Canyonlands National Park occupies a huge area west of Moab. The park is divided into three large districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. On Thursday we decided to take our longest hike yet and explore the area known as the Needles. This area in known for a landscape of sculptured rock spires, arches, canyons, and potholes. The dominant landforms are the Needles – rock pinnacles banded in red and white. We planned a hike that would take us right through an area filled with Needles.
The Needles area is quite remote. It requires a drive of about 34 miles south, then 30 miles to the west just to reach the entrance, so we will probably limit our exploration of it to this one visit.
On the drive south, you pass Wilson’s Arch, a huge arch with a span of 91 feet and height of 46 feet. Wilson’s Arch was named after Joe Wilson, a local pioneer who had a cabin nearby.
As we headed west toward the entrance to the park the views were very impressive.
The shapes of many of the rock formations along the way were very interesting. The one below is called The Wooden Shoe.
We stopped at the visitor’s center and spoke with a ranger about a good hike with a view of some needles. She outlined a hike that would take us out to an area called Chesler Park, where we would make a wide circle, then rejoin the main trail back to the parking area. Total distance of this hike would be a bit over eleven miles. If we did this hike, it would be the longest one we had ever done. But it seemed that we would be hiking over fairly flat terrain, with little change in elevation, so we felt up to the challenge. We drove about five miles back a dirt road to the trailhead and began our journey. The trail began with a short climb up some very steep rocks, an indication of what was to come.
As we hiked the views were beautiful and constantly changing. Below is the view to the northwest with the La Sal Mountains in the background.
Much of the early sections of the trail were over flat slickrock. The trail over the rocks was well marked with cairns, small piles of rocks to guide hikers.
Sometimes the trail got a little narrow, passing through high rocky ridges.
As we gained a bit of altitude, we were treated to more great views.
The trail then passed through an interesting slot canyon . . .
. . . then under a rock ledge . . .
. . . and down a rocky gully into a wash below
Climbing out of the wash we scrambled along a slickrock ledge up the side of a canyon.
Rock formations along the trail tested the imagination. Anyone see a pie below?
By the way, note the two dark streaks in the left center of the picture below. We’ve cleaned the camera lens, but the marks must be inside. Any ideas of the cause and/or cure?
The trail continued through another gap in the rock.
We then hiked along the edge of the rocks, with some great needles in front of us.
Part of the trail was along a Jeep road that lead to another trailhead.
The trailhead was just over the half way point in our hike, so we sat at a picnic table there to enjoy our lunch. We checked the GPS app on our phone and found it had taken us over three hours to do five and a half miles through the rocks. Since it was almost four o’clock we began to get a bit concerned that, if it took the same amount of time to do the return hike, we might end up in the dark, definitely something we wanted to avoid. So after a quick bite to eat, we continued our hike. The trail quickly entered a rocky canyon requiring some scrambling.
Our scrambling paid off, as we then entered a long slot canyon called the Joint Trail. Inside the slot the wind was very strong and the temperature dropped about ten degrees
After exiting the Joint Trail, we hiked through the flat area known as Chesler Park. We were hoping for a park bench next to a food vendor, but this park had neither.
The return hike didn’t take as much time as the first half, so we returned to the Jeep with time to spare! After hiking eleven and a half miles, much of it over fairly rough terrain, we sat a few minutes in the Jeep before heading out, tired but glad we made this cool hike.
It looks like tomorrow may be a day of well-deserved rest. We have many adventures yet to experience in the Moab area, so the need to pace ourselves is important. Besides, the weather report calls for a possibility of rain tomorrow and the Jeep needs an oil change.