I think this blog post sounded way better in my head when I was thinking about it while hiking. That might have had something to do with the fact that I was running off the fumes of breakfast that consisted of a heel of bread with a little honey/peach jam and a banana and my snack/lunch that consisted of a abj&h (almond butter, peach jam, and honey) sandwich, apple with almond butter, and one honeystinger waffle. I estimated it to be about 700 calories total. So I apologize in advance for the parts where I try to incorporate what I thought of while on the trail. You’ve been warned. MUAHAHAHA!!
Sunday morning dawned bright and early. I actually had my alarm set to go off 30 minutes before dawn so we could get a head start on the day, but both Jason and I decided to catch a little extra shuteye. Which I think we’re both glad we did. And it was fun “waking up with the sun”. After hurriedly changing and brushing our teeth, we jumped in the car for the 65 mile drive to the visitor center for the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park, where the day’s adventure began.
We parked in the far parking lot, although we didn’t know that at the time, to make our lunch sandwiches and eat some breakfast (and for Jason to change multiple times!). And then we were off!
The moon hung low on the horizon and provided a guidepoint for the first part of our hike. At this point this song got stuck in my head:
Anyways, back to the hike. The hike we had planned went to this awesome arch called Druid arch. Jason and I had done just enough research to know the trail started at the Elephant Hill trailhead and was approximately 10.8 miles round trip. That was all we knew. Hey, no one ever said I was always good at planning things!
The trail started out on top of a mesa, winding amongst formations with names like “mushroom” and “fin”. The moon stayed low in the sky guiding us through these strange formations. And then suddenly, we emerged from a slot canyon with our first view of the needles, the formations that give this specific district of Canyonlands it’s name. The pictures really don’t do them justice. The needles are multi-colored spires formed by erosion, rising up out of the surprisingly colorful desert.
After passing through the first “row” of needles, we entered a dry river bed, that would be our path for the remainder of the hike to the arch. Being us, we stopped multiple times to take pictures and some of mine actually turned out! The previous day I had been telling Jason that most of the formations in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks look a certain part of the male anatomy (or so I’m told). We came across the largest example of said anatomy (and of course I took a picture) before beginning a fun scrabble up a coulior. All of sudden, the said example of male anatomy turned into Druid Arch!
We wandered around on top of the mesa, taking pictures. While I spent time contemplating the arch, Jason spent some time realizing his limits when it comes to scrambling across nearly vertical sandstone. Since it was about 1pm, we decided to head back to the car.
Or so we thought. On the way back, we had a choice between following the trail we took on the way there, or following a slightly different trail. We followed the slightly different trail and came to a trail junction sign that said Chesler Park was only 1 mile away. We didn’t know what Chesler Park was, but it sounded interesting so we decided to follow the trail. At one point, I mis-read the trail markers and we ended up in a narrow slot canyon that only got narrower. We got to a point where we couldn’t fit through and were going to give up and go back to the Druid Arch trail. Luckily we found the point where I became confused and continued on our way. We eventually climbed to the top of the mesa, which looked like the moon, and continued through a break in the needles to Chesler Park.
And what a sight it was! Chesler Park was unlike anything we had seen on the hike so far. It was a wide open expanse of sage, juniper, and green grass, framed by towering orange, red, and white sandstone spires. It was breathtaking. It would be an amazing place to shoot a running ad, maybe for trail running shoes. At another trail junction, we met a couple from Denver who was contemplating heading to Druid Arch. Jason and I talked them into it and they talked us into continuing on to see Devil’s Kitchen. So on we hiked through Chesler Park, until we came to another trail junction that said Devil’s Kitchen was still another 4.5 miles away. We had just hiked about 3 miles from the Druid Arch trail. Neither one of us wanted to backtrack, so we continued forward onto the Joint Trail.
The Joint Trail is appropriately named, since it is literally a joint between sandstone walls. After passing through the joint, we came to what looked like a graveyard of cairns (the rock piles that mark trails above treeline or over unmarkable surfaces). I thought it was creepy. After the Joint Trail ended, we followed a jeep road forever. It seemed to never end, and passed through so many dried riverbeds that my shoes became filled with sand. Even after I dumped it out, it would find its way back in.
Finally we got to Devil’s Kitchen. It was pretty, but was also underwhelming. Especially since we had spent the last three hours with Devil’s Kitchen as our only destination. And it stood between me and a proper meal! After a quick stop to estimate the distance back to the trailhead, we continued on our way and made it back to the car in time for sunset. I think I’d like to go back to Devil’s Kitchen when I hadn’t already spent 8 hours on my feet and seen so many amazing sights already.
All in all, we ended up hiking 20.4 miles for 9 hours and 4 minutes (although only 5 hours and 2 minutes were spent actually hiking). Considering we had hiked 14+ miles the day before, I was surprised with how good I felt on Monday. And I was especially happy with how good I felt on Tuesday (no DOMS)!! Both are good signs for the Zion 100 which is a little over a week away.
Stay tuned for a post about the rest of the weekend. And then after that its Zion 100 for at least the next week…so be prepared! Also if you want the tracks for the hike, check out this Strava link.