Cliffs of Canyonlands

It’s been so great hanging out in the red dirt state of Utah even if it feels like everything we have is covered in it. We finished exploring the area of The Swell with Mark & Anne and headed to Moab to see Heather & Lal again and restock. They let us both park in their driveway which made it easy. Right across from Heather’s house is the Mill Creek Preserve which protects a beautiful canyon and a small flowing river. We all took a hike up through it to an arch. By the time we got back, Lal had whipped up a lovely dinner for us with 5 authentic Sri Lankan curries. Yum! Then the following day we headed to Arches, NP to do the tourist thing.

Arches is a small, but bustling park full of sandstone arches, natural bridges & towering formations. After so much solitude in the Swell area, it felt overcrowded even though it really wasn’t. Because of Covid, all the visitor center exhibits are closed and because of liability, the bronze like statues of animals in the entryway have signs warning to be careful because these statues can get hot in the sun. It feels like every sign for even the shortest hike says to carry gallons of water. It sort of cracks us up because when we backpack, if there is no water source we have to limit the number of days we can be out to no more than 2 because carrying water is so heavy. Maybe it is the carrying of all that water that makes people collapse. Haha. We had a relaxing day touring the arches.

As Alanis Morrisette sang, Isn’t it Ironic that within a few hours of mentioning that we were enjoying traveling with Mark & Anne and knew that the time was a fleeting thing, they had to abruptly leave that next morning to handle a family emergency? We were just getting to the good stuff. But they’re coming back!

Upheaval Dome crater, Islands In The Sky
You had to climb over some big rocks on the Syncline trail

Jon & I re-grouped and headed directly to Canyonlands NP, the Islands in the Sky unit where I’ve been envisioning our truck since we were in the early building stages. Thankfully, we were finally headed into a warm weather spell with temps in the 70’s. We scooped up a park campsite so we wouldn’t have to drive any extra and did the Syncline trail that afternoon. This trail makes a canyon circuit of what is either an eroded salt dome or an old meteor crash site and then you can hike up to the rim of it for a birdseye view of the interior of the crater. Since everything else about this whole area is about erosion, it’s hard to picture that this is anything but. We finally saw some bighorn sheep too. It was nice to hear their footsteps among the rocks as they browsed. Canyonlands is where two major rivers- the Colorado and the Green Rivers join forces. And Islands In The Sky has 2 steps down of over 1000 feet each to the river bottom. This makes for spectacular viewpoints from the top rim to the White Rim, and from the White rim to the floor. The Green River viewpoint was adjacent to the campground so we took in the sunset there the first night.

We got to the visitor center early the next morning in hopes of getting a permit to drive on the popular 112 mile White Rim Rd and camp down on the rim. Well due to Covid (I wish it would GO AWAY!) this park decided that they wouldn’t allow any walk-up overnight permits at all and nothing online less than 48hrs and anything after that is all booked because of the popularity of the road for 4×4 travel. But they would issue walk-up hand written day use permits for whatever reason so we got one of those for 2 days. That meant we could drive in but had to drive back out each day. And there would be areas of the road that would be too narrow for our truck.

Shafer Trail, not for the faint of heart!

Still excited, we headed on to the famous Shafer Trail in the truck which steeply descends 1400 feet to the White Rim on an upgraded uranium mine road that hugs a steep cliff wall. It really is a marvel of engineering. It was very exhilarating but narrow with large overhangs that we had to watch carefully to be sure we cleared them without moving too close to the edge for fear of falling off the cliff ! Because our wheel base is only 12 feet and we are a cab over design, we don’t have any problem making tight hairpin turns but we are 11ft 8 inches tall and 8 ft wide so not a Jeep for sure! We got about halfway down before we decided that dropping the motorbike would be more prudent and we could cover a lot more ground with less heartburn. At a recent weigh-in our truck is 20,000 lbs which is less than 80% of its rated capacity (which was important for us to stay within) and we are pretty sure the cliff edge of this road doesn’t see this kind of weight on it very often. Driving on this road involves a unique form of physical activity that we dub “Sphincter-cise”. This is a toning exercise that is done naturally when you take your truck into places you probably shouldn’t!

