Tag Archive | Canyonlands National Park

Moab 2015: Neck Spring Trail

The day after Jon’s half marathon we decided to do a more challenging hike. I had researched the options at Canyonlands National Park and decided on the Neck Spring Trail – a 5.8 mile hike into the canyon that leads you by several features from Canyonlands’ ranching history. It is hard to believe that Canyonlands, with its dry scrub brush, would support much life, but both cattle and sheep ranching were prevalent here, beginning in the 1880s and going all the way up through the 1960s.

We arrived at the trail head about 10:15 am, got our gear prepped – lots of decisions… How much food and water do I need to bring, am I starting out with a fleece or without, hat on or off, get the camera ready. It’s an ordeal, I tell you! The hike starts at the top of the mesa, but quickly begins dropping into the Neck Spring Canyon. The total elevation drop is about 300 feet.

Jon hiking ahead, as usual.

Jon hiking ahead, as usual.

Shortly after we started the hike, we came upon an old watering trough from the early 19th century. Near the trough, we were also lucky to see, and get a picture of, a pinyon jay! At this point we were very close to the first spring; imagine water in the desert! There was quite a bit of shade there, due to several cottonwoods growing near the spring.

We saw a Pinyon Jay!

We saw a Pinyon Jay!

A watering trough on the Neck Spring Trail

A watering trough on the Neck Spring Trail

 

Leaving the spring, we hiked through loose sand up to the top of the butte. We ate our picnic lunch along a spur trail that goes right to the edge of the mesa and overlooks Taylor Canyon in the distance. What an awesome view! Shortly after lunch, we came upon another spring, and evidence of an old cabin and 100 year old barbed wire. That stuff sticks around forever… Longer than Twinkies! The cabin let us know that we had moved into Cabin Spring Canyon.

A dead tree makes a unique focal point.

A dead tree makes a unique focal point.

An unusually shaped dome off the Neck Spring Trail.

An unusually shaped dome off the Neck Spring Trail.

Eventually, the trail heads up a slick rock section where we had to scramble to get back to the top of the mesa. The trail has been rerouted, and this is definitely the most challenging part of the trail. What a scramble – I was sweaty and breathing heavy after this part. It wasn’t that far though.

Jon and I after scrambling up the slick rock on the Neck Spring Trail. Another watering trough behind us.

Jon and I after scrambling up the slick rock on the Neck Spring Trail. Another watering trough behind us.

Once at the top, Jon thought that we were almost done. However, at the top of the mesa we found another cattle watering trough before we began meandering through loose sand along the mesa top with views of Cabin Spring Canyon and Neck Spring Canyon below. We saw parts of the trail we were hiking on below too! We saw gorgeous views of Taylor Canyon in the distance. Other notable finds were old tin cans, and cougar poop. Scat for those of you who are really into poop. We did not see the cougar that went with the poop though.

The view looking out of Schafer Canyon from the end of the Neck Spring Trail

The view looking out of Schafer Canyon from the end of the Neck Spring Trail

After another mile or so along the mesa top, we got back to the trail head, coming from the opposite direction along the road. The section of the hike gave us some really great views of Schafer Canyon and the Schafer Rim Trail, where several Jeeps were making their way down to the canyon floor. It was so neat to watch!

A Jeep headed down the Schafer Rim Trail into Schafer Canyon

A Jeep headed down the Schafer Rim Trail into Schafer Canyon

To wrap up a fantastic hike, after we got back to the trail head, a beautiful raven also posed for me along a picturesque fence.

A raven keeping watch at the Neck Spring Trail Head.

A raven keeping watch at the Neck Spring Trail Head.

I could have stayed in Canyonlands forever…

 

Moab 2015: Two Hikes at Canyonlands

In my last post, I conquered my fear of zip-lining, but we were only half-way through the day! I had more hiking adventures planned for us in the afternoon!

