Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, & Zion Treks

February 25 - March 4th - 2006

- Click Here For Larger Image -Delicate Arch

People come from all around the globe to view and photograph Delicate Arch. It's image adorns the Utah license plates.

Being early in the season, only a few cars were parked at the trail head. The trail passes by the Wolf Creek Homestead. The old log and mud structure still stands defying the ravages of time. Wolf Creek flows nearby. The trail crosses the creek on a sturdy bridge then heads up a slick rock dome. Cairns (small piles of stones) mark the route. From the top of the dome, we crossed a short flat stretch, the trail then becomes a stairway carved into the sandstone. Then a wide smooth “sidewalk” leads to the natural monument that is Delicate Arch.

On the return from our visit to Delicate Arch, we followed a short spur trail near Wolf Creek that lead to a panel of pictographs carved into the face of a sandstone block.

I'll elaborate more on the pictographs at the image of Newspaper Rock.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -North Window Arch

There was still time and daylight left available for one more short hike to Windows Arches. The trail goes up a gentle incline to the North Window. A “primitive” but well marked trail loops around to the backside of the Windows Arches. From the backside of the Windows, the arches resemble a gigantic mask.

The light was fading fast as we returned to the trail head. Our afternoon in Arches National Park was enjoyable. But the time had come to drive to Moab and find a motel and a restaurant.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -Newspaper Rock

After a restful night at the Red Rock Inn, we picked up a few supplies at the Moab Albertson's, we were on our way to Canyonlands. Driving the 40 miles southwest on Highway 191 toward Monticello to a well signed junction, we turned right onto the narrow paved road. It was another 37 miles to the Canyonlands Information center. Prior to arriving at Canyonlands we made a roadside stop at Newspaper Rock.

The figures carved on the rock face include abstractions, geometric patterns and more recognizable forms like animals, people and handprints. Whatever they represent, these figures provoke in most people a curiosity and a desire to understand.

These images are more than adornments hung on the landscape. They are communications between people, written not with letters, but with visceral imagery. In effect, the odd figures on the rock convey the social, economic, and religious concerns of many different cultures, historic and prehistoric.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -The Needles from Squaw Flats Campground

We arrived at Canyonlands Visitor's Center before noon. After picking up our backcountry camping permit, we chatted with the Ranger. She gave us the “rules” for back country camping. No campfires. Avoid walking on the biological soil crust. Pack out all our garbage. She was very helpful in mapping out locations where we could probably find water. She also suggested some short hikes so we could fill our afternoon with some sight seeing before we camped at Squaw Flats Campground.

A short 1/4 mile loop hike took us to the Puebloan Granary. At a roadside vista we photographed Wooden Shoe Arch. Clouds were blowing in as we hiked the Potholes Loop. By the time we reached the trail head for the Big Spring Canyon Loop, a stiff breeze was blowing. The flat light limited our photo opportunities, but it was fun to be practicing our slick rock hiking skills.

Back at Squaw Flats Campground, we set up camp just before it began to rain. (we thought we left the rain in the northwest)

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- Click Here For Larger Image - The Needles from Trail to Chesler Park

By morning the rain and wind had stopped. We were left with some high clouds and some streaks of blue sky and pleasant temperatures (a pleasant surprise since we had expected freezing temperatures at night). We loaded up our packs and moved the vehicle from the campsite to the trailhead. The extra weight of 1 1/2 gallons of water caused us to groan a little as we hoisted our packs onto our backs, however, this is desert hiking and water is essential.

The trail leads southwest from Squaw Flats Campground starting across sagebrush flats, but soon climbs onto the distinctive sedimentary rock, the famous slick rock of Canyonlands.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -The Needles from Trail to Chesler Park

The predominately slick rock trail is marked by cairns (small stacks of flat rocks). At about 1 1/2 miles from the trail head we reached a junction with the Big Spring Canyon Trail. There are campsites near the junction, but no water.

From the intersection we crossed Big Spring Canyon and continued southwest across the ever changing slick rock environment, through narrow clefts and over rocky ridges. The scenery and sculpted stone features seem alien and surreal. It's unlike hiking anyplace else.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -Slick Rock Hiking

About 4 miles from Squaw Flats, we reached another intersection with, confusingly, another trail called the Chesler Park Trail; this one comes from the north off the Elephant Hill four-wheel drive track.

Less than one mile further we reached another intersection, this time with the Elephant Canyon Trail. We crossed the canyon and continued another mile to where we began the climb up into Chesler Park.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -Sandstone Behemoths

As we continued toward Chesler Park, we were awed by the ever changing scenery. The route meandered through a maze of huge sculpted sandstone monoliths. The scale of the rock is amazing. The distinctive color changes of the layered sandstone is both interesting and beautiful.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -Entering Chesler Park

We climbed up a rocky slope and through a narrow cleft in the wall of needles into Chesler Park itself. It's an appropriate portal into this hidden place. Within the protective ring of towering stone needles, the gentle expanse of dry grasslands and sagebrush is an unexpected contrast to the rugged landscape we had just walked through.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -Inside the Joint Trail

Once we entered Chesler Park at its northeast corner, we turned left and continued southwest on the loop trail for about 1 1/4 miles to the west side of an island of needles that extends into the center of the park. We were at camp site #2 and had agreat vantage point from which we could view the entire park.

We set up camp and had lunch, then headed toward the southwest corner of Chesler Park and the Joint Trail. The path is clearly marked by steps that lead into the sandstone that lead down into the skinny slot. As I stepped into the slot, my shoulders rubbed both sides of the rock. But, in a few steps, it widened by a foot or more (still very skinny!) The Joint Trail is a remarkable side trip that extends .8 mile until it opens above Chesler Canyon.

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