Saturday, October 27, 2018

Dead Horse, Arches and Canyonlands Part 4 of 4

It was a cold night, but a cozy night as I stayed warm in my new sleeping bag and protected under my rock tent/shelter. A few months back I won this Therm-a-rest Parsec 20 degree down sleeping bag in a contest on During this past summer in Texas the temperature hovered around 100 degrees for over 100 days, so I did not have much use for a 20 degree sleeping bag. But I'm glad that I had it on this chilly night, I was completely warm.

I packed up my backpack and bid farewell to my temporary shelter which had served me so well. I left no trace so that the next inhabitant, human or animal, might enjoy it as I had.

We then hiked about 2 miles to return to the trailhead and our van. By the time that we reached our van it was only noon, so we unpacked the food that we had stored in the van and prepared a quick lunch. We then set out to visit some historical sites within the Canyonlands.

The first location that we visited is called Pothole Point. It consisted of some slick rock with a number of natural potholes. These depressions fill with water when it rains and create a microcosm which sometimes support life. Snails, fairy shrimp and horsehair worms lay eggs that survive the heat of the summer encased in dried mud. When the rain comes, they hatch within days and start a new life cycle. We didn't see much life, but there were a number of potholes. 

The next site that we visited is called the Roadside Ruin. It is an ancient ancestral granary built over 700 years ago of stone and dried mud by the Puebloans of Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon. 

Another site that we visited was the Cave Spring Trail and Cowboy Camp. 

The Cave Spring Trail took us to a fairly large natural cave from which a tiny fresh water spring emerged. To most people the spring might look like nothing more than a puddle of water and mud. But to the early inhabitants of this area, the spring probably meant the difference between life and death. There really are not many sources of water in the high desert, so I can only imagine that this little spring was a valuable resource.

On the walls of the cave there was some rock art such as this anamorphic object.

Also, there were these hand prints/shadows.

Not far from the spring was a preserved cowboy camp. 

Scattered around the camp there were an assortment of tools of the trade for cowboys - tables, pots, pans, stoves, lassos, barbed wire, skinning and tanning tools and some random leather objects. 

We returned to Dead Horse Point State Park to camp for the night. I strung my hammock up on the campsite shelter.

We arrived just in time to catch dusk overshadowing the La Sal Mountains.

After dusk, I turned around in my hammock to catch the sun setting over our campfire. 

When we were driving back from Canyonlands to Dead Horse Point State Park we passed through Moab and had a chance to look up the weather report. The forecast predicted no rain, but temperatures dropping to 29 F (-2 C). I decided that instead of setting up my hammock under the campsite shelter that I would set it up inside of our van. I like to think that I adapt to any environment and situation. Ingenuity!

The next day we decided to visit the Island in the Sky District of the Canyonlands. 

Island in the Sky is the easiest area of Canyonlands to visit in a short period of time, offering many pullouts with spectacular views along the paved scenic drive. 

The Island in the Sky mesa rests on sheer sandstone cliffs over 1,000 feet (304 m) above the surrounding terrain. Every overlook offers a different perspective of the landscape. 

This geological formation is call the Upheaval Dome. There were two well-known theories as to the origin of the Upheaval Dome. 

One theory was that the upheaval is a salt dome, an anticlinal structure which occurs when a salt diapir is pushed up by the weight of overlying rocks.

The other theory is that it is an eroded impact crater left by a meteorite. In the 1990s, a team of geologists and seismologists from NASA and the University of Nevada at Reno performed a detailed study that included seismic refraction and rock mapping. The results of this study support the meteorite theory.

It is possible to hike into the canyons of Island in the Sky, but it is a long way down and a long way up. We decided that we had had enough hiking and just wanted to admire the view.

We returned to our campsite at Dead Horse and cooked a dinner over our campfire. This dinner was nothing fancy; just some sausage, corn and some mashed potatoes (not pictured)

After dinner we gathered around the campfire and stoked the flame. It would be another cold night, so no of us stayed up late. We all retired to our respective sleeping bags to prepare for the cold.

The dawn of a new day meant that our camping trip was coming to an end.

We drove into Moab to clean up and shower. Then we drove four hours to Salt Lake City. We still had some time to burn, so we decided to pass by the famous Mormon Tabernacle. We were allowed to walk around the grounds and enter many of the buildings, but we were not actually permitted to enter the Tabernacle because it is considered a temple. 

