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Post #59: Back to where we started

September 25, 2020

We woke up at first light. Last night was peaceful but neither of us slept well for no reason we could ascertain. It just happens sometimes. At one point though I was awakened by some creature investigating our camp table that was near my bug-screened open window. It was too dark to see what it was and I vowed to keep a flashlight near me at night so I could identify our visitors. I could find no tracks among our boot prints around the table so I guessed it was probably a coatimundi because they live here and it sounds cooler than chipmunk.

As we started back up the rutted sandy road, the 4wd drive system decided to give up with dire flashing messages on the dash. This was not good because I used it to get through some of the softer and steeper parts. I assumed the super fine dust had rendered one or more wheel sensors useless. There was no way to fix it out here in the boondocks. Having driven in plenty of deep snow before, I decided the best course was to keep momentum going and try to go as fast as possible without (further) damaging anything. In the end, it worked and aside from a few tense moments wallowing in deep sand, we made it to the paved road and headed to nearby Canyonlands National Park. By the time we got to the entrance just ten minutes down the highway, the dust had apparently been dislodged and 4wd was present again. I made a note to check it out the next time we were home. The way we travel, we need to have it working reliably.

We decided to explore Canyonland’s Island in the Sky district by hiking several relatively short trails, each with its own fantastic wind and water carvings.

Morning sun at Mesa Arch

We began our exploration with a stop at Mesa Arch. It was early, maybe 9:00 am, and the sun was still low in the sky when we reached the arch at the end of a short trail. We were rewarded with stunning views of the morning light through the arch, casting an eerie misty glow on the vast canyons and sandstone formations below.

After Mesa Arch, we made our way to the Grand View Point Trail, which follows the rim of the Island in the Sky mesa, some 1,000 feet above the deep canyons. Canyonlands is renowned for elevated views of the massive rugged canyons and we quickly discovered that this rim trail provided some of the best opportunities to take in those vistas. As we made our way along the trail, we gazed down upon giant breathtaking columns and huge gashes carved into the earth. 

The jeep/adventure bike road wound around the edge of the mesa below us. The park guide said it could take two or three days to complete the hundred-mile trek

In the distance along the edge of the ravine, a double-track road wound around some of the deeper canyons where Jeeps and motorcycles could explore. The track was so far below that we heard the motorcycles before we could see them.

A climb up this boulder led to a peek-a-boo view of the canyons below
Windswept junipers dotted the rugged landscape and contrasted with the red hues of the sandstone canyons
The formation on the right looked like a monkey head

The hike had us skirting the edge of a thousand foot drop-off along a high ridge. 

We went off trail just enough to enjoy scrambles over sandstone hills and enormous boulders that made us feel like kids. 

We scrambled a bit past the end of the trail and found some shade under a secluded sandstone overhang. We lingered awhile at the overhang enjoying the views and the tranquility. Our only company there consisted of chipmunks scurrying across the boulders.

The Green River, once again

The next stop was the Green River Overlook. Having recently and joyfully hiked in the rain down the steep gorge and along the banks of the Green River at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, and having hiked and camped along a different section of the river (and even bathed in it) during our recent visit to Dinosaur National Monument, we felt a particular affinity for the river. Now we could see the Green River much farther south, near where it meets up with the mighty Colorado River. The views of the striking Green River far below us where it carved a path through the canyons did not disappoint.

We wrapped up our Canyonlands visit with a hike to Upheaval Dome. Geologists are uncertain what caused the unusual crater formation there. One theory is that there was once an inland sea covering the area and after hundreds of millions of years the water evaporated, a thick salt deposit remained, layers of sandstone built up on top and pressed down on the salt causing an upheaval dome to appear, and the resulting crater is the eroded remains of the dome. A more recent and simpler theory is that a meteor crashed there, leaving an unstable crater that partially collapsed. Way cooler.

As we headed back to our truck we noticed this camper covered in bumper stickers. It belonged to a Vietnam Vet from Colorado and we laughed when we saw the bumper sticker on the upper right side that read “Proud to be a Vietnam Sucker and Loser.”

Traveling gives us a chance to take a break from politics but we always enjoy a little humor

We decided to head next to (very) nearby Arches National Park. Before we got to the park entrance, we pulled into a gas station but it was so crowded we left. We had about 1/3 of a tank and we were going into Moab later in the day so we could fill up there. I thought.

From the entrance to Arches, the road climbs up switchbacks and as we ascended the scenery changed. Instead of the vast, sweeping canyon views we’d just left, we were now surrounded by rich red sandstone formations. 

These formations are known as "Courthouse Towers"
The "Three Gossips" formations look like carved statues
Vulture looking for prey by the arches
The tiny specks along the top are people exploring this arch

The small park was filled with endless views of giant odd sandstone features and, of course, arches. We counted a dozen, easily. We saw elephants and castles and scary men in the giant wind-carved shapes.

We saw rockclimbers at several spots both inside and outside the park
These ancient sand dunes formed some 200 million years ago

Arches was much more crowded than Canyonlands and we decided to keep our Arches visit short. Luckily, many of the best rock features can be seen on a self-guided driving tour. In addition to arches and unusual sandstone formations, along our drive we passed rock climbers and the hardened remains of ancient sand dunes.

It was a short but steep hike through the second arch

Before leaving the park, we hiked to Double Arches where we climbed up and under the arches and enjoyed the vistas from above.

From Arches, we headed to Moab, about 4 miles away. We figured we’d get gas there, briefly explore the the small town, then head out to find a place to camp. We’d driven about a mile when we found ourselves stopped in a giant two-lane parking lot due to road construction. Moab would have to wait until tomorrow. Instead, we made a u-turn and headed down another road that followed the Colorado River. Our iOverlander app indicated there were both formal campgrounds and possible informal camping spots near the river. 

The scenery along the road was beautiful, with enormous sandstone walls along both sides of the Colorado River. Unfortunately, all the campgrounds were full so we pressed on, the gas gauge dropping precariously. There wasn’t even a pull-off along the river where we could overnight. 

The paved road suddenly became a dirt road
Heading back down from the dirt road to the paved road along the river

After about 20 miles, the 60-mph road suddenly turned into a dirt road that passed through private property, with “no trespassing” signs along the sides. One of our apps assured us there was camping only a few miles down the rough dirt road and I’m always determined to go a bit farther, so we continued, me nervously eying the gas gauge. 

It wasn’t long before the road became very rough and steep. I stopped at a particularly rough spot. I glanced at the road, then the gas gauge, then the road again. Sometimes you have to know when to quit and that was it. With enough gas, we would have pressed on for many more miles of rough road for the chance to camp in this remote area above the Colorado River, but we couldn’t risk it with barely enough fuel to get to Moab (including sitting in traffic for an hour). 

After another u-turn, we wound our way back down the dirt road and onto the the beautiful river road, turned back past the Arches and Canyonland turnoffs where we’d begun, and finally filled the tank at the busy gas station we’d tried earlier in the day.

We decided that last night’s campsite, which was about twenty minutes away, was definitely good enough for another night despite knowing I’d have to do some fancy driving along the rutted sandy road, possibly without 4wd. Eventually, we plowed our way to the beautiful campsite, still vacant with only our tracks around. We took a walk farther down the road thinking we might try another campsite, but a guy wearing camo and carrying a shotgun was yelling at his dog that was barking at us so we decided it was safer back where we were. 

We had a beer and sandwiches as the sun set at our quiet campsite. It had been a long day exploring two national parks and after the beer we were both zonked. We wanted to get up early to make it to Moab before the road construction began and our plan was to have breakfast there, check out the town and then head to Natural Bridges National Monument. Sleep came easily.

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