Published: September 8th 2009September 8th 2009
Thursday, August 26, 2009
In Which the Author Drives to Canyonlands National Park
[Note: This experience, from 2 weeks ago, was written after returning back to Chicago]
Continuing my long desert drive, having explored Capitol Reef’s northern section, and passing through the Glen Recreation Area and National Bridges National Monument, I headed north through Blanding and Monticello, careful, as always, to follow the 35-mile an hour speed limit through these 2500-person towns, I head west down a nice, paved scenic drive, 211, which leads me into the southeastern portion of Canyonlands National Park. The 30x20 mile park is interesting, and probably often-overlooked, as the traveler with time constraints might easily jump from Bryce Canyon National Park to Arches National Park in less than a day’s drive. The Park is divided into (at least) 3 distinct areas: The Needles, The Maze, and the Islands in the Sky. Only 2 paved roads, located at least 60-70 miles from each other, provide entry into the park. Because of this, I opt for the southern entrance, which is still a 40 mile drive into the setting sun off Hwy 191.
The Needles section contains Elephant Hill, which,
you guessed it, has a large natural sculpture that resembles an elephant and its rock trunk. It also provided, at $15, which I paid in the morning, having been too tired and lazy the night before to seek out the self-pay box (Rangers, throughout the whole trip, were absent in the “patrolling department,” a welcome situation, as compared to most State Parks, where volunteers and Park Rangers may visit/drive-by a few times a night). After a long drive, with many sites, I was okay with the fact that the Visitors Center was closed, meaning that it was probably after 6 or 7 p.m. when I arrived at the park. No matter, as again, my Annual Pass would’ve covered the $10 fee.
The two campgrounds, providing approx. 30 sites, all of which butt up against a huge line of large boulders, are spacious enough to provide a sense of remoteness; overall, the campgrounds were only about ½ full, and I had the pleasure of not speaking to any of my neighbors.
I was hungry, so I enjoyed the remaining 2 hours of sun by making dinner (rice and beans, sans cheese) and really knocking out some pages
in Edward Abbey’s 1968 classic Desert Solitaire, as tomorrow, I would be landing into the heart of his writing: Arches National Park. I also had the chance to do some (very light) rock climbing upon the huge boulders that surround 3 sides of the campsite. I climbed to the top, at least 30 feet up, and watched Sophie freak out below me in the campsite, running around wildly before posting herself at the rear of the tent and nervously looking up at me. Quickly learning that the dawn and dusk are surely the most visually pleasing and peaceful times of a desert park’s offerings, I viewed the slow sunset and marveled at the variety of browns, yellows, and reds awarded to me on my high perch.
It was comfortably warm, and after having driven 250 miles through varying degrees of deserts, sat in the tent, the harnessed computer silently awaiting the nightly ritual of writing, which was not to occur this night. I lazily and contently started at the starts, as the rainfly was off for the beginning of the night, and watched the bats dart over the no-see-um screen (oddly, the bats also provided a show earlier,
making their appearance well before sunset and providing a rare “being able to see them fly about” during daylight). A comfortable 75 degrees, a reward for enduring the day’s hot, blazing sun, lulled me into sleep, still in clothes, my head nestled cozily on the sleeping bag, which still resided in its stuff sack.
Around 3 a.m., I woke up and stood outside a few minutes, (Sophie, often on the trip, never even bothered to come outside during my mid-night pee runs. Also curious, the “pee zone”—the amount of feet from the tent at which one pees, moves curiously closer to the tent the later/drunker/colder one gets. ), jumped back into the tent and into the waiting sleeping bag.
In a fortuitous happening, I awoke at dawn, and knew that it was finally time to give into the rhythm of nature—rise at dawn and sleep at first sunset. I jumped out of the sleeping bag before the sun peaked over the buttes 25+ miles away, decided to forgo breakfast (although, coffee was still a must), and again climbed the rocks around the camp, this time, gaining access to an even bigger area further back, and offering football
fields’ worth of solid rock. This led to a number of nice photographs and viewings of bats and birds as well.
I reluctantly threw the tent in the back, wishing that I had at least one day to hike back into the backcountry a bit, especially while the temperature was still somewhat cool, in the low 80s. But, I wanted to be in Arches today, especially to try and snag a campsite within the park. Since 211 is a “one way” road, I must first drive back out, which was actually great, as it gave me a chance to see the same sights in a totally different light (literally) and view Newspaper Rock, my first chance to experience some petrography, writings, usually in rock or cave walls, by cultures 1000s of years ago (In this case approx. 2000 years ago). This “Rock Newspaper” was an excellent isolated experience, as I saw no peoples in both the park and the drive out as well.
Hoping back on Hwy 191, I still marveled in the excellent scenic offerings on the way to Moab. I didn’t know what to expect in the town, but I imagined a “rich, hippy/artsy
vibe.” I was committed to breakfast as a reward for getting up and moving so quickly. Arches would probably my last major stop, as it was a week after I left Jennifer at the airport, and knew that I still had a long way to drive home.
In Abbey’s book, Desert Solitaire, he placed the population, and I was surely as surprised as he would have been to learn that the population was actually slightly under this! The town was indeed small, and seemed to, on the surface at least, be full of working-class folks. The food was great, and for $6 more (total bill-- $18), I got Sophie some eggs with some kinds of meat thrown in there as well.
After the good refueling, we drove the short distances (6 miles) to Arches National Park….
There are more photos below