Incredibly beautiful, right from the first step
We got up at 6 a.m. again, loaded up our hiking gear, snarfed down breakfast at the Moab Diner again, swung by the grocery store for more water, sunscreen and ice, and drove south 80+ miles to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.
Looking up at Dead Horse Point
Because the Needles District is so far away from Moab, it gets a fraction of the visitors of Arches and the Island in the Sky District/Canyonlands. It is known for being a hikers' destination: the scenic drive is just barely seven miles long and all the best views are out towards the backcountry, giving car tourists short shrift. There are lots of backcountry campgrounds/campsites, accessible only by foot or by 4WD vehicle, and lots of trails winding through the semi-arid desert. It was great and I bet the stars are spectacular if you camp there, because there is NOTHING out there.
This is one of my favorites of H's dead tree photos
We parked at the end of the scenic drive, by Big Spring Canyon where our hike started. This hike is rated fairly difficult because of the length (10.47 miles roundtrip) and the exposure - there was scarcely any shade and it got quite hot. But the hiking itself is not difficult: we climbed up, over and down slickrock ledges and ridges, then walked across broad, sandy washes, then climbed up, over and down slickrock ledges and ridges, then across broad, sandy washes ... etc. Although there is very little difference in elevation between the high point and the low point of the trail, we did over 1,200 feet of elevation change because of all the ups and downs.
One of the sandy washes/valleys we crossed
There was not a single step of this hike that was not gorgeous. The washes we crossed were filled with an incredible variety of vegetation; we heard lots of birds and saw signs of snakes, lizards and badgers. Up on the slickrock ridges, there were 360-degree views: the Abajo Mountains, the Needles themselves, Dead Horse Point. It was just stunning, all that blue sky and green growth and red rock.
Walking along a dry streambed
After about two hours, we arrived at the Confluence Overlook, the two great rivers meeting and mingling 1,000 feet below us.
The Green River (left) coming into the Colorado River
We didn't linger too long at the overlook since it was hot and getting hotter, and we still had 5+ miles to go. We topped off our hydration packs with the extra water we'd brought, reapplied sunscreen and headed back the way we came. For the return trip, we had the sun in our faces and the wind at our backs, making it quite a lot hotter than the outbound leg, and for much of this leg we walked quietly and determinedly, still enjoying the scenery but wanting to get back to the truck before we ran out of water.
And the Colorado River continues on from the Confluence
Amazingly, for a well-known hike in a national park, we had the place to ourselves for nearly the whole time. We finally ran into some other folks when we were more than halfway back to the trailhead: two day hikers, two backpackers and one odd fellow who seemed woefully under-prepared with his little liter bottle of water.
We got back to the truck after being out for just over four hours (3:38 walking time, 2.9 m.p.h. moving average) and drove back to the Needles visitors' center. There we found some shaded picnic tables for our beer and snacks - but no kit foxes, sadly.
More of the Needles behind a grassy wash
There were a couple of stops to make on the trip back up to Moab: to see the 1,500+ year-old petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock; and to marvel at the kitsch of the Hole N"The Rock, a kooky tourist trap sprung from a former private residence carved out of a sandstone cliff by an eccentric man. (No photographs allowed.) After cleaning up at the motel, we went to Woody's Tavern for cocktails before dinner at Miguel's Baja Grill (reservations strongly recommended). We gobbled down the fresh chips and salsa, carnitas tacos (me) and the Mother Of All Burritos (H) - and once again, headed for bed early.
I like all the four-toed footprints