Southwest Vacation – Part IV

The next day, we headed toward Canyonlands National Park, which is just south of Moab, UT. On the way in, we stopped at Newspaper Rock, which is a petroglyph site with drawings dating back at least 1500 years. Like many other petroglyphs and dwellings in the region, these were drawn under a rock face, which has protected the drawings for that period of time.

Other than the petroglyphs, there wasn’t much else to see, so it was a quick stop on our way into Canyonlands!

I should note, since I didn’t earlier, but Calvin happened to be done with 4th grade during this trip. The National Park Service offers the Every Kid Outdoors pass, which allows kids during their 4th grade year (and the summer after!) access to national park lands….for free! …and their families! So yeah, we got to go to Natural Bridges, Canyonlands, and Mesa Verde without having to pay an access fee. We saved at least $150 by taking advantage of it, so thanks for being the right age for this trip, Calvin!

We stopped at the visitor center first, which I’ve been to a number of times going to Utah for our Field Biology course the past few years. I am used to going on longer hikes in this particular park, but the kids weren’t really excited about it, so we opted for shorter trips. One of them was a 1 mile hike that featured flat rock hiking, a few ladders to climb, and some old timey cowboy encampments that illustrated how ranchers used to use the overhanging rocks for shelter.

It was neat to see just how far some of the overhangs went back, like the picture above. It was tall enough that putting horses in there wouldn’t have been an issue, so it’s no wonder ranchers used spaces like these for years. Above, Calvin is standing in front of a spring, where water slowly leached through from the surface above when it rained, again showing the utility of these spaces.

A lot of the hiking in this region is called “flat rock,” which is just as it sounds: walking over flat surfaces rather than on gravel or sand. Due to the Field Biology class I’ve helped out with, I’ve hit a bunch of areas like this, but in Canyonlands, flat rock hiking like this is pretty common. You end up having to find cairns, which are small piles of rocks that indicate the direction of the trail. Since there’s no soil, there’s no way to place a sign telling hikers where to go, so cairns are the norm.

The section of Canyonlands we were in was called the Needles District. There is a really good loop trail that takes you right up to the “needles,” or the rock formations behind us in this picture. That trail is over 10 miles long, though, so we didn’t push it. Next time, hopefully!

Like I said, I’ve gone to this area a few times with our Field Biology course and usually we stay on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. We camp, of course, but you can pitch a tent for free on publicly managed spaces, like those near Canyonlands.

I got the bright idea to go find one of our campsites with the family after we were done at the national park so they could see where I’ve been sleeping, out in the middle of nowhere. However, as evidenced by the picture above, there had been enough rain recently that the road was covered by water. Could the Outback have made it through the puddle? Probably. Did we really want to risk that? Uh, no. So we didn’t. Next time!

We hit Canyonlands that morning, so the plan was to visit Moab, UT for the afternoon. We took in a late lunch at Moab Brewery and picked up some beer to take back with us, including a growler. We didn’t eat until 1:30 pm that day, so given the anticipation, we were all pretty happy with it.

We walked around Moab looking for souvenirs afterwards and mostly struck out. A lot of the shirts, for example, were representing Moab itself or Arches National Park (which is practically in Moab…), which we weren’t visiting, so nothing really jumped out at us.

There were a lot of folks in Moab, though, but we noted that a lot of them seemed like fellow travelers, or otherwise people who were “living the life of the southwest.” Brooke had been to Moab before, but she made it sound like the “Moab” of her childhood is long gone, instead replaced with a much more commercialized town made up of tourists moreso than folks who actually live there.

After we were done in Moab, we headed back to Blanding for the night! Onward to Mesa Verde the next day!