After a little sight seeing in Salt Lake City we boarded a plane and flew home. 

The End

Return to the Start (Part 1).

Friday, October 26, 2018

Dead Horse, Arches and Canyonlands Part 3 of 4

Our hike through the Canyonlands continued. The tentative plan was to hike a loop through Chesler Park, then if we had the time and energy we would continue on a route toward the Devil's Kitchen, then back to Elephant Canyon and EC1. The Chesler Park route would be about 7 miles and the Devil's Kitchen would add an additional 5 miles for a total of about 12 miles. 

For the past few days the needles were in constant view as a backdrop. Today we would be walking through the needles.

We exited Elephant Canyon and hiked across a high plateau toward the needles.

While traveling through this high desert plateau we had the opportunity to see some unique soil. Much of the ground on the plateau is rock or sand, but there is a soil crust which is a living groundcover that forms the foundation of high desert plant life in the Canyonlands. This black crust is dominated by cyanobacteria, but also includes lichens, mosses, green algae, microfungi and bacteria. Cyanobacteria are one of the oldest known life forms. The Cyanobacteria soil binds together and an otherwise unstable surface becomes very resistant to both wind and water erosion. 

Human activities negatively affects the presence and health of the soil crust. Walking over the live soil, especially when the crusts are dry and brittle, causes compression and long lasting damage. Impacted areas may never fully recover. Under the best circumstances, the cryptobiotic soil may return in five to seven years. Damage done to the sheath material, and the accompanying loss of soil nutrients, may take up to 50 years to recover. When hiking through the Canyonlands it is recommended that you stay on the trail and avoid trampling any of the live soil.

We scrambled over some slick rock and came upon a mountain pass.

We went over the mountain pass via a saddle and entered into Chesler Park. It was as if we had walked into a valley of giants. 

The Needles surround us. They stood at between 400 to 500 feet tall in my estimation. 

Up close we had the opportunity to clearly see the striations in the rock layers - red, white, orange, amber, caramel, rust, marigold. There were too many colors and layers to count. 

We ventured toward the southern end of Chesler Park and came across the southern entrance of Chesler Park. There was a guide leading a group of day hikers heading toward The Joint. We decided to take a little break at this trailhead entrance.

As we were preparing to start hiking again a husband and wife approached us. They appeared a bit distressed and asked us for directions. They were arguing with each other over which route to take. A couple of the guys in our group tried to help the couple and provide them directions, but they were so distressed that they were not really listening. A guide from the day hiking group was present so he provided them a route. He showed them an easy direct route that would take them along a dirt road and that would eventually meet up with the trail. (See the purple line above)

The guys in our group heard these directions and were convinced that it was the route that we should take too. I had a different opinion because I had researched a route that followed the true trail and would take us through a canyon. (See the blue dashed line above) Also, in additional to my paper map I had a trail navigation app called Gaia GPS that had topo maps. I pleaded with the guys that we should take the trail indicated by the dashed blue line because it would pass through the canyon. However, they were convinced that we should follow the lost people.


We ended up following the lost people along the dirt road. From the dirt road, I kept looking toward the spires and the canyon wondering what we were missing. After about a mile of hiking the two trails converged. At this point it was confirmed, we had not taken the road less traveled. ;(

I was not a happy camper. I was actually very disappointed and pretty upset. I was convinced that we had just walked around one of the most scenic sections of Chesler Park and the Canyonlands. 


We continued hiking. I was still perturbed, but I decided that I could stay upset or try to make the most of the situation. I did decide at this point that in the future if the group decided to take a path with which I did not agree, I would follow my own path. 

As we were exiting Chesler Park we had to descend down some switchbacks. It was now past noon and the sun would be at our backs for the rest of the day as we hiked northeast towards the Devil's Kitchen. 

We hiked through a wide plateau and eventually reached the Devil's Kitchen. The Devil's Kitchen was actually pretty cool. There was a large overhang which created a corridor to the main area. The Devil got style!

After walking under the overhang you entered a natural alcove. On one side there were massive stone walls.

On the other side there was an open area may 50 feet in diameter with some small trees growing around the edges. It felt as if I had walked into an atrium. The temperature was cooler and more humid that the temperature of the open plateau. It reminded me of being in a temperate rain forest. 

