Peak(s):  Canyonlands - 7,500 feet
Date Posted:  03/27/2008
Date Climbed:   03/19/2008
Author:  lordhelmut
 Easter in Moab  

This has nothing to do with climbing.

Spent a week in Moab, exploring the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park and it was epic to say the least. This TR is mainly for anyone who has never had the chance to visit this gem of eastern Utah. An extremely desolate place for a national park region, I was lucky enough to find empty trails, blue skies and perfect weather all week. I headed down there straight from work last Tuesday, stocked up on supplies in Grand Junction and soon after crossing into Utah, began to look for a decent, free, camping spot outside Moab off rt.128. I remember last year finding a free spot near a place called Castleton? and decided since it was late that‘d be a nice place to car camp for the night. I woke up to some perfect skies and a grumbling stomach, which I appeased with a nice breakfast from BK. The Needles District was about an hours drive South from the town of Moab, soon after you turn off rt.191, you enter another dimension. The scenic byway (rt.211) into the park gets better and better the further you drive in and you see parking lots full of rock climbers everywhere later in the day. The walls of the canyons just get bigger and bigger and the Six Shooter Peaks to the southwest dominate the landscape, this is some beautiful country.

After getting all the camping permits straightened out, I was on the trail soon after.

This was the start of my journey on day 1, looking back towards one of the Six Shooter Peaks to the East :


Soon into the hike I came upon a demanding view of the Needle District and its many spires, this would be the area I‘d be nomadically exploring for the next 48 hours :


I mentioned I had perfect weather for the better part of the week, here are some shots to prove that, all within the Druid Arch/Chesler Park region of the park :

Along the trail en route to Druid Arch

Elephant Hill/Squaw Flat junction

Druid Arch

At some point along the trail, as I was resting when someone came jogging around the corner and it was none other than a member of, Stephanie (Slynn4run) who was doing the 22 mile Needles Loop that day. We climbed the Pawnee Traverse back in November and it was completely random we ran into one another. We sat and chatted for a bit and then parted ways, since we both had some ground to cover that day.

As the day was coming to a close, I came upon my phenomenal camping spot, secluded from all the other spots in the region. Here are some of the views I was treated to :

My tent

A view to the south overlooking Cheslter Park

A view through a notch, looking east towards where I began the day

As I was sitting in my tent, reading "Eiger Dreams" by Jon Krakaur, I noticed my tent had turned orange and as I took a peek outside, was reminded why I came out there :

This was one of the most amazing sunsets i‘ve ever seen

I slept well that night, got about 3 to 4 hours of decent shut eye and awoke to another bluebird day. I decided to hit up a section of Chesler Park known as the ‘Joint Trail‘, which is a narrow canyon section of the loop trail. Just before I reached the abyss of the joint, I snapped a decent pic of the Chesler Park region, this gives you a general idea of how unique looking this area was :


The Joint Trail was pretty narrow, at times, too narrow for my chode ass and my pack, so I needed to detach my pack and do some squeezing. Here‘s one of the ‘wider‘ sections :


I assessed my itinerary and decided to start making my way back to the car since I had to put some gas in my car to prepare for the hour and a half dirt road drive to the Salt Creek Trailhead as well as hike 8.3 miles to my campsite.

En route back to the car, I was presented with a nice photo through a hole in the slickrock of the La Sal Mountain Range overlooking eastern Utah :


Between trips, i refueld at the Needles Outpost and made my way towards the Cathedral Butte TH, the starting point for the Upper Salt Creek Canyon region of the park. I was pretty jazzed up about the whole ordeal, since nearly every ranger i crossed paths with asked for a trail and road conditions report, admitting no one had been back there yet this year, or at least very infrequently. I made it to within a mile ofthe trailhead, a lot of slippery, deep mud stopped me from going any further in the Xterra, so I found a dry spot along the road and parked. Upon reaching Cathedral Butte, I was presented with my first view of the Salt Creek Canyon, pretty isolated place for a national park and the trail register was pretty empty :


Muddy road with La Sal‘s in the background

The hike in had a mix of postholing between 7600 and 6300 feet, weaving through dried out river beds of sand, plunging through thick brush, a decent amount of route finding and an eerie section of the trail that looked something like this :


Right after this, i came upon a spring, a very welcomed spring at that, around 3.8 miles into the hike. I filtered water, looked at my map and realized I didn‘t have 1.2 miles left to go, but another 5 miles to my campsite. Darkness crept over into the canyon and the last couple hours were done in complete darkness. My anxiety level began to rise a little, since I was completely alone, had a saw and a buck knife for protection, was many miles from any sort of help in the case of a freak accident and was seeing cat tracks galore. After the thickest bamboo brush of the hike, I finally found my campsite, next to a soothing spring. The euphoria of the spring was soon gone, when not 30 minutes into setting up my tent and getting in it, I heard an extremely agitated growl from outside. My anxiety level skyrocketed! I‘ve never been so still in my life, until i heard another growl, which actually made me relax a bit since I knew it was real and not some senial figment of my imagination. I knew coyotes were scared of humans for the most part and was unaware of any wolf population in the park, so I was a bit confused a first. At one point, the nose of whoever was out there, brushed up against the tent wall and began sniffing madly. I peeked out the little window of my REI ASL tent and all I could see were some red eyes staring back at me, but couldn‘t make out a solid figure. I decided to shake my tent violently and seconds later there was complete silence, other than the sound of the waterfall. 3-4 hours went by and daylight made its way over the canyon walls, me still in the upright positions, still a tad shaken. I finally rolled out of the tent and saw what a dramatic sight that water flowing really was :


