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Three Days In Moab

post #1 of 41
Thread Starter 
As we wait for winter to descend...

Moab, UT, is an extraordinary place. It serves as the hub for three distinct national park areas: Arches National Park, Islands in the Sky (Canyonlands National Park), and Needles District (Canyonlands National Park). The third district of Canyonlands, The Maze, is not accessible from Moab as it is west of the Colorado and Green rivers. None of the three Canyonlands Districts are accessible from another district - they are all separated by the river carved canyons. We spend a day each in Islands, Needles, and Arches from a base camp in Arches @ Devil's Garden.

This is truly a timeless place against which we see our own time. And we learn more about the true meaning of slickrock. But first, you have to get there through the beautiful desolation of eastern Utah:

Upon entering Arches National Park, the road climbs and you are greeted by the towering features of Park Ave.

Devil's Garden is 18 miles into the park at the very end of the paved road (there are 4wd accessible areas here). If you camp in the Devil's Garden Campground, you will drive this each day you leave the park - it is more time than you think at 30-45 mph so plan accordingly.
Edited by NayBreak - 10/21/15 at 11:25pm
post #2 of 41
Thread Starter 
The reward for this trek is both a constant feast for the eyes as well as one of the most beautiful car camping spots anywhere. Reserve 6 months in advance, at midnight, if you want a prime spot.

Sunrise on day one.

Base camp smile.gif

Yoga on the fin behind camp? Yes.

And breakfast.

If you happen to be sitting here having breakfast, it will look something like this...

If you happen to wake up as a teenage boy most mornings, some climbing may be in store.

Enough of this camping stuff. Unless you like shooting stars, the Milky Way, and tired children asleep in the tent on perfect October evenings. No pictures wink.gif
Edited by NayBreak - 10/21/15 at 12:20pm
post #3 of 41

I assume there will be more coming...:popcorn

post #4 of 41
Thread Starter 
Day One - Islands in the Sky

Islands in the Sky is about 8 miles north of Arches, and then another 30 miles west to the park entrance. Upon entering the park, you will pass the visitor center and then travel across The Neck. This is a 14 foot wide piece of land that connects the Islands to the mainland. You have to go down, about 1,200-1,500 feet give or take, if you want to get back out any other way. The neck was used by cowboys to herd horses into the Islands to prevent escape. I don't think that happens anymore.

Here you are quite literally in the sky, elevated above the rest of the parks, at an elevation of about 5,500 - 6,000 feet (Moab itself is about 4.200). It is cooler here, relatively, high above the canyons and lower plateau. Most of the hiking in Islands in the Sky is parking lot based, generally short hikes that in some cases can be extended, and in other cases are straight to incredible overlooks. This is a great place for taking younger children - at least as long as you are comfortable managing them near very big dropoffs that do not have any safety measures in place. We stick to the postcard stuff today. Utah was on fall break, so there were somewhat more crowds than usual. Islands is never really crowded, however, and just leave the big parking lot trails for solitude.

Mesa Arch - this is a very famous arch that is often photographed at sunrise because the underside of the arch will glow pink and red. We have no such pictures, because, well, camp. The hike is a short half mile or so loop on a fully maintained wide trail. Mesa Arch sits on the rim of a canyon and it drops off several hundred feet directly behind the arch - those with a fear of heights may not be comfortable for the typical photo opportunity.

post #5 of 41
Thread Starter 
Upheaval Dome - this is the best hike in Islands in terms of both seeing named features and getting some miles under your feet on primitive trail. The geologic history of Upheaval Dome is still debated - was it an asteriod crater or salt upheaval? The latter seems to be favored as this was an ancient ocean and large salt deposits are found throughout the broader region.

The hike to the first overlook is about .5 miles and is moderate in that there is a little bit of interesting terrain and it is all a climb upwards. Most people stop here - there is a trail to a second overlook and that also continues to the Syncline Loop (IIRC), and we go out to the second overlook which makes this about a 3 mile spur and back in total.

Continuing to the second overlook, the trail is more difficult, with plenty of scrambles up "slickrock" sandstone domes, very minor bouldering if you want it. This is a great warmup hike to get everybody comfortable with the general terrain and exposure if you intend to push further in the coming days. Of course, we do.

