspired, over 20 years ago, to visit Canyonlands, by the passage in J.W. Powell’s journal about reaching the confluence of the Green and the Colorado. He wanted to get to the actual confluence or at least to an overlook. This would be the day that goal would finally be achieved. The walk began on a clear, firm trail. Eventually the trail gets harder to follow in the overgrowth. It then gets braided, i.e. multiple parallel trails. We saw the jet boat picking up canoes and saw the warning sign about Cataract Canyon. As the trail reaches the actual confluence, it pretty much disappears. The rock falls extend all the way to the Tamies and the going gets more and more difficult and scratchier. Either crawl through the bushes or climb over the rocks. We tried both. At the confluence there is no break in the Tamies.
We had a permit to camp in the Needles North use area so we had to continue at least a mile east of the confluence. When we could see the Slide across the river (around the bend), we finally crashed through the undergrowth and found an open flat spot for camping with access to the river.
Now What? – John was optimistic that given different lighting and a good night’s rest we would find the trail noted in the book. Norm wasn’t so sure and started discussing the real possibility of backtracking the two days. We did not have a freeze dried dinner for the extra night but we had plenty of snacks. We decided that the energy and time required to climb the watershed right next to the camping spot was unlikely to get us to the rim and would just wear us down and delay the other options. We walked back west carefully examining every possible route up. John said it best when he said, “I haven’t seen anything that doesn’t scare me to death.” We could see many ways to get high above the beach but all seemed to cliff out at some point where it would be too steep to climb, even if we pulled the packs up with John’s rope. We searched the most diligently at .9 miles from the confluence, but no trail revealed itself. As we had just about reached the confluence we saw several cairns in a rock fall. Norm started to get optimistic. We had just such a moment in Merlin’s Abyss several years before. One minute things looked bleak and the next minute life was good again. We climbed high above the last cairn that we could see and the cairns just ran out. Even the ones we found did not lead to each other or define a trail. We reluctantly started back to our beach at the foot of Red Lake Canyon. Our objective was to reach the beach, refuel, fill up with fresh water, and then late in the day, climb the “stairs” back up over the 4th graben.
We had a chance to watch several overcome the obstacles of a section about half a mile from the parking lot. Jerry thought it looked like fun. A Jeep had an inverted decal which said “If you can read this flip us over”. Norm said he liked it. The passenger said it used to be funny until they got onto these roads.
The trail takes you about as close as is practical to each of the “sights” including
· Four Faces Pictograph on the right.
· Camp SC3.
We found the description in the Canyonlands National Park Favorite Jeep Roads and Hiking Trails book to be extremely accurate and helpful.
We knew from the weather posting at the Visitor Center that it was going to get down to freezing that night. Norm carried his tent just for this occasion. Jerry wore every piece of clothing he brought and slept under the stars.
Back to the Car (again) –Jerry’s bottle had ice in it and Norm’s Camelback didn’t work because there was ice in the tube. We enjoyed our coffee and Oatmeal. We started hiking at 7:15. We expected to reach SC1/2 near Kirk’s cabin at about 1:00 but since we had already seen all the sights and taken most of the pictures we reached SC1/2 at 9:45 with one break. We took a break there and topped off our bottles at the spring and were headed back across the marsh at 11:00. We found a shady spot in a dry creek bed for lunch. We reached the car at 2:00.
We had salad and steak or pizza in Moab. We then drove up to Arches where we had a reservation in the Devil’s Garden campground. We spent about 40 minutes in the visitor center and watched the movie. The drive to the campground required about a half hour. No showers but very clean rest rooms. Skyline Arch was within an easy walk of our camp site.
Arches – John went to see the Broken Arch and Tapestry Arch