Saturday, 14-June – Moab Valley RV Resort → Canyonlands Needles District → Canyonlands Needles Outpost
Trip miles: 85 miles
Route taken: US-191 S → UT-211 W
Average Gas mileage: 27.9mpg
Weather: warm (68F) in the morning, hot (82F) with light breezes and a brief afternoon storm
Elevation: 4025ft -> 4960ft
- seeing the herons fly over Moab Valley one last time
- seeing an American Avocet in the parking area at Newspaper Rock
- walking the small trails at the points of interest along the Scenic Drive in Needles District
- getting a lovely shaded site at the Canyonlands Needles Outpost campground
The wicked wind died off at about midnight last night and eventually the temperature cooled off enough to sleep comfortably. With one last stop at the City Market for peanut butter, bananas and peppers we were on our way out of Moab before 8:00. US-191 S leaves Moab Valley, passes through Spanish Valley, then starts to gain elevation near the La Sal Mountains. The Canyonlands Needles District Visitor Center is almost 1000 ft. higher elevation than Moab, and today's temperature, low 80sF, was a welcome relief.
22.2 miles before the Canyonlands Needles entrance gate we stopped at Newspaper Rock, where people from the Ancient Puebloans to Native Americans left their marks and messages. The interpretation of these pictographs is not known. What a surprise to see an American Avocet, a wading bird, here in the parking lot. A little further down the road was a ranchers small pond. Was this a big enough habitat for this bird? Or was it just migrating through?
It was already mid-morning when we arrived at the Canyonlands Needles Visitor Center. Our plan was to drive the park roads and walk the small trails today then hike a day-long trail tomorrow, so off we went to the end of the road to walk the 2.4 mile Slickrock Loop Trail. This loop gives a good 360-degree view of the Needles area landmarks. Next we drove to the Cave Spring Trail. The final mile of dirt road to this trail was not at all dusty, with a hard-packed clay surface. This was a nice afternoon walk because it took us under cool rock caves where both ranchers and Native Americans had sheltered from the weather while tending their crops or herds. There was even a display in one rock overhang of what a typical cowboy's field camp might be stocked with and some pictographs in another rock overhang. The cowboy camps were used until 1975 when the National Park no longer allowed private ranchers to graze their cattle in the park. The .3 mile Roadside Ruin Loop Trail took us past a granary built by the Ancient Puebloan people. Along the short path several of the native plants growing there were labelled. The .3 mile Pothole Loop Trail is not very interesting in the dry season. To really appreciate the pothole life forms there needs to be water in the holes, so the tiny tadpole shrimp, tadpoles and other dormant creatures come to life and can be seen.
Having completed the Scenic Drive trails, we ate lunch at the Visitor Center then drove the 1 mile back to the Canyonlands Needles Outpost. We were the first campers to arrive so we could pick any spot we wanted. Tracy recommended site #23 near the bathhouse as being the most shady. We liked her suggestion and started to set up the tent just as the ominous clouds in the western sky turned into a gusty wind storm with about 7 drops of rain. Just as quickly as it had started, the storm ended. Without the wind the midges and black flies found us but soon a steady light breeze brought relief from the afternoon heat and the insects. We sat in the shade enjoying the quiet...no sounds of trucks or jeeps or loud music...just birds and wind. We surmise that the National Park Squaw Flats Campground must have filled up because two other tenters came in around 19:00.
About Canyonlands Needles District: This is the southernmost district of Canyonlands National Park. There are no roads connecting Needles District to the other two districts in Canyonlands. The only connection among them are the Green and Colorado Rivers that carved these canyons through this ancient plateau. UT-211 is the only paved route into the district but the area is heaven for backpackers and off-road enthusiasts. If certain forces had prevailed, the Colorado River would have been dammed downstream of Canyonlands and all three districts would have been flooded. Instead, Stewart Udall (then Secretary of the Interior), envisioned a National Park as he flew over the proposed dam site and fought to block the dam. In 1964 Canyonlands was officially given National Park status by President Lyndon Johnson.
The year Canyonlands became a National Park there were only 100 Bighorn Desert Sheep living in the entire park area. Their numbers had been decimated during the previous century by trophy hunters and diseases contracted from domesticated grazing herds. Through wildlife management efforts there are currently about 350 sheep distributed among the three districts and sheep from the initial 100 have been used to re-establish populations in Utah's Arches, Capitol Reef and Glen Canyon public lands.
About Canyonlands Needles Outpost and Campground: Tracy and Gary own this land just outside the boundary of the National Park. Besides the campsites they run a General Store selling basic camping needs and ice and have an in-store restaurant selling grill-type dinner and breakfast choices. 5-minute showers can also be purchased by campers from the National Park. Tracy and Gary have been running the Outpost for 18 years. They are easy-going and willing to accommodate reasonable requests. The NPS requires a permit process to operate a business here, including the requirement that all their water must be purchased from the National Park. Water is hauled from the Visitor Center to the Outpost by truck and dumped into Outpost water tanks. They get some of their power from solar panels but must use generators if more power is needed. The campsites themselves are 'dry', that is they have no water or electric hookups. At the single bathhouse water is available to take back to the campsite for cooking and washing dishes. The facilities are older but well-maintained and reasonably clean. The sites are very roomy and some, like #23 and #4, are semi-private and have some shade. Of all the campgrounds we have stayed at during this trip, this is our favourite because of the peace and natural environment.