After zip-lining, the day was heating up, so we changed into shorts and were on our way. We grabbed what we thought would be a quick lunch before getting out to hike at Canyonlands National Park. Best laid plans…

We went to the Peace Tree Café again, which we had visited when we were in Moab the year before. We got an outdoor table, our waiter took our order quickly, our food arrived quickly, and it was great. Jon had a Cobb salad and a beet/carrot/celery juiced drink, and I had a burger with Pepper Jack cheese and a Diet Coke.

But that’s where the trouble began, because our waiter did a “vanishing act”. We kept seeing him heading to other tables nearby but would never even look our direction. After trying to get his attention for at least 10 minutes, I went to the hostess podium to get our check. What great service at the beginning only to flop at the end…

But soon enough, we were headed to Canyonlands. I had two hikes I wanted to do – I researched hikes that were easy, because Jon didn’t want anything strenuous the day before his half-marathon. The first was the Aztec Butte Trail.

The view of the mesa from the Aztec Butte Trail

The view of the mesa from the Aztec Butte Trail

You begin hiking through the soft sand of the mesa top, with scrub brush and early spring flowers all around. One spur of this trail takes you around a butte, and then there is a short hike up slick rock to get onto the Butte. Once on the butte, you can climb down to an overhang where there are two granaries beneath the overhang, built by Puebloan people who lived in Canyonlands Park. They are very simple – nothing like the cliff dwellings you see at Mesa Verde or Bandelier, but neat nonetheless.

A Puebloan Granary on the Aztec Butte Trail

A Puebloan Granary on the Aztec Butte Trail

The main trail of the Aztec Butte Trail heads up a different slick rock hill – a fairly short steep trail up another butte. This trail features a couple more Puebloan ruins, and spectacular views of the mesa top. We only went a little way up this trail so we didn’t overdo it – but we liked what we saw.

The view from the Aztec Butte Trail

The view from the Aztec Butte Trail

Our second hike that day was a 2 mile round trip out and back hike along the rim of the canyon, called the Grand View Point Trail. The trail is very easy hiking, with mostly flat terrain and some steps cut into the stone at certain points. We hiked along the mesa edge (not too close though) with views overlooking Monument Basin – to me it looked like really, huge, chubby fingers. There are several tall spires jutting up from the valley floor in this area – the tallest one is called the Totem Pole and is 305 feet tall.

The "chubby fingers" of Monument Basin

The “chubby fingers” of Monument Basin

The view into Monument Basin on the Grand View Point Trail

The view into Monument Basin on the Grand View Point Trail

Blooming wildflowers at Canyonlands

Blooming wildflowers at Canyonlands

The trail ends at Grand View Point and provides some really fabulous views of the Canyon below, as well as Junction Butte to the south. Grand View Point is the southernmost tip of the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, and from it you can see the Needles District to the south, and the rarely visited Maze District to the West.

The view from Grand View Point.

The view from Grand View Point.

The rock formations at Grand View Point

The rock formations at Grand View Point

The hike also offers some great views of the Schafer Rim Trail, a 100 mile back country road for off-road vehicles. You can easily see the old mining roads that cut across the bottom of the canyon, built when Canyonlands was mined for uranium in the 1950s.

I think this is a Side Blotched Lizard.

I think this is a Side Blotched Lizard.

The Grand View Point Trail is a nice easy hike for people of all abilities and would be good for kids, as long as they are old enough to follow instructions and not venture too close to the edge of the canyon.

What a spectacular day we had enjoying our National Parks!

Moab 2015: A Trip is Born

Jon is a masterful schemer. He always manages to get me to agree to a trip to someplace he wants to go and this time was no exception. How? One strategy is to find a race in the destination he wants to visit. In December 2013, it was the Sacramento marathon. In March 2015, we made a return trip to Moab, Utah, for a high elevation half marathon.

Of course, I wouldn’t be so willing to oblige if the locations were less desirable, but given that Moab is home to both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and I loved our short time there in April 2014, of course you know my reaction to his proposal! I began to plot our course – we would fly into Salt Lake City, then drive down to Moab (just under a 4 hour drive).