Edited by NayBreak - 10/21/15 at 11:26pm
post #6 of 41

Very cool. Love southern Utah. So much to see.

post #7 of 41

Cool - I take it we're going to get the Delicate Arch sunset experience?  (possibly minus the Korean Camera Club & the wedding party I experienced last time out)

post #8 of 41
Thread Starter 
But first, the Overlooks. One of the coolest things about Canyonlands to me is that the Green River and Colorado River meet in the park at what is known as The Confluence. But that's Day 2 plans. There are two overlooks, both are directly from the parking lot, and both are worth seeing. The Green River overlook is what it sounds like - you can see the Green River canyon in the distance. Grand View is...bigger...

Green River

Grand View - I have heard/read/something that you can see more land from this point than all of Rhode Island. Don't know if that is true, but you can see the curvature of the earth. It is such a unique vantage point to see that much that isn't looking down/out from a mountaintop. Needles District straight out to the south from here.

That pano shot got a little funky, but we mostly had people posing pics here.
post #9 of 41
Thread Starter 
And don't miss Whale Rock. Kids of all ages, including those of us who aren't kids, love Whale Rock. Why Whale Rock? Big sandstone formation that looks like a sperm whale. It is something of a vantage point for all of Islands in the Sky as well. About a mile of hiking if you go over the fin (you have to boulder here) all the way to the head.

And time to get back to camp. Only 90 minutes or so from here. You'll miss the afternoon at camp, but best get to bed early, because tomorrow is Needles and you have plans that need to work out just about perfectly because some things are best not done in the dark.
post #10 of 41
Thread Starter 
Day 2 - Needles District

Needles District, as the Raven flies, begins about 12 miles south of the Grand View overlook. By car, it is 40 miles south of Moab, and then another 30 miles or so west into the park. Avoid the big crowds in Arches for a second day to see an incredibly remote place with very few visitors. There is nothing to do here straight from your car except a short scenic drive and one small hike. Unless you have a certain kind of car, but we'll get to that. The hikes from the park entry are all signficant, all day events, over difficult terrain. The rewards, of course, are immense. If I can encourage you to do one thing in this area, get deep into Needles. Very, very few people ever do.

But ravens we are not, so we are still driving. As you descend towards Needles, stop at Newspaper Rock. It isn't known why native peoples made these inscriptions, but this spot is thought to have been added to over generations, including a few modern people who have thought it worth scratching their names on this beautiful scene. The black background can be found all over the region. It is called desert varnish and it collects on certain faces.

Continuing towards Needles, the terrain changes as huge outcroppings loom out from the north, each bigger than the last, battleships stuck in time. Monuments emerge as the park nears.

We knew this was a potentially stormy day, and the epic day of the trip, but the warm humidity added some intimacy to what is already an intimate place...if you go in...

Stop by the visitor center to check in. You now need a day pass or an overnight backcountry pass to take a vehicle or mountain bike on the back country roads. We got a permit overnight because you could buy in advance, and who wants to drive over two hours and get turned away by a daily limit? Hikers were gearing up, but our plans were to both hike The Joint and The Confluence. This cannot be done on foot in a day. And that means Elephant Hill.
post #11 of 41
Thread Starter 

The Joint Trail hike also begins here - about 11 miles in difficult terrain round trip. By 4WD, you have to get out to Chesler Park to The Joint tailhead, at which point you hike up through The Joint to Chesler Park itself. Elephant Hill is a techinical 4WD trail. Low range and some ground clearance are required, although it is never extreme. A black diamond. Don't go alone without being prepared. I have been back here a number of times with groups and I know the trail. That doesn't mitigate the fact that a vehicular issue will leave you stranded.

Our plan was to run Elephant Hill out to Devil's Lane, and then take that 5 miles to Chesler Park. Here we would hike the Joint, return, and return on Devil's Lane to the back of the Elephant Hill loop and all the way north to The Confluence, hike that, and then return back over Elephant Hill itself to pavement. That is a 7-8 hour trip if all goes well. And it is dry.

Elephant Hill begins straight up the bluff that drops you into the Needles back country. This is 4wd territory from the first inch, and it is steep with some exposure. The road here does get some maintenance or it would get dug out, so it isn't really ever off camber. But there is no warmup, and some passengers will likely choose to walk. Drivers get to see a lot of sky on the climb - use spotters if you need them. A Jeep group in front of us.

