By Friday morning we knew we had to start working our way back home. But we didn’t want to leave Zion without at least one more hike! We chose Observation Point since it was one of the few canyon hikes that we hadn’t yet done.
The Observation Point trail starts at the Canyon bottom at the Weeping Rock trailhead. It climbs 2500 ft in a little under 4 miles to an outcropping on the rim of the canyon. A handful of switchbacks climb to the junction with the Hidden Canyon trail before continuing up to Echo Canyon. We had hiked this trail in the past, so everything beyond the junction would be new to us.
I had a whole day planned for hiking in Canyonlands, but the hard part was picking out what to do. The Syncline Trail around Upheaval Dome was strongly recommended, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit one of the most spectacular rock art locations in the Southwest, the pictographs of Horseshoe Canyon.
The Horseshoe Canyon unit of Canyonlands is off in the middle of nowhere, inaccessible from any other area of the park and the approach includes a 60 mile round trip on washboarded dirt road. Its remoteness is one of the things that attracted me, and I assumed we would be sharing the trail with few to no people. Despite heading straight there from our campsite just outside of the Islands In the Sky district, we still didn’t get to the trailhead until after 10:30 am. At least it was a scenic drive!
We usually spend Easter weekend in one of two places: Carrizo Plain (in good wildflower years) or Lava Beds National Monument. This year we decided that a visit to the Eastern Sierra was in order instead. Five months without a Bishop fix was long enough and despite the passes still being closed, driving the long way around for a three day weekend was worth it.
On Thursday night we headed out from San Jose for Truckee where we had (gasp!) booked a hotel room for the night. That hotel was conveniently next door to one of our favorite breweries, FiftyFifty. Several delicious beers were enjoyed with dinner, and we retired early to get up the next day for some outdoor adventures.
A recent comment on an old post about a desert cabin, the terrible crime at the Fish Slough Petroglyphs, and otherposts in the outdoor blogging world have got me thinking about something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. What is our responsibility as bloggers when it comes to sharing special and perhaps secret locations?
One of the goals of Calipidder.com is to share the passion and love I feel when I am out there hiking, climbing a peak, and sleeping under the stars. I strongly feel that we can only keep these special places protected if there are enough people to care about them. I love how some outdoor bloggers, like UpaDowna, have been able to transform into organizations that execute on this mission in inspriring ways.
Playing, that’s where. Much as we’ve done every Thanksgiving since moving to California, we piled the truck full of gear and supplies for a week in the desert and hit the road the Friday before Thanksgiving, hoping to get away from the holiday crowds and traffic before they’d even started. Over the next nine days we climbed eight peaks, hiked in four different parks, camped out under the clear desert sky, saw gobs and gobs of petroglyphs, watched the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas while gnawing on an excellent steak au poivre, and shared a no-less-than incredible Thanksgiving feast with friends.
Rather than write 50 long posts detailing each and every hike, I’ll just write one, and point you towards the photos which already have a lot of details in the captions. If you want more info here’s what you can read (and see) all about:
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
After our lovely time in Great Basin National Park we drove across Utah towards Price Canyon Recreation Area, a BLM area with some nice bouldering and a quiet campground. But at the turnoff we were greeted with a chained gate and a “CAMPGROUND CLOSED” sign. Since we still had plenty of daylight left we decided to continue on the extra couple of hours to Dinosaur National Monument where we found ourselves a decent campsite just before dark. It was primarily an RV-filled campground but it was quiet and peaceful, set just along the Green River.
In the morning we quickly packed up the truck and started down the Tour of the Tilted Rocks road to a cliff filled with petroglyph panels. The petroglyphs here are characterized by animal figures, human figures, decorative clothing (necklaces, headdresses) and abstracts. I was especially interested in the human figures because we don’t see those in the areas I’m used to visiting.
The rock art was fascinating and different than what we have seen before, so we spent quite a while exploring and photographing the panels. I’m not sure which was my favorite – it was either the giant (2ft+) lizard pictured above and an equally large kokopelli.
Eventually we moved on and worked our way back down the road to the Sounds of Silence Trail, a 3 mile loop that passes through various geologic formations. It was nice to hike a bit through some scenic terrain.
We then drove out of the park and stopped at the temporary visitor’s center. Our timing was perfect as a shuttle bus was just getting ready to depart for the Fossil Discovery Trail and we decided to hop on. I originally thought we wouldn’t get a chance to see the actual dinosaur bones in Dinosaur National Monument due to the temporary closure and remodeling of the Visitor’s Center, but this was a great opportunity to explore a wall of bones with the guidance of a docent. The most impressive wall of bones is part of the Visitors center so we’ll have to go back and catch that one sometime.
After lunch we headed west again, driving into the Rockies and ending up at a hotel in Grand Lake, Colorado, just on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Along the way we started to see some really good fall colors; I was looking forward to the photographic opportunities in the next few days.