The pieces began to fall together. I knew I wanted to visit Antelope Island, just north of Salt Lake City. I have been dreaming about Antelope Island since reading a fellow blogger’s posts about it, and had it on my list when Jon and I were considering driving from Washington on our Southwest adventure during the spring of 2014. When we made the decision to fly instead of drive, going out of our way to Salt Lake City was one of the things we had to cut (so many places, so little time!).

I also have read a couple of books lately about the mainstream Mormon faith and its polygamist offshoots, so checking out the historic Mormon sites in downtown Salt Lake City went on the list.

And Jon had been drooling over the idea of a zip line adventure when we were in Moab a year ago, so I asked him if it was still on his bucket list. Of course it was – what a stupid question! I, being terrified of heights, wasn’t sure I would be brave enough, but after researching the zip line company, watching the videos, and reading all the Trip Advisor reviews, plus conducting a Facebook poll of my friends, decided that I would give it a try. When your aunt, who is in her early 70s, says you should go for it, you can’t very well chicken out, right?

Salt Lake City to Moab

Salt Lake City to Moab

With all that, I vowed to fill our free time with hikes in the parks, trying to fill in the gaps of what we didn’t see a year ago, and cheering Jon on at the finish line of his race. A trip was born!

 

SW National Parks Trip: Arches History

In a story that is probably familiar if you have read my histories of Zion and Canyonlands National Parks, the first inhabitants at Arches arrived about 10,000 years ago.  They were nomadic, but they found deposits of quartz stone that are perfect for making stone tools; their piles of discarded quartz are still visible to the trained eye.

Next, the Puebloan and Fremont peoples moved in around 2,000 years ago to farm maize, beans and squash.  They left few dwellings though, so researches suspect they may have only used the park as a seasonal residence.  And like other dwelling sites in the Four Corners area, they seem to have left by about 700 years ago.  Both cultures left rock art and pottery to tell the story of their existence here.

Near the beginning of our hike out to Delicate Arch, with the La Sal Mountains in the background

Near the beginning of our hike out to Delicate Arch, with the La Sal Mountains in the background

Like at Canyonlands, the Ute and Pauite peoples used the area after the Puebloan and Fremont cultures left; they were here when the first Europeans arrived in 1776.  They left pictographs of men on horses, which are easy to date to after the 1500s when the Spanish first brought horses to the area from Mexico.  The Utes and Pauites are thought to have only lived here seasonally as well.

As you learned in my Canyonlands history post, trappers were the next to arrive, followed by Mormon missionaries in 1855, and then finally by settlers and ranchers in the 1880s.  Interest in the park grew, and the push began for federal protection in the 1920s.  4,520 acres were set aside as a National Monument by President Herbert Hoover on April 12, 1929.  The area was expanded several times over the years, and in 1971, President Nixon substantially reduced the overall acreage of the park, but re-designated it as a National Park.  Arches today consists of over 76,000 acres.

To be honest, I was surprised to learn that Arches became a National Park 7 years after Canyonlands, as Arches is certainly the more famous park.  Over a million visitors come to Arches each year, compared to slightly fewer than a half million per year for Canyonlands.  It must be the arches that are the draw.

A good view of the fins that form at Arches National Park

A good view of the fins that form at Arches National Park

The arches are created when a solid slab of sandstone begins to crack over time.  Water get into the cracks and erodes the rocks, and sometimes freezes and expands the cracks, eventually forming fins.  These fins sometimes erode in a way that leaves an arch above after the center below has eroded away.  Then you have an arch.  The last stage in the process is when the arch collapses.  Of course, the arches aren’t the only feature of the park; Arches has sandstone towers, hoodoos and sand dunes too.  They all have their own unique beauty.

