Needles District, Canyonlands National Park
We parked at the Squat Flat Campground trailhead in the park, hitting the Squaw Flat/Big Spring Canyon loop around 12:45 p.m. The loop was 7.2 miles, which we did in just under three hours under clear and sunny skies. It felt very similar to the Neck Springs hike (Island in the Sky district) with short up-and-overs on slickrock and then down through washes. There were lots of springs in the area so there was a fair amount of water. We heard lots of birdsong and saw lizards, squirrels, a snake, chipmunks; there were plenty of deer tracks but no actual deer sightings; the wet spring conditions had brought lots of wildflowers to bloom as well.
Following the cairns up the rock
After our hike, we drove to the Needles Outpost, just outside the park boundary. We had originally hoped to stay at the park's campground but they don't take reservations for some reason and when I called to ask, the ranger said that the sites tend to fill up around 8 or 9 a.m. each day (!!!). There are numerous BLM campgrounds in the area as well, but we really didn't want to spend all day driving up and down dirt roads, looking for a place to pitch our tent. The Needles Outpost takes reservations - and turned out to be a great campground. We had the best tent site (#9) too. Although online reviews from a couple years ago mention some less than pleasant experiences for campers, we found the staff pleasant and helpful; the showers were clean (and much appreciated); and the sites were in good shape. Ours backed up against some red rock cliffs and we had several good-sized juniper trees shading the tent.
View of the La Sals from the slickrock
As we set up camp, other people started rolling in; we ended up with neighbors on each side (but not across the road, so our sunset view was unimpeded), but they were very quiet. Dinner was a family-sized box of Zataran's Dirty Rice, supplemented with home-dehydrated ground beef, peas, corn and green peppers. It was actually quite delicious and although we made too much (with no way to refrigerate the leftovers), we ended up eating most of it.
Being so far away from ... well, everything meant that the stars were absolutely spectacular. We had a nice campfire and stared at the sky for as long as we could stay awake. Which wasn't quite 10 p.m. (This would prove to be our latest night of the whole trip.)