We’re not sure why we bypassed this park on our many other trips to the Four Corners area. It’s probably why 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 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.
The Needles District
Canyonlands is divided into several distinct areas with entrances that are many miles apart. We chose the Needles District, which is only 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 is 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 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. They disappeared around 1200 A.D.and left behind granaries, rock art, and other remnants of their civilization.
Finding A Campsite
Despite the fact that it’s the least visited park in Utah, we were advised to arrive early if we wanted to camp within the park. We got there by 10:30 in the morning. That was just early enough to secure a beautiful, spacious, private site. Although our trailer was in the full sun, we had an enormous boulder and several junipers that provided shady respite throughout the day.
We spent our first morning relaxing at camp. In late afternoon, we explored three short and easy trails: Roadside Ruin, which leads 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.
It’s a beautiful, peaceful place. We’re glad we finally came here.