To give you an idea of how remote some areas of the park still are, in 1970 the Arches official brochure indicated that Arches National Monument had “nearly 90” arches.  In 1973, a geological survey team established a method for documenting the locations of all the arches in the park, and went out exploring the park to see how many they could find – there are now over 2,000 arches recorded.  Since 1970 however, 43 arches have collapsed due to the ever present forces of erosion – which one will be next?

In my next post I’ll tell you about our hike out to Delicate Arch!  Have you ever been to Arches National Park?

SW National Parks Trip: Moab Astronomy Tour

In my last post, we hiked Mesa Arch at Canyonlands and enjoyed dinner and some beer at the Moab Brewery.  We couldn’t linger long at the brewery though, because we had to meet our guide for our astronomy tour.  I had seen it as a “thing to do” on TripAdvisor and it had received great reviews, so I signed us up.  We were scheduled to meet the guide in a parking lot off the side of the main highway at 8 pm – while we were waiting Jon became convinced that we were going to be murdered and thrown into the canyon…  His fears were allayed when four other cars showed up to wait with us.

Soon enough, Alex pulled up – gray haired with a long ponytail, Alex reminded me a lot of my favorite boss.  We followed Alex out to the site – a viewpoint on state lands just outside of Canyonlands Nationals Park.  As the sunlight was fading he told us the history of astronomy and the invention of telescopes while he set up the telescope we would be using.  It was a dark night with only a crescent moon, and clear skies – perfect for stargazing.

The telescope we used was very powerful – it had a short barrel which combined a glass lens and multiple mirrors to create a telescope that is less susceptible to being damaged in transport than one with a longer barrel.  We took turns looking at each of the astral bodies that he showed us: star clusters, nebulae (the plural of nebula), dead stars, galaxies, two galaxies colliding, and the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.  They were small in the telescope, but it was easy to see what he was talking about.  They were all fascinating!

Alex also explained how, due to the fact that these bodies are so very far away, and how long it takes light to travel all those many miles, we were seeing what happened there thousands, or perhaps millions of years ago.  And if there is life on other planets looking back at us, they are seeing Earth at some point long, long ago as well.  It was tough to wrap my mind around the concept of seeing something that happened thousands of years in the past.

Alex is a Native American from the Apache tribe, and he told some of the Native American stories and oral histories on the stars as well. He also explained that the Puebloan people in the Southwest have an oral tradition that tells the story of Supernova 1054, an exploding star that was first visible on July 4, 1054. The tradition holds that the supernova was visible in the daylight sky for several weeks.

After researching other historical accounts from China, Europe and the Arab world, researchers believe this supernova is what we now know as the Crab Nebula (there is some continued debate on this, however). I can only imagine what our ancestors thought of what was going on in the sky – surely it would have been a terrifying experience!

It was a very informative evening, Jon and I both loved it. Alex was patient and interesting and took the time to explain and answer questions. We were out staring at the night sky for several hours and loved seeing everything. My favorites were the galaxy, Jupiter and Saturn. The evening wrapped up about 11:20 pm and we headed back to the hotel tired but very happy.

SW National Parks Trip: Mesa Arch Hike

In my last post, we hiked the Murphy Point Overlook Trail to one of the most scenic views I have ever experienced.  After that hike, we started back the way we came and parked at the trail head for Mesa Arch.  Mesa Arch is one of the most visited places in the park, for a couple of reasons – it is only a 0.6 mile round trip hike from the trail head, and it is beautiful.

Mesa Arch with the La Sal Mountains in the Background

Mesa Arch with the La Sal Mountains in the Background

Mesa Arch is one of the arches in this area that faces the sunrise, allowing photographers to get some beautiful sunrises coming up through the arch. And it is perched right on the edge of the canyon, so you can get some amazing views of the canyon through the arch.  And if that weren’t enough, the picturesque La Sal Mountains can be seen in the distance through the arch.  Even though we weren’t there at sunrise, the views of the canyon and the snow capped mountains in the background are  stunning.

