Monday, June 3, 2013

Canyonlands National Park, Needles Section

Sorry I've been offline for a few days, but we've been dry camping for the last several days and didn't have internet access.  Last night I was able to connect to the internet using my phone as a mobile hotspot, but for some reason, when I tried to post on the blog, it wouldn't do it.  So here is the first of three posts that I had done in draft on Pages, and since we have really good internet connection here at the campground in Farmington, NM, near the Four Corners area, I will post the three I did in draft, and then post for what we saw today, Monday, June 3.  This first is for last Friday, May 31.

Friday started out nice and leisurely, doing a little cleanup on the RV, and going to a carwash to give it a bath--looks much better now!  Then we departed Moab, but know we’ll be back here, as there is just so much to do.  The idea of doing a multi-day trip down the Colorado is intriguing to me, and they have lots of these trips to choose from in Moab.  When Trisha had her massage on Thursday, the massage therapist told her that she and her boyfriend, who is a professional river guide, are going on an almost month long rafting trip in a few weeks.  That is more than I think I would like, but several days on the river sounds like a lot of fun.  Anyway, Moab sure was fun!

So we headed for the Needles Section of Canyonlands National Park, and it turned out to be just a super beautiful drive, with new and different views of the snowcapped mountains, huge fields of beautiful yellow wildflowers and another spectacular day of blue sky and sunshine--and very little traffic.  We turned off the highway onto the road to the park, and stopped at Newspaper Rock, a big rock wall filled with petroglyphs--and, unfortunately, some modern day graffiti scratched into the desert varnish on the rock in 1954, before this became a national park.  The storyboard explained that no one really knows exactly the reason petroglyphs were made, but theorized that this was a way for ancient peoples to chronicle various aspects of their lives: describing a successful hunt, recording significant events, some religious or spiritual symbols, and it explained that as Anglo settlers came into the area, some of them added their petroglyphs as well.  But it was quite impressive, the largest single display of petroglyphs we’ve see so far.

As we were walking back to the parking area, we met a park ranger (turns out that this is a state park), a woman who appeared to be in her 20’s, and asked her some questions about various distances to places within the park, etc.  I suppose we should not have ben surprised to encounter someone like her, as there is variation within any profession or job, but, unlike most of the rangers we’ve met in national parks thus far, she was about as unfriendly, unknowledgeable and unhelpful as she could be.  Every question was met with a virtually monosyllabic response, or just I don’t know--no, I’ll call someone and ask, or I’ll see if I can find that out, or here’s how you can get that answer--just a real cypher.  Fortunately, once we got to the entrance station to the national park where you pay your fee (or, in our case, just have to show the wonderful Senior Pass and pay no fee!), we met the total opposite.  This National Park Service ranger, named Jennifer, was extremely helpful, very friendly, with a great big smile on her face, asking us if we’d been to this park before, where we were from, etc., giving us lots of information on the park as she handed us the brochures, so it was a wonderful contrast to the earlier encounter.  But, we were disappointed when she said the one campground in this section of the park was full, though she gave us several places to check on just outside the park, including some BLM dispersed camping areas where you just drive down the road and pull off where there’s a spot, which sounded intriguing.

We stopped at the visitor center, and one of the first things we saw was the book, Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey, the book from which the quote came that Trisha had seen the day before as I was doing the blog.  So we bought that book, along with some postcards and then had lunch in the parking lot before starting the scenic drive.  They really did a lovely job with the visitor center, using local materials, blending in with the landscape and style of the area, with some picnic tables along the way that were covered to give nice shade.  Very pretty.

The scenic drive was wonderful, hardly a car anywhere, and this section of the park is quite different from Island in the Sky, where we had been a few days earlier.  There, you were up on top of this plateau, looking down into the canyon, and here you are basically down on the canyon floor, looking up at the various formations.  It’s called Needles because there are so many needle like formations, basically huge hoodoos, that reminded us a lot of bigger versions of the formations we had seen in the Valley of the Goblins, not jagged like in Bryce, but smoother sandstone, lots of beautifully colored layers of reds, pinks and beige.  We stopped to do a short hike to the remains of a granary, where ancient puebloans and others stored the maze and beans they grew.  It’s tucked back up into a small cave like formation, giving protection from wind and the other elements.  Amazing how these things are so well preserved, a testament to how they were constructed, at a time and by people who we call primitive.

Next stop was a short hike called Cave Spring, which took us to a turn of the century cowboy camp, with some tables, storage boxes and cabinets and other items nestled back up under a big ledge, which formed a somewhat larger cave than where the granary was.  Shortly after that we saw some pictographs, painted onto the rock walls with some sort of orange or red paint, likely made from some of the berries from sumac, which we later learned about.  This trail was also interesting in that it was our first encounter with ladders to get to different levels of the trail, where the rocks were too steep to simply climb up the rock face.  Not too bad, but it was different--I know there are some trails where the placement of the ladders is much more precarious.  But once we got up onto the rock, it was really beautiful, with wonderfully wide vistas of the canyon and the different rock formations.  In some ways it resembled a moonscape, with lots of potholes in the rock, but which hold water when it does rain, for animals to have a place to drink.  A lot of this hike was on slickrock, the petrified sand dunes we’ve seen in other places.  We were glad we had worn our toe shoes, as they turned out to be really great at gripping the rock as we climbed up and down some steep sections.

