Our weather luck was wearing out. We had hiked through a brief but annoying thunderstorm on our visit to Landscape Arch and the skies were not looking any better as we drove towards the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands has several ‘Districts’ and the Needles one was the most convenient for us, therefore we decided to head in and do a bit of sightseeing.
Along the way we made the short stop at Newspaper Rock, a large panel that holds over 2000 years worth of rock art. As native groups passed through the area they added to the panel and it’s interesting to see the evolving sophistication of the figures. We spent a while studying the panel – I think my favorite pieces were the elk hunter and the buffalo.
Slickrock Trail, Canyonlands National Park
Despite the threatening skies we wanted to get out on some kind of hike or drive. The 4WD roads were not tempting at all due to reports of much quicksand, and we wanted to avoid anything canyon-ey due to the rain, so we picked the Slickrock Trail, a ~3 mile interpretive loop with big views.
At the trailhead we were greeted by a local, then we took off with our rain gear and cameras in tow. We managed to avoid any rainfall on us, but we got to watch an impressive storm move through the buttes in the distance. It made for a great hike and we really enjoyed our visit into this tiny corner of Canyonlands. I’d love to come back and spend more time exploring this and the other districts.
Natural Bridges, Moki Dugway, and Valley of the Gods
After our Canyonlands visit we continued south and visited Natural Bridges National Monument. This is a really small park that features some rock formations and ancestral Pueblo ruins. As we approached the park the skies got darker and storms loomed overhead. We made the quick touristy drive with stops to catch the view points, then would retreat to the warm dry safety of the truck. In the midst of the drive we were treated to a gorgeous rainbow, a nice way to break up the storms!
From here we headed south on 261 through one of the scariest storms I’ve experienced. It wasn’t much bigger than mid-west thunderstorms I’ve been through but I felt like our truck was way too exposed compared to the flat mesa-top we were driving on. There was no where to go except FAST down 261 in the opposite direction of the storm’s movement. After a few scary storm moments we reached the edge of the mesa and began to drop to the valley below via Moki Dugway.
Moki Dugway is a steep, unpaved set of switchbacks that steeply go from the top of the mesa to the valley below, dropping 1100 feet in 3 miles. I was looking forward to this fun and scenic road when planning the trip, but approaching it in a pounding storm with flooding was not as exciting. Once on the descent I realized it wasn’t so bad compared to so many roads I’ve driven in the mountains and deserts of California, but the torrential rain introduced an element of excitement. Though wide and graded for passenger cars, running washouts kept us on our toes.
At the bottom of the Dugway we turned into Valley of the Gods, a beautiful piece of BLM land sometimes called the mini Monument Valley. We planned on camping somewhere in this area overnight but less than a mile down the dirt road we were stopped by washout. A really big running washout. So we went back to pavement and connected to 163 and the east entrance to Valley of the Gods. From here we were able to drive in and find a lovely campsite for the night.
The rain held just long enough for us to get settled in, get a fire going, and cook some dinner. Unfortunately the relentless rain started again and we curled up in the back of our truck under the lid to stay warm and dry. And I discovered something awful about this part of the country. The beautiful fine red dirt and rock turns to paste when it gets wet. It caked my shoes, the back of the truck, and anything else it could get on. It’s two months later and I’m still finding it everywhere.
Next up: Monument Valley and Navajo National Monument