We’re not sure why we’ve passed this park by on our many other trips to the Four Corners area. It’s probably much the same reasons that other people skip it, too. Getting to Canyonlands requires more determination. It’s about 35 miles off of the main highway, there’s no cute little town that’s sprung up near the entrance to pick up a latte or browse the local art scene, and it’s a far more rugged landscape. To really appreciate the beauty of Canyonlands, you’ve got to get out into it. For the most part, that means some serious hiking.
Canyonlands is divided into several distinct areas with entrances that are many miles apart; we chose the Needles district, which is a mere 75 miles from Moab, but light years away in terms of amenities. There is no cell phone coverage, and the only place for necessities is a few miles from the entrance to Canyonlands—the Needles Outpost, a tiny roughhewn store with shelves of Vienna sausage and Hormel chili, a cooler of Bud Light, a cranky storekeeper, and gas for $6.50 a gallon. Fortunately, we arrived well stocked with gas, food, beer, and wine.
The Needles district is a wonderland of deep orange and white-banded pinnacles that tower above deep canyons, arches, and odd rock formations that look like giant mushrooms. This was home to the Ancestral Puebloans, who began living here almost two thousand years ago, disappeared around 1200 A.D., and left behind granaries, rock art, and other remnants of their civilization.
Despite the fact that it’s the least visited park in Utah (albeit the largest), we were advised to arrive early if we wanted to camp in the park. We got there by 10:30, and that was just early enough to secure a beautiful, incredibly spacious, private site. Although our trailer was in the full sun, we also had an enormous boulder and junipers that provided perfect shady respites throughout the day for reading, relaxing, and yoga.
We spent our first day unwinding at camp, and then late afternoon explored three close by trails (which are also by far the shortest and easiest trails): Roadside Ruin, which led to an ancestral Puebloan granary; Cave Spring, with prehistoric pictographs; and the Slickrock Trail, a beautiful 2 ½ mile hike over slickrock with expansive canyon views of the distant pinnacles.
The days are hot and sunny, and the evenings are carried in on a balmy breeze that makes a soft whooshing sound as it caresses the boulders and junipers. We love it here.