The climb.

After pulling into a spot where you can back up and turn around, complete a steep section and across the top. All slickrock here. And some optional fun.

And you are warmed up now, right? Good. Because the descent is a lot steeper and also tighter. Pay good attention. Only one way in and out, and you'll be back.

And yes, this is true.

Fortunately, you do get to turn around again. Work your way down this, and welcome to the Needles District.

Edited by NayBreak - 10/22/15 at 11:47am
post #12 of 41
Thread Starter 
It is a few hundred yards now to the loop. This is a generally pleasant and extremely scenic hike for those who want to walk, but even with the technical 4WD terrain, hikers cannot keep up with their trail vehicle. Mostly it is best to walk the technical stretches for those who don't like to ride passenger when the going gets rough (fun). Also, when training for XC state championships, no rest for the runners. Off to Devil's Kitchen with you!

We passed a park ranger who was the girls' 3A division state Colorado champ out of Gunnison in 1999. Small world in big places. She did ask if we "by chance" had a permit. New policy, so they are likely just asking right now. A sampling of the 4WD terrain in the pics below, mostly climbs (the loop is one way). This part of the trail is generally more difficult than the back side. Except one spot. Even when that spot is dry.

post #13 of 41
Thread Starter 
And before you can finally turn towards Devil's Lane....Devil's Notch or Crotch or something. Pull in those mirrors. And hands. It leans in there...

Now get youself to Devil's Lane. And take a left smile.gif

post #14 of 41
Thread Starter 
As you head south on Devil's lane, you will approach S.O.B. hill. This is a tight squeeze that goes 90 degrees left and down a hill with boulders. Fun. But first, you will come to a pulloff. Take this, get out, and go up to the rock wall.

There are no other humans here. Only ghosts.

S.O.B. time. This does give people trouble. Stock 4x4's are not likely to get through, because the boulders are in the "wrong" places on sharp turns, which doesn't show up in pics.

A few miles out to Chesler. What a road. Time for The Joint.
post #15 of 41
Thread Starter 
The first time we hiked The Joint, our youngest were 3 and 4 years old. It was an instant favorite. It is only about 1.5 miles total round trip, assuming you don't go exploring in Chesler Park, but it climbs out of the valley wash terrain into increasingly interesting features, seemingly into a wall of impassable terrain.

And then, up a narrow slot. There are stairs cut/placed here, but they are very narrow and steep.

Now you are in the Joint, which is essentially a slot canyon in the floor of Chesler Park. Follow the cairns - route finding is not obvious at the beginning and you wind around some...

...until it looks like this.

There is some bouldering in here.

And while this is not a traditonal looking slot canyon, mind your weather. Some things tell a story.

Come up these stairs, and find yourself in Chesler Park.

We did eventually meet hikers we saw at the visitor center after our time in Chesler, so they were about 4.5 hours to the midway of the hike. These were fit younger folk biggrin.gif, so that gives an idea of hiking time from the Elephant Hill parking lot.

Getting up to prime Chesler Park theater seating requires some fairly steep sandstone climbing, but nothing you haven't been doing since Islands.

post #16 of 41
Thread Starter 
As with everything here, opportunities to explore are nearly endless. As long as you aren't stomping cryptobiotic soil and melting the Colorado snowpack. But do take some time to reflect.

And then climb on until you have the cathedral that is Chesler Park out in front of you.

post #17 of 41
Thread Starter 
A brief break from our story to give a nod to Hector.

Hector was a hoodoo or two across the way as we arrived, sitting with his buddy. He flew over, landed by us, and proceeded to pull out every trick in the book to get a morsel. And he did. A pomegranate Stinger Chew, which is a prized treat in these parts and can be seen here at Hector's feet. Just sitting. Like it sucks.

And Hector did not eat the Stinger Chew. He pecked at it, and acted as if he didn't like it. But he warded off Hector's friend, who ended up just a hoodoo away.