Mesa Arch with the La Sal Mountains in the Background

Mesa Arch with the La Sal Mountains in the Background

Mesa Arch, and other arches in the area form when a solid block of sandstone gets cracks in it from pressure from the Earth’s forces.  The cracks get water in them when it rains or snows, and the water makes the cracks expand.  Over millions of years the water erodes the sandstone, causing fins to form, and then chunks of sandstone eventually fall away.  If the sandstone beneath falls away and leaves the stone above, you have an arch!

There were a lot more people at Mesa Arch than Murphy Point, but it wasn’t crowded, and everybody was really polite about taking turns so you could get a photo of the arch without anyone standing in it, or you standing next to the arch. I posed with the arch for a few photos, but of course Jon wouldn’t.  All in all, it was a worthwhile short hike – I love the photos I took there.

Mesa Arch with the Canyon Formations in the Background

Mesa Arch with the Canyon Formations in the Background

Once we finished our Mesa Arch hike it was a little after 5. We talked about whether we wanted to do more, and decided that 4.2 miles of hiking was enough for the day. We headed back towards the park exit, and Jon was nice enough to let me stop back at the Visitor’s Center on the way out and watch the movie that we skipped earlier. It is approximately 15 minutes about the history of settlement and the geology of the park and was pretty informative. That’s when Jon and I learned that most of the roads in Canyonlands had been built to accommodate uranium mining in the 1950s! It was an interesting example of how industry can give a boost to recreation.

Canyonlands National Park – Looking into the Canyon – The La Sal Mountains are in the Background

Canyonlands National Park – Looking into the Canyon – The La Sal Mountains are in the Background

After leaving Canyonlands, we drove back into Moab and checked into our home for the night – another Super 8 – and discovered it is the ritziest Super 8 I have ever seen! It had granite counter tops, a built in drawer system along one wall, and laminate “wood” floors. Of course, it was also the most expensive Super 8 I have ever seen – but it was still less expensive than the other hotels we had looked at.  We did a quick change of clothes so we would be prepared for the temperature drop after sundown, and made our way to the Moab Brewery for a quick dinner before our astronomy tour!

 

Super 8 with “wood” floors!

Super 8 with “wood” floors!

There was a 10 minute wait at the Moab Brewery, but the wait went quickly and we were able to order quickly because we had looked at the menu while we waited. Jon got the fresh salmon filet – with a dinner salad, bread, vegetables and rice pilaf. He paired his with a Black Imperial Ale; he had been craving a high octane beer for the last few days, and this one delivered at 8.59% alcohol by volume. I can only guess that the Moab Brewery is able to brew extra strong beer either because it has a hard liquor license, or because this beer is not available on tap – it is served in the bottle.

I had the Greek Pasta – sautéed sundried and fresh tomatoes, Kalamata olives & spinach in garlic, basil & olive oil, tossed with penne pasta, topped with feta cheese & parsley. It was served with garlic bread. I enjoyed it with a Dead Horse Amber Ale. The brewery was packed – the service was fast and friendly, and the décor was fun. The food wasn’t outstanding, but it was good. It was the kind of place we would love to come back to.  But unfortunately we couldn’t linger long, because we had to meet our Astronomy tour guide!

Have you ever hiked to Mesa Arch or visited the Moab Brewery?  I’ll post about our Astronomy tour next!

 

SW National Parks Trip: Murphy Point Overlook Trail

We got to Canyonlands National Park in the early afternoon, after driving about 20 minutes from Moab to the park. On the road there, we saw a couple of “Livestock in the Road” signs, and were soon greeted by several cows crossing in the road in front of us. We were going slow enough to stop easily, but I imagine lots of tourists speed on this section of road because it is straight and lightly traveled. Don’t. On our way out of the park we saw several ravens making a feast of a calf that I can only imagine was hit by a car. Very sad…

Sorry people – you are going to have to wait your turn…

Sorry people – you are going to have to wait your turn…

Like I said in my last post, Canyonlands is divided up into three sections, and we were soon at the Island in the Sky Visitor’s Center. I got my stamp – yay! Got my postcards – yay! And endured the good natured teasing from my husband about my nerdly pursuits – boo! There is a short movie about the park, but we wanted to get started on a hike, so we skipped it.

