Sunday, August 3, 2008

Canyonlands National Park - Needles District, Utah - Backpacking

The perfect day in the desert starts long before sunrise at Dead Horse Point State Park. It's easy to wake up at this hour because sleep was intermittent at best all night. It's hard to sleep with a full moon shining like a spotlight into the tent. Besides, who wants to sleep through such a beautiful night? The neighbors in the camp site next door are stirring and making a lot of noise - they have the same plan in mind.

Walking to Dead Horse Point from the campsite

Dawn must be the desert's favorite time of the day - everything seems peaceful and content. Just enough light to see the beautiful canyons in every direction but dark enough to see the setting moon and dimming stars and planets. No wind. No noise. No heat. Everything seems to silently waiting for the inevitable - the scorching sun of another July day in the desert. It doesn't take long for the sun to make it's appearance over the canyon and even less time for the temperature to spike from cool to hot. It's amazing that such a common, regular event can feel so momentous.

The sun rising over Dead Horse Point

Sunrise at Dead Horse Point

Looking into the canyon after sunrise

The shadow of Dead Horse Point

The perfect day in the desert continues in Moab, at a hole in the wall cafe with funky art, great vegan food, and customers speaking every language but English. Europeans pay good money to get to the Moab area, while many Utahns ignore this amazing place right in their own backyards.

Breakfast at Eklectic Cafe in Moab

The perfect day in the deserts means getting to Canyonlands National Park - Needles Distrcit and finding nearly every backcountry permit available for the entire park, including the coveted Chesler Park 4 spot. The intense heat, while making backpacking a challenge, also keeps the riff-raff out. An occasional car of French or German tourists stops and it's occupants climb out. After a few seconds they exchange very, very concerned looks. A few pictures are snapped and they crawl back into their air conditoned car. Peace returns.

Me in the Needles

The Needles

The Needles

Elephant Canyon

Our tent in Chesler Park

The perfect day in the desert means experiencing what it's like to hike in a furnace. Your bag of water, such a simple thing, is now the difference between life and death. You feel like you are wandering through an alien world where you don't belong. The reward is absolute solitude with incredible scenery. Seeing a sight that few people get to experience makes the challenge worth it.

Druid Arch

Druid Arch

The perfect day in the desert ends without a sunset to compliment the morning sunrise. Instead, the small amount of moisture along with the intense heat of the day combine to create a few thunderstorms that slowly crawl across the deeper canyons in the distance. Just far enough away to keep the lightning and floods over someone else, but close enough to put on an amazing show while you eat your dinner. Later that night, the desert reminds you that the beauty can mask the danger by rattling your nerves just a bit. Benign this time, but maybe not next time. Gusty winds carrying a sandblast into the tent. Lightning flashing overhead. A big spider on the tent. A few drops of rain.