And he would just hop over to us, and look at us, and...Hector us quitely. Which earned him a second Stinger that he also acted was like a lima bean. Until we got up, at which point he ate one, grabbed the other, and flew off to Hector's Lair. Which probably has nice views and is full of treats.
post #18 of 41
Thread Starter 
The problem with playing Game of Thrones with a raven who can fly off to wherever he flies off to is that it starts raining. Just very softly. And intermittently. But you are in Chesler Park. In Needles District. In Canyonlands.

This means you should do your return hike. Probably about as fast as is still safe. At a minimum, you left your rain gear in the truck. And that's ok, because you have a truck. Use help as needed.

And head back the way you came on Devil's Lane. A quick note here. As you approached the parking area, you did hit a fork in the road. To left was Chesler, and to the right was Beef Basin. You took a left, because you did the hike. Beef Basin would earn you some 40 miles out to Monticello on trail than can be clay and impassable when wet. So on your return, stay right at that fork. Make sure it looks like the way you came in. You'll remember this spot when you dropped into the wash. Now climb out - the trails do run in the wash from time to time, but if the tracks are gone, you might be heading the wrong way. Or it might be raining.

But you got it right. Because this is S.O.B. Hill again. Those front and rear differential lockers you have? Very good just in case. It's always nice to have about 75% of your traction potential in reserve. If things start getting a little bit ugly.

And back to Elephant Hill loop, stay on Devil's Lane (it's one way, remember?), wind through a lesser version of the Notch, and you are back on slickrock and time for

post #19 of 41
Thread Starter 
This is a pretty cool spot for those who like to put rock under rubber. It would not be great in heavy rain. But it's just now raining again.

Work your way down. Low range, first gear. Crawl.

A junction after a few hundred more yards of technical terrain. Stay straight and head out 3 miles to The Confluence hike, turn right to complete the Elephant Hill loop at head back over. It's 3:30. And raining. We've been to The Confluence before, but it is an intensely spiritual place. Mom is worried. Query the kids. They don't hesitiate. We should head out. We spend a lot of time talking about good decision making, especially in groups. The Confluence will have to wait. Here it is, though, during spring snowmelt. The Green and the Colorado.

Edited by NayBreak - 10/21/15 at 4:51pm
post #20 of 41
Thread Starter 
Raining a bit harder now, remembering this spot on the way down...

About as much angle as you ever want to get looking down in a vehicle. Staring at the ground, hanging by your seatbelt. It looks like this.

And feels like this.

And then around the corner is this. Which I forgot about. And that has gotten worse.

It doesn't look bad, except that it takes you across the fall line, and then you have to turn in. The whole thing is a no-no in fourwheeling. In a group, you have experienced spotters. With a family, you have people experienced watching experienced spotters. Take the high line on the rock and the driver's rear may drop in as the front turns in while staying high. Recipe for a flop. Build up the rock pile. It moves. It's wet. Get the kids out.

Low line is too close to the edge. That whole thing may not hold. Keep the driver's side low and passenger up on the rock and you can get out to the middle, but what happens as the front goes down the fall line first and driver's side is first to drop? Recipe for a flop. 10 minutes, 20 minutes. Use momentum, like a banked turn, but there's a big rock in the middle. People have been driving the loop in the wrong direction and digging out the lower area.

Fortunately the Jeep group has been having mechanical problems all day. We passed them on top of Elephant Hill, did our whole plan, and they come up behind us. Enter experienced spotters, including a trail leader who knows this trail extremely well. We go one side up on the slab, one side down, find the rocks on the driver's side to keep it up. Turning down the fall line, I can feel the suspension unload in the rear. Not badly, but it's light. Big guy puts weight on the rear passenger side, it settles down. Drive through, looks like nothing. This was after it was the most tippy. Your wife isn't going to take pics at the roll point.

I'd have turned back alone. Not in the rain. If we had gone out to The Confluence, it would have been two hours later, no group behind us. Using that overnight permit. We actually were very close to our reserved campsite, within 100 yards or so. No tent, but that's ok.

But there's fun from here, lots of time in the wash.

And there are fossils in the rock here. Hard to find in the rain, we couldn't locate the best one. Look closely...

And then it's back over Elephant Hill, which is now wet. Lockers.
post #21 of 41
Thread Starter 
Some slip, have to get to the edge of the trail to use more textured terrain. That high traction sandstone becomes a slippery sandy mess in the wet, and your tire sipes pack with the very fine wet sand. I was crawling it and spun all four at a couple points, fully locked. A little adjustment and no big deal, but some of these spots get a lot more interesting with just a little bit of rain.

