Canyonlands National Park, Needles District
Note: It’s with a sad heart that I post our last entry on Moab. As far as we have experienced, there’s no place like this anywhere else. We will miss it. 🙁
The last full day we had in Moab was reserved for the Needles area of Canyonlands National Park. Needles gets it’s name from the rock formations near the Colorado River, as some of them look like a bunch of needles pointing to the sky.
Needles is about 30 miles Southwest of Moab… as the crow flies. To drive there, it’s 75 miles. We started out fairly early and headed south on 191, then turned west (and eventually north) onto 211. Our first stop, before Canyonlands, was Newspaper Rock State Park.
Newspaper Rock is named due to the amount of petroglyphs scribed on it. As far I am aware, no one has a clue what the different drawings or scribbles mean or why they are here. Maybe this was a stopping point on a seasonal migration path for native peoples, or maybe there’s some spiritual significance to the area for ancient cultures. Regardless, there’s a lot of stuff scribbled here from various native cultures and times.
After checking out Newspaper Rock, we headed to Canyonlands. The visitor center is nice and there were plenty of rangers on hand to point us in the right direction and to give us a fairly decent description of some of the trails I had considered. We eventually decided to go to Confluence Overlook to see the point where the Green and Colorado Rivers met.
In the Needles district, there’s not a lot of park to explore unless you’re hiking, mountain biking or going off-road. We did the paved areas fairly quickly and stopped at Pothole Point to see if there were any potholes.
Potholes here aren’t like potholes elsewhere. The potholes are little pockets in the rocks that fill with water when it rains. It takes a while for them to dry out, so an entire little pocket ecosystem pretty much lives in each pothole until it dries out. We found two or three real shallow potholes, but the only life we saw included mosquito larvae and little worms. Not a whole lot else. There were a few large rocks, which were good for some needed shade.
The road to Confluence Point is not one for the faint of heart. It starts at Elephant Hill. If you can successfully navigate over Elephant Hill, you might be able to make the rest of the trip. Elephant Hill is so narrow and steep that it has areas where you can’t even make a turn to go up or down the next section of the hill. They have signs telling you to do the section in reverse… primarily because there’s no room to turn around for the next leg either. 😉
On the way to Confluence Point there are other obstacles too… Nasty rocks, tight canyons, stairsteps, and deep sand are just some of the things that will slow you down.
But, once you make it to the end of the trail, you have a half mile uphill hike to Confluence Overlook. We met a trio of people who had arrived about 20 minutes before us and were busy taking pictures when we finally made it up the hill (they took the picture of us together… I wasn’t lugging a tri-pod up that trail).
In the pictures above, you can see the Green River coming in from the left and the Colorado River coming in from the right. They meet here at Confluence and continue on as the Colorado River. The portion south of here is called Cataract Canyon and is one of the most dangerous whitewater sections of the river, if I have my bearings correct.
After seeing the confluence, we headed back down to the parking area and sat in the shade for a bit to have lunch and drink plenty of fluids. It’s pretty easy to get dehydrated out here because there’s little shade and everything is dry. Even though you may be sweating, it just evaporates instantly, so it doesn’t feel like you’re losing a bunch of water. We talked to the others as soon as they came down and got to spend a bit of time discussing the area (they come fairly regularly).
Getting back to the park entrance took less time than getting here, mainly because there’s a shortcut on the way out, but not the way in. It didn’t hurt that I had just run most of the trail so I knew what to expect and where (I could drive relatively fast on the open sandy sections once I knew there were no surprises). After that, we headed back up Elephant Hill to get to the paved section and head home. Unfortunately, we had to wait for a couple of vehicles coming down Elephant Hill first.
I normally let people do their own thing without saying too much, but I have to mention something here. The only two people with any sense in the above picture are the ones jogging down the trail. The red truck was having a real hard time making it down Elephant Hill and came out a LOT more scratched up than it went in. But, what really gets me is the chick sitting in the window of the truck in the rear. I’ve seen vehicles roll over on trails MUCH easier than this. She is one wrong turn away from being dead.
To any of my friends out there who want to go off-road and really be able to see everything, invest in a Jeep, take the top off and have someone build a good roll cage. Trust me, it’s the only safe way to go.
This account seems kind of short, but the road to Confluence Point and back took most of the day. Dasy was plenty tired by the end of it and I was “satisfied” in my explorations. ;) We were just a scenic ride back into town away from the end of our time in Moab.
At some point, I’ll probably post up some more video, but I’ll save that for a future post when we’re parked somewhere for a bit. It takes a while to edit and upload video and our Internet connection is pretty terrible right now.