After we departed the Devil's Kitchen it was about a 3 mile hike back to our campsite at EC1. 

We returned to the campsite a bit hungry, a little tired, but all of us were in awe at what we saw on our hike. After dinner, we watched the stars emerge from the night sky. We felt the cold air move in. Then we each retreated to our respective tents for a time of reflection and dreaming.

Go to the Start (Part 1) or to the Next Chapter (Part 4)

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Dead Horse, Arches and Canyonlands Part 2 of 4

During the night a cold front moved in and brought wind, rain and cold temperatures in the high 30s. The guys were all sleeping in tents and were pelted by the wind and rain throughout the night yet were able to stay dry. I was sleeping in my hammock under the campground shelter. Fortunately I was protected. The guys woke up to tents surrounded by little pools of water. A challenging way to begin the day.

We started our day slowly. Coffee. Breakfast. Drive.

On this day we would head into The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The Needles District forms the southeastern portion of Canyonlands National Park. Its signature features are colorful sandstone spires. There are also entrenched canyons, natural arches and sheer-walled cliffs throughout the district. The tributes stepped forward.
Our hike began by ascending this staircase through a naturally carved alley. The erect alley walls were formed by a fissure in the side of the mountain and thousands of years of erosion. 
Follow the cairns to follow the trail
Although sometimes the cairns are not easy to spot. Can you see the next one?
As we hiked further into The Needles we sank deeper into the canyon and we discovered that the surface on which we were walking was really the top of a mountain. Over centuries the softer sandstone walls eroded into the canyon. The harder sandstone surface on top remained. We nicknamed these sandstone formations muffin tops.

Eventually even the muffin tops erode and create the massive spires or needles.

Here's a closer view of The Needles. 

Sometimes the mountains split in into vertical schisms and form "fins". The fins are long tall formations that separate from the mountains. Between these "fins" there are sometimes passageways which we passed through called "joints".

Our destination for the day was EC1 or the Elephant Canyon 1 campsite. In some parts of The Needles there are designated campsites to reduce dispersed camping and to protect ground coverage. In other parts of The Needles there are camping zones in which you simply set up your campsite in a general area.

Our view from our campsite was amazing. We had a view of The Needles on one side and tall mountain bluffs on the other. Through the middle of the canyon there was a babbling creek. 

We had arrived at our campsite early, set up camp and thus we had time to explore the creek bed. 

Some parts of the creek were running with water and other parts of the creek were nearly dry.

The Park Ranger told us that it had been raining each day for the past week, so there might be water near our campsite. Lucky for us there was water and I was able to filter water using my water filter. In the high desert water is often scarce. So when there is water it is advisable to utilize it and filter it for drinking water. I filled up a few liters of water for the next couple of days.

The guys found some level ground and set up their tents around the campsite. I explored the nearby area and found something else.

A little way up the mountain, I discovered this rock overhang with a flat surface below it. I thought that it looked like the perfect liar for a mountain lion or as a crevice for a snake or as hideout for a scorpion.

Or as the perfect natural shelter for me. So I laid out my poncho tarp on the ground, placed my sleeping pad on top and spread out my sleeping bag. The roof of the stone shelter was only about two feet above the ground, but there was enough room for me to squeeze underneath.

At night the weather was cold and there were scattered rain showers, but I stayed completely warm and dry under my little nook. I slept like a rock.

The next day we arose early, cooked breakfast and headed out for a hike. The views were spectacular. 

We passed by this rock structure and speculated that this was the Elephant Rock which inspired the naming of Elephant Canyon.

Everywhere we hiked we were surrounded by red sand, rock formations and needles.

At one point we could see the needles in the distance and the trail leading us toward a crack in the mountain.

We walked through the crack known simply as "The Joint". It had steep walls over one hundred feet tall and only about two to three feet wide. The Joint went on for about a quarter mile. It was as if we were walking through a long tall hallway with no end in sight... kinda of spooky and kinda cool at the same time.

There were certainly amazing rock formations around every corner. But we also found that even in the harsh desert conditions there were other forms of life. Such as these Barrel Cacti.

Narrow leaf yucca plants

Dormant yucca plants

Fishhook Cacti

Mounds from Western Thatching Ants


Creekside sand formations

And these natural potholes which often contained a microcosm world all within a radius of three feet.

Go to the Start (Part 1) or to the Next Chapter (Part 3)

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