And get on down.

Phew. Good to plan to eat here and not back at camp. Brought the camp stove, pot, and the freeze dried dinners. But back on pavement, a couple of miles up the Scenic Drive, is a little hike called the Potholes. Do this.

It's maybe .5 miles in a loop, over moon crater terrain. What's really cool is that slickrock gets potholes over time, but here, they are everywhere and get sizable. What's so fun about that? When they have water in them for extended periods, little creatures hatch in some of the bigger ones. Like shrimp. Leftovers from the age of the ocean that can wait months or years for rain, and then hatch and reproduce in short times before going dormant again. After a rain, and in the evening, it looks like this.

And the features up here are like nothing you've seen yet.

Looking at some of the tiny swimmers as dinner water boils.

And then it's time to head back to camp. 2 hours. Your passengers are all going to fall asleep within 45 minutes. You are in southern Utah. It is pitch black. Did you bring extra coffee? That last 45 minutes is going to be rough.

But first, Canyonlands critters are alive in your headlights. Mouse after mouse launches across the road. Hares, too. Don't swerve. And then a bag or something. Wait. That was a white baby owl, just sitting in the road. And then some firewood. So somebody lost their firewood and their baby owl. But you can't help them.

One other thing. This is open range. Cattle will scare the living shit out of you in the darkness five feet from your truck. Be careful. They own this place. Turn your high beams off. They're attactors.

Sleep well, you're back in Arches, and a whole lot of people with Utah license plates left on Saturday wink.gif.
Edited by NayBreak - 10/21/15 at 11:38pm
post #22 of 41
Thread Starter 
Day 3 - Arches National Park

October is busy in Moab. You can go any time in the heat of the summer and have the place to yourself. But when Utah is on fall break, and much of Colorado is on fall break - it was booked out. No camping spots even down along the river, no lodging. We met a couple who were going to have to go to Grand Junction for nearest lodging on Friday night.

To add to this, Arches is the most accessible of the three park areas, by far. Many major features like the Windows and Balanced Rock have a parking lot at their base. Even Delicate Arch, one of the true must see features, is a relatively straightforward hike, 25 minutes out of Moab. On Friday and Saturday of this trip, the vehicle lines to get into Arches were 50-60 cars deep. At Needles, they didn't even have anybody at the park entrance station to check your pass or sell you one. Honor system by going to the visitor center and checking in. So we saved Arches for Sunday, which was also our return trip day that is about 8 hours with stops. Arches National Park has the largest collection of stone arches in the world - and you do have to earn a view of most of them. This could easily be "3 Days in Arches", just not on a busy weekend.

Our plan was simple: keep the campsite reservation for Sunday night in order to not have to break camp early and then hike later, drive 10 minutes down the road and hike Delicate Arch, have lunch, break camp, and head home. But we are in Devil's Garden Campground, and we've never explored Devil's Garden. That parking lot is always full. Pull out the hiking guide book, and it says that if you do the whole primitive loop that Devil's Garden is one of the most spectacular hikes in any national park. Well, we can walk there from camp, it's a half mile or so. Done.

TIme for some coffee. After yesterday, this is going to taste really, really good, except it isn't, because it is Starbucks Via that expired in 2013. Of course, some planning errors are better than others. Steeped cigarette butts would probably taste good after yesterday's glorious epicness. Anyway, it's sunny, there is rain in the afternoon forecast, and we leave for the trailhead on foot at about 9:30. The trailhead map shows signs for the superhighway trail sights, aka the "white sock" trail, which are spurs to arches viewing pens. And then the primitive loop. We figure we can get out to the primitive loop and see what's what.

Also, the sign advises that the primitive loop is "difficult hiking", and that it is not advised when snowy or wet. My wife points this out, and I retort "After yesterday, I think we can handle it." Gee. No way that is going to be tested today now that I've said it.

This area is awesome. It is almost entirely fins, and the trail heads out between two of them, nice and cool in the morning, and then opens out to this (fins on the left).

