Journey with Raven • Canyonlands National Park
Beauty in the Outback
Compared to other parks, Canyonlands is very primitive. Other places have paved roads that take you paved parking lots near paved trailheads. Here, you get used to offroading, and hiking along trails that are marked only by piles of stones, called cairns.
And for someone who dislikes crowds, this park is paradise. No tour-busses here! Even the park entrance is almost an hour from the nearest accommodations. Canyonlands is the very essence of remoteness.
Actually, Canyonlands is broken up into three distinct districts: Island in the Sky, the Maze, and the Needle district. Last December we went to Island in the Sky, and got a Raven's eye view of the park as a whole. This time around, we haunted the Needle district. The Maze is relatively inaccessible to all but the most determined. The three districts are divided by the Colorado and Green rivers (which converge in the middle of the park.) Something I'd seriously entertain is a white-water trip through this park!
To be honest, unless you have a four-wheel drive, probably the only place of interest to the casual visitor is Island of the Sky. But if you're willing to subject your vehicle to some abuse you can get to some beautiful, if isolated spots. We were driving a rental, so there were limits to what we were willing to do! One of the more modest trails, and consequently the one we picked, was the hike to Chesler Park from Elephant Hill.
Sissies need not apply for this trail, as there are steep climbs, narrow slot canyons, and long expanses of unmarked slick rock to traverse. Within a hundred feet of the trailhead, we had to fit through a crevice barely two feet wide (with steps up almost two feet in places) and shortly thereafter, we ascended a few hundred feet of switchbacks to reach a plateau of white Navajo sandstone slickrock.
But the views throughout the needles district were unlike any other we had seen on the trip. Because of the relative remoteness, smog had not yet tainted the atmosphere; we could see as far as twenty miles with great clarity.
Even much closer, the banded spires and fins, the "mushroom capped" needles in making, the narrow slot canyons, are all sights well worth the travails of the journey.
Then there was a real treat on the way out of the park, as the sun climbed down out of the heavens. We were tired from the hike amongst
the needles, and we really didn't expect much more. But as the shadows crept stealthily across the land, the mesas dividing the Davis and Lavender canyons put on sanguine attire. The sky, previously riddled with snow-bearing clouds, relented, achieving a cold azure.
Finally, the sun withdrew from the sky, and shadows claimed the land. But not before the cliffs, already festooned in red, glowed their most fiery red to bid the sun adieu.
Wow. Talk about sunsets!
This park isn't for the wheel-jockey, or the steel centaur vacationer; it's definitely a boots and backpack place. If I had to sum up Canyonlands, I'd say simply "Rugged Beauty."
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