I packed the head of my backpack, unclipped it and explored the surrounding region, which ended up being the most secluded, interesting hike i‘ve ever been on, mainly due to the Puebloan artwork on the canyon walls and the fact that there wasn‘t a soul in the entire valley. I came upon two interesting pictographs :

This was right near my campsite the first night

and this was the infamous "All-American Man"

I got back to camp later that day and decided to move camp to the sites 1 and 2, which were closer to the trailhead. For the next two days, I did some more exloring of the region, saw a lot of hidden arches and drank straight out of canyon springs.

Here is a view from my camp the last 2 nights

And an old abandoned cabin, known as "Kirk Cabin"

First thing Sunday morning, I was ready to get out of there. All the thoughts that go around my head were getting old and my ipod more of the same, plus my food was running low. I ate a quick breakfast, filtered some water and made the ascent back up to the car, I could‘nt wait for some Qdoba or whatever else had been on my mind the last 3 or 4 days and was actually looking foward to civilization. Once I got back to Denver, I had a beer and some appetizers with my friend in the Golden Outback, it was very strange being back around all that activity after so many days of ‘solitary confinement‘. It was a great experience and next time I hope to share with at least one other person.

(sorry this report sounds brief, I had another version written up but then lost it and lost my will for another descriptive analysis of my trip)

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Friggin‘ Cool
02/05/2011 00:22
Nice TR. Looks like I need to go check this place out.


Amazing place
11/30/2010 17:28
This is so cool, and gets me excited because I'm headed there in April! Druid Arch looks sweet. That's really neat you explored that by yourself. Thanks for the write-up! I'm wondering what animal was?! I'd be terrified!

Ridge runner

small world
02/01/2011 00:24
It was a bit crazy to run into you out there. You‘re right on about this place being a gem, especially once you get off the beaten path a bit more. Did you make it down to the river? I‘ll have to check out the Cathedral Butte next time, your pictures of that area are great!


amazing place
03/28/2008 14:31
indeed. Caroline, thats a great time to be down there, the wild flowers should be out in full force by then, they were budding last week. I was there in April last year and they were absolutely amazing, like a desert oasis. Which area you focusing on? I saw ”The Maze” from afar, that place seems like another planet, but I love the Needles, enough stuff to down there for a while. Hard to beat those 60+ miles of trails to explore. One of the more scenic drives anywhere.

Stephanie - very small world. Salt Creek is probably the best part of the Needles, got a little bit of everything and most importantly, a whole bunch of H20.

Dave - make it a priority, its a nice break from Colorado, but it made me appreciate CO that much more.


11/30/2010 17:28
So glad you got out there! And, enjoyed so much in such a short period of time. We're heading out the end of next month to do several long day hikes (Confluence Overlook and a side trip down to the rivers) and Peekaboo (in/out). Great pix! Happy trails!


11/30/2010 17:28
Looks awesome. Amazing how such a desolate place can be so beautiful. Great report. I'm gonna have to check that place out some day!


03/28/2008 22:20
If I am not mistaken you pitched in campsite #1 (CP1) which is where I stayed four nights during my first desert backpack. So many ops - Joint, Druid, Confluence, etc. I wanted to get a look but don‘t touch view of Virginia Park but ran out of time. The area is off limits, not depicted on most maps, but there is a sign somewhere in the vicinity.

I was there in early May and water was scarce. Anyone living in CO who has not explored Canyonlands is missing out.


03/29/2008 02:32
Presto - thanks for the recomendations, Salt Creek was a mind altering area. Your right, it was a rather brief trip (for moab), but it seemed like eternity, you lose track of time out there.

huffy13 - desolate and beautiful indeed, that some day should be soon, get out there while you can

Papillon - you are correct, that was campsite 1, I lucked out nabbing that one for CP2,3 and 4 are kind of right next to one another and the views aren‘t the same, I had that etire area all to myself and it was a relatively safeguard from any winds in the area. Next year I hope to get that same campsite and check out Lower Red Lake to the CO River, Lost Canyon/Peekaboo region and then the far off Butler Flats. Each region has its own characteristic it seems and there is water throughout, a year round source in Salt Creek, not too sure about the other regions. Whoever hasn‘t been here realy is missing out, you are absolutely right about that.


04/04/2008 14:09
Good on ya mate! Love that place, was there last October. Phenominal. Back in CO now, we gotta get up in the hills soon.


04/22/2008 15:52

Must have been a great trip. I am always so consumed with doing epic mountain bike rides while I am out there and dont always get time to explore that beautiful place.. Great Stuff!!

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