Meanwhile, dropping the motorbike is a marvel of engineering in itself, Jon’s clever design. The lift works great and is easy to use. We did about 20 carefree miles on the White Rim Rd that day stopping at all the sites and taking the walks to points of interest. The weaving white rim is made of hard white sandstone and reminds me of the buzzing edges on the patient’s organs in the game “Operation”. There isn’t too much traffic on the rough dirt road because it is limited to 4×4 vehicles, motorcycles and mountain bikes and of course overnight permits. We wished, wished we had mountain bikes with paneers and are determined to get some. It’s just that they have to be folding and that limits the quality of what we can get. Then, because everyone wants to do it, the permits are booked out many months so there’s no spontaneity in that. I still couldn’t stop thinking about it though.

The edges of the White Rim

That evening, we walked out the cliffside slickrock trail to Grand View Point to watch an impressive sunset then BBQ’ed steak since we had a picnic table for the BBQ at our campsite. What a perfect day. I love being out at sunset.

The following day we did what we could of the other end of the White Rim Rd which starts down low on the Green River and climbs up to the rim. We also did a 10 mile hike. The hike had really pretty scenery and walked up Upheaval Canyon, we didn’t see a soul the whole way and it was another shorts day. Had we not had this warm weather, it would’ve made traveling by motorbike pretty miserable so we felt fortunate. The road is both interesting and challenging to drive. It seems like around every corner there is something new. Very steep, rough inclines, hairpin turns, steps, hardscrabble, sand, potholes, you name it. All in quiet, wild scenery.

Lifesize pictographs in The Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon Unit
Horseshoe Canyon

There’s a remote unit of Canyonlands called Horseshoe Canyon that is 32 miles out on a dirt road through primarily BLM cattle grazing land. At the end of the road is the trailhead into the canyon that contains what they call the Great Gallery Pictographs. These are significant life sized drawings left by hunter-gatherers from over 2000 years ago. You can camp right at the trailhead area. I am always as moved by the dreamy scenery in these places as I am of the drawings themselves. There is something about the light & soft colors in these places that I really enjoy. Along the road, we saw a pair of condors. Did you know they can soar as high as 15,000 feet?

Canyonlands NP was established in 1964 under Lyndon Johnson, just 9 days after he signed the Wilderness Act. Both pieces of legislation were facilitated by Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior at the time. Where there was pressure to build another dam in the area of the confluence of the Green & Colorado rivers, Udall saw a national park there instead. And it would be in a wilderness where man just visits but doesn’t stay. It’s really a unique area and we’ve never seen a road like the White Rim Rd. We left Canyonlands yesterday to head to Capitol Reef but we aren’t done with it yet. We just need to figure out how to get the permits and the bikes to stay in it longer.

Back when we were in New Zealand, I used to love the variety of flavored good quality tunafish they had and also, the interesting flavors of potato chips. The roast lamb with rosemary & mint was my favorite! I wondered why the US didn’t have those kinds of things on offer. But then lo and behold, I’ve started seeing them here finally. It’s not that I eat a lot of chips but they do go well with a tuna sandwich! Recently, I told Jon I’ve been craving prime rib and you never see it anymore. So he finds me the next best thing- prime rib & horseradish flavored potato chips! So with Thanksgiving right around the corner, we’re hoping to find a bag of “Thanksgiving dinner with oyster stuffing” (my favorite) flavor. It would save a lot of meal prep and we could dip it in cranberry sauce! We joke that maybe this is another million dollar idea- chips for every traditional holiday meal.

Happy Thanksgiving to our family and friends. We will be making a nice dinner but some appropriate chips would be fine too.

White Rim

One Reply to “Cliffs of Canyonlands”

  1. Heather, you always write so well. You capture the reader immediately which is certainly a great gift you have. Hope we can talk soon, so much catching up…. it’ll take a few phone calls. Lol. Rita xo

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