Canyonlands!

Canyonlands!

The Canyonlands Visitor’s Center has more and better information posted than many other Visitor’s Centers about hikes you can do – level of difficulty, what you’ll see on the trail, etc., so we took advantage of that and picked out a couple that looked interesting.  Really, there were so many good ones that I had to rank order them, knowing that I wouldn’t get to all the ones I wanted to do…

First up on the list was the Murphy Point Overlook Trail. This trail is a 3.6 mile roundtrip out and back trail on gravel and slick rock sandstone. Apparently this trail used to be a road, but the Park Service turned it into a trail in 1996.  I couldn’t tell.  Surprisingly, this is one of the less popular hikes in the park.  I suppose because others lead to something more “dramatic,” like the hikes that lead to an arch, or a crater, or a Puebloan site.  But we were going to see arches at Arches NP, and Puebloan dwellings at Mesa Verde NP and Chaco Culture NHP, so this hike to see the less “dramatic” was perfect for us.

The beginning of the Murphy Point Overlook Trail

The beginning of the Murphy Point Overlook Trail

At the beginning of the trail you pass by the remains of a turn of the century ranch owned by the Murphy brothers, who grazed cattle on and below the point between 1916 and 1920. You see cattle chutes and old fencing from a bygone era.  Then the trail is a sand and rocky trail in a slight depression for awhile.  It changes to a slick rock surface as you hike further out.  About halfway to the overlook, you have the option of breaking off onto the Murphy Trail, which takes you on a much longer trail to the Murphy Hogback and the Murphy Wash.  The Murphy Trail also looked interesting, but at 9 miles it would have been a full day hike.

The trail becomes a slick rock sandstone as you get closer to the overlook and the trails are marked with cairns – little piles of stacked rocks.  After completing the mostly downhill 1.8 mile trip out to the Murphy Point Overlook, we were greeted with amazing views of Stillwater Canyon and the Green River.  I feel like I have been using the word amazing a lot in this series of posts, but there is really no other way to describe it.  Except maybe spectacular.  Or stunning.  Or perhaps awe inspiring…  All those people who were looking for something more dramatic were really missing out!

Looking down at Stillwater Canyon from the Murphy Point Overlook – the Green River is below.

Looking down at Stillwater Canyon from the Murphy Point Overlook – the Green River is below.

The canyon below has a ledge (the Murphy Hogback) where the White Rim Sandstone juts out into the canyon because it does not erode as quickly as the shales that made up the layers on top. I couldn’t find any information on how deep Stillwater Canyon is, but the National Park Service website has information on a few of the Murphy trails that seem to indicate that the Murphy Hogback is about 1,000 feet down, and the river is about 2,000 feet down. Wow.

Another view of Stillwater Canyon from the Murphy Point Overlook – you can see the Murphy Hogback

Another view of Stillwater Canyon from the Murphy Point Overlook – you can see the Murphy Hogback

We hardly saw anybody on the whole hike – just three other couples the entire time, and we enjoyed sitting at the edge (not too close though) taking in the view.  After being surrounded by people all day at Zion the day before, it was really nice to feel so alone! From the viewpoint, you can’t hear the road or anything artificial, so you can really just get lost in your own thoughts. I think this was one of Jon’s favorites hikes for the entire trip – and it was certainly one of mine. I even got Jon to pose for some selfies with me.

Canyonlands-Jon-Camille (640x480)The hike back was a bit more strenuous because the return trip is mostly uphill, but nothing too steep.  What an awesome hike!

Have you ever hiked the Murphy Point Overlook Trail?  What did you think?