We were planning to just complete the scenic drive and then head back out of the park to find a place to spend the night, but we had the most wonderful surprise in store.  As we passed the campground, we decided just to drive through to see what it was like.  As we were coming back out, this man on a bicycle flagged us down--turns out he was the campground host, in charge of the campground.  He asked us if we were looking for a spot, so we told him we had been told that the campground was full so we were just driving through to see what the campground was like.  He then said if we wanted to stay, he had one open spot he could give us--turns out it was a spot made for handicapped access which he said he was authorized to let others used when the campground was full and it was past a certain hour in the afternoon.  Well, folks, this has turned out to be about the best campground we’ve found thus far--each site is so totally separated and away from the next site, we had a level spot for the RV, and a picnic table back up under the shade of a juniper tree, and so much shade from pinion pines all around, looking out across the canyon floor to a beautiful red rock wall.  We couldn’t believe our luck--the host joked with us when we were effusing about it and said, you may want to drive back to Moab and buy a lottery ticket!  He was dead on the money, as we couldn’t believe our good fortune to be able to stay here--a totally unexpected surprise.  

So we put the recliners under the shade of a pinion pine and had a leisurely nap, with gentle breeze blowing, the sound of some birds nearby, and it was just heavenly!  After the nap, we played some cards at the picnic table, enjoying a snack of carrots and celery and some vegan egg salad dip, just wonderful!  Before supper I got my bike off the rack and took an hour long ride, all around the campground and up the road, which was totally empty.  On the ride, I saw a sign at the other end of the campground they there would be a campfire circle program at 7:30, so that sounded interesting.  I rode some more out through the other section of the campground, and this place is so neat--many of the campsites, especially those designed for tents, are tucked up under rock ledges and away from the wind, just so beautiful.  Even though the campground is full, you have the feeling like you’re just about the only ones here, with the way the have it laid out.  Then took a spin down a road we had thought about taking earlier in the RV, but stopped when we saw the sign that it was just for 4 wheel drive vehicles!  It was a nice hard packed dirt and gravel road and it was a fun ride, lots of up and downs to get the heart pumping and some awesome views--I did remember to take the camera with me this time, but after I took the first picture the batteries died and I didn’t have any spares with me!

So I came on back and we had a delicious dinner with the fresh lettuces and some spectacular purple tomatoes we had found at the Moab farmers market, topped off with the last of the wonderfully sweet strawberries we had.  Then we walked up the road to the program, and it was led by Jennifer, the wonderfully friendly and informative ranger we had met on entering the park!  Her talk was on some of the plants native to the area, and all the uses the ancients had used them for, to make rope, glue, sandals, bedding, etc., along with the various medicinal properties of some of them.  It was really interesting, and the setting was beyond belief--we were sitting on log benches up on the rocks, looking west at the red rocks as the sun set--I mean, can it possibly get any better than this????  Just fabulous! And this morning, the mountains and rocks look so different in the morning sunlight.  We are just so fortunate and blessed to be able to be here and be doing what we are doing.  Just so many beautiful things to see, and to be in this incredible place, breathing this clear air, just tremendous!

So, we plan to do another hike or so before we leave the park and then head toward Natural Bridge National Monument.

The pics:

Leaving Arches, on the road to the Needles section of Canyonlands, this is Wilson Arch.

Newspaper Rock, one of the largest single panels of petroglyphs around.

 Driving into Needles

 Here are two interesting formations, the one on the right is named Six Shooter, and--I'm serious, I'm not making this up--the one on the left is Molly's Nipple!  Legendary wet nurse named Molly, so the story goes.

 Beautiful snowcapped peaks of the La Sal Mountains in the background
First short hike in Needles was the Roadside Ruins, the remains of a granary where the ancient peoples stored the beans, corn and squash they grew on the canyon floor
 Amazingly well preserved

Just love these red rocks!

Second hike was Cave Spring, with views of a number of caves and large rock overhangs where, as here, some early cowboys built a camp.
 Remnants of the cowboy camp

 As it was pretty hot this day, we could easily see why people made their camps and homes in these caves or under these ledges.  Unlike back in the southeast, where it is so humid that on hot days shade hardly makes a difference, in this climate with virtually no humidity, even on a hot day, as soon as you step into shade you feel an immediate difference and it's so much cooler.
 Old grain storage bin used by the cowboys
Inside a cave dwelling place of the ancient peoples, and in some of these you can see some pictographs, painted on the walls with a red-orange paint, made likely from sumac berries

 To give you some perspective on how big these spaces are

The ladder to climb this straight up rock

 Woohoo, I made it!!

Walking along the top of some of this petrified sand dune, and some of the views we had

 Many potholes where the scarce rain water collects, and animals come to drink

Some of the remarkable rock formations we saw on this hike

 Looks sorta like a big city skyline, huh?

Anybody have a clue why they named this one Wooden Shoe Arch???

The scene of our nap time at our campsite in Needles--is this idyllic or what??!!  Getting this site was so totally unexpected, and one of the best places we've stayed so far!
 The view I had when I woke up from my nap

Super duper, A No. ! Ranger Jennifer Muse, giving her program on native plants in the park, at the evening campfire circle site
 Sunset from our campground--not too shabby!

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