"Strenuous and difficult" - perfect!
Breakfast was at the Moab Diner: a Denver omelette for H and peanut butter and bacon on an English muffin for me. As we ate, we watched scores of 1970s and 1980s vintage Toyota Land Cruisers driving past, as well as some kickin' old Broncos. Any one of those old trucks would be my dream vehicle and it was fun to see so many of them around.
H on the trail down to the floor of Upheaval Canyon
The hike we decided to do was the Syncline Loop around Upheaval Crater in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. It was partly cloudy and in the upper 70s when we got there, with not yet a full parking lot at 9:20 a.m. when we got on the trail. The Syncline Loop is a longish hike (8.66 miles, done in 4 hours 25 minutes (we were slow because it was steep)) that plunges 1,300 feet in a mile right off the bat, descending from the mesa to the floor of Upheaval Canyon. Despite the quick elevation loss, we didn't think the trail was as intimidating as Gooseberry had been - it never felt like you were clinging to the side of a cliff.
Admiring the view
Once down, we followed the canyon wash to a trail junction (option to head west to the Green River), then climbed up a short, steep hill via nicely-placed stair-stepped stones. There was another trail junction at that point - the Crater Spur, heading into the Upheaval Dome crater itself - but our loop continued along the outside of the collapsed dome's rim, following a streambed, then heading up the spring-fed wash of the Syncline Valley. It was getting hot at this point but some of the cottonwood trees provided brief shady respites for us.
Walking in the canyon wash
The climb was fairly steady here since we were working our way back to the top of the mesa. There was a steep scrambling section (where our hiking poles were more hindrance than help) where we had to navigate big boulders and had a little trouble finding cairns in all the rock fall. After the scramble (and after a Poptart break under a juniper tree), the last stretch of trail was somewhat of a grind: up a steep slickrock section and then slogging up a dry wash to the trailhead. We passed through a juniper grove near the end of the loop and were soundly scolded for the intrusion by at least a dozen jays who had taken up residence there.
Starting the scramble section
The clouds had been gathering as we were nearing the homestretch and we were feeling smug about our choice to hike early, especially as we met other hikers heading in as we were coming out. The temperature dropped and the wind picked up as we drank a post-hike beer and helped a couple of guys jump-start their old Durango. The thunderstorms moved in for reals about twenty minutes after we'd finished the hike - we sat in the truck and watched the lightning flash all around - and then I felt very badly for the late-start hikers, out there in that weather.
Slickrock section, towards the end of the loop
We drove back to town, the thunderstorms deciding against afternoon MTBing for us. After cleaning up, we walked to Milt's Stop N' Eat. We easily scored seats at the counter and simply inhaled our burgers, fries and shakes when we got them; we had forgotten to make sandwiches for lunch so we were really quite hungry. The full bellies hit us hard, however, and back at the Kokopelli, we both crashed, lights out at 9 p.m.