Well now. This is looking like a good day.
post #23 of 41
Thread Starter 
On the white sock trail, you will come to a junction - stay left and you can go to see two arches. The first one is Tunnel Arch, and it's interesting in that it looks like water still flows hard through here in storms. The second is Pine Tree Arch, well, because it is. Walk under that one and look up.

Some expansive views from here - this is worth a 15 minute diversion. Back the way you came, back to the junction, and take a right (this would have been taking a left when you got here the first time - that's how spurs work). Follow the very well maintained trail until you get to soft beach sand, and look left and up. This is Landscape Arch. Sitting up there, a senior citizen defying gravity. In 1991, a guy was taking pictures and caught the viewers right rock fall on film. One more of those on the left side - follow the cracks - and this arch will probably come down. At 360 feet, it may be the longest on the planet.

We aren't paying enough attention to know that this is where the primitive loop starts. There are still viewing fences and it doesn't look like the trail continues, but it does.
Edited by NayBreak - 10/22/15 at 9:58am
post #24 of 41
Thread Starter 
The older boys think we should turn around - "We've seen the arch" - and check the trail in the other direction, but I point out that they might want to join other scramblers on the rocks ahead. Sold. Turns out this is the trail, if you want to hike the primitive loop clockwise.

Up the fin(s) to the upper plateau. Head left at a junction to see Partition Arch and Navajo Arch. Stretch along the way if you are the right size.

Partition first. Looking northeast here.

And then back out and Navajo. As you approach Navajo, there are options for testerone expression...

...small mammal nesting...

...and the dawning realization that this is a very protected place that would have supported human habitation just as nature created it. That's probably why the arch name. Yep, we're getting smarter as this trip continues. Didn't even need a sign.

Head back the way you came - we're headed to Double O Arch. That's looking southwest. You know. Where this storm has been hanging out for a couple of days now.
post #25 of 41
Thread Starter 
Back the way you came and on the main trail, the sky is changing. The good news is that it is cool and comfortable.

And the trail is getting more interesting.

We aren't going down that way. Yet.

post #26 of 41
Thread Starter 
Stop by the Black Arch overlook, and then onwards...

...to Double O Arch. There was a rockfall under part of the arch in April.

Time to finish off this loop, just need to head through Fin Canyon. We decide to skip Dark Angel - you can see the monolith from Double O as a spur trail, but we still have to get home today - and the spur to Private Arch, which can be seen from a distance later on the loop. Cue the rain. Just intermittment of course. Like in Chesler Park yesterday. Fin Canyon should just be some hiking between fins.

Or not.

At one point as you have to cross from one fin to another, you are on a fairly steep angle, its sandy from the hikers, and its raining. Slickrock. I have work my way down a bit, anchor in a foothold, and tell my daughter, who is slipping, to just come down slowly. She refuses, because she is scared. I say "it's not like you'll just go winging right by me" and she then starts and is winging right by me. I grab her, get her a foothold, and we all get through...
Edited by NayBreak - 10/22/15 at 10:02am
post #27 of 41
Thread Starter 
...to this. No way easy way around and of course it is raining steadily now again at the toughest spot so the sides are plenty slick.

The older boys and I have managed to get up the face, which is really slick as the rain continues to pick up, rather than going through. We slide down, anchor in some tenous little holds, and create a human latter for the two youngest, causing some degree of emotional trauma, but they make it up this

climbing the three of us and only mom ends up wading and taking one for the team as usual.
post #28 of 41
Thread Starter 
And then the skies begin to clear as the path becomes just a nice sandy trail again...

Back to camp...

5 hour hike, break camp, big storms as we leave leading to flood warnings, home at 2:00 am. School and work are going to be a rough re-entry in just a few hours. Until next time...

post #29 of 41

I hope you posted this trip over on Rising Sun.  Very nice shots

post #30 of 41
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Mike78 View Post

I hope you posted this trip over on Rising Sun.  Very nice shots

I will...and thanks. That was an incredible trip. I'm still processing it all...obviously smile.gif.

A brief moment to give a ton of credit to my wife, Michelle. She has been out on Elephant Hill with a 17 month and 5 month old, just us (those older boys). At least half of those pics are hers, and as the kids grow, and we retrace old steps, she was the one that said "Let's just do it." 😍
Edited by NayBreak - 10/22/15 at 7:40pm
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