Last year we visited the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, so we thought that this year we would check out the lower section, the Needles District.
We headed out as early as we could from Moab without waking any kiddos up early and headed to Canyonlands National Park toward the Needles section which we hadn’t yet explored. Before we even got to the park boundary we stopped at Newspaper Rock. This was a large darkened face of a rock with dozens and dozens of petroglyphs on it thought to have been started from B.C. time to A.D. 1300. It is thought to contain roughly 2,000 years worth of human activity. It was really incredible to see and such a perfect rock to etch into.
As we got closer to the park the rock formations become more and more incredible! They started taking shape as castles or birds with very district rock layers making up their structure. Softer rocks such as shale and mudstones crumbled over time forming the slopes while harder rocks such as limestone and sandstone maintained vertical bluffs. It’s crazy to think that these massive rock structures used to be giant sand dunes and also that all this land used to be under the ocean! Where there once was so much water there is now so little.
Originally we had planned to stay in the Needles campground for one or two nights but upon arriving we learned that they were already full for that night. We stopped at the visitor’s center anyway, got a map (as there wasn’t anyone at the entrance booth; not very popular I guess?) got Jr. Ranger books and asked for hike recommendations. Usually we do some research before we enter a park but we lost cell service so long before we got there that we hadn’t had a chance. We were told that the campground fills up very early in the morning but there were a few hikes where there was enough parking for Azul and Wobbles at the trailhead.
We went on a beautiful hike through the rocks that make this park so unique. Although it was a beautiful day for a hike in Justin and my eyes, the girls thought differently. The temperatures were in the high 70’s which for some reason felt a bit hotter in the desert sun with no shade, though it was windy which helped with the heat.
Windy may be an understatement. It was so blustery that the high gusts were nearly blowing us off our feet, especially our little one. A large gust would come along and knock our 4 year old off balance. Jeepers, it even did it to me a couple times! Let’s just say I told LOTS of stories during the hike to keep complaining at bay.
I think Justin’s outlook on the hike was a bit different. He has been getting back into taking nice pictures with his camera and just got a new zoom lens. During the hike he was either way behind or way in front of us. I think he got some good pictures though while having a bit more of a relaxing hike.
The rock formations were just incredible! It’s so neat when you can so distinctly see the different layers of history laid out so plainly in the landscape.
BLM Camping on Lockhart Road
After the hike we headed out of the park to some BLM land to camp on for the night. We found a fine spot though the wind was blowing so hard we couldn’t open any windows, making it quite hot!
With every gust of wind a huge amount of dust/fine red sand would blow with it. I thought, “Eh, so it will blow a little sand into Azul. We’ve got to have some airflow.” I was incorrect about “a little” sand blowing in. As soon as I opened the window a gust of wind brought sand through the screen and covered our counter. So much so that when I wiped it up it was about 2 teaspoons worth! No thank you! Regardless of the sand, the girls had fun building a fort under a juniper tree while I made dinner.
I believe I forgot to mention this in previous posts but, our 6 year old just got her first loose tooth! This is very exciting news for her which means she has been getting up at dawn from excitement! The morning we woke up on the BLM land she got up and was able to catch the sunrise through her top bunk window. Such a magical thing for her to witness. She bounded into my bed whisper shouting, “Mama, it is like the rocks are on fire! It’s so pretty! You’ve got to see it!” Pretty cool even if it did mean being a little extra sleepy.
Hangin’ at the Visitor’s Center
We went back into Needles for our last hike and gave the girls the opportunity to turn in their Jr. Ranger books and say their pledge. On our way into the visitor’s center our 4 year old noticed some trash in the parking lot. With permission, she picked up all the trash and put it in it’s proper place in a trash can. She said to me, “I want to be sure to pick up all that yucky trash! It’s not good for the animals and I don’t want anybody seeing those yucky cigarettes and getting the idea to smoke. That would be a really sad choice.” Such a sweet little heart.
We learned some wacky stuff about the landscape and it’s creatures from Ranger Robb. There are “potholes” in the rocks that collect rain when there is a storm. It is here that Fairy Shrimp, Spadefoot Toad Tadpoles, Tadpole Shrimp and Clam Shrimp grow. Yes!! You heard me correctly. Shrimp live in the potholes until the water is depleted at which time they die, hopefully after having laid eggs for the next generation first. Justin gathered the information that “shrimp eggs were in the potholes so we shouldn’t ever step in a pothole if we see one on a hike” from a ranger on our first day at the park. However, we thought he was crazy!! During our hike the previous day we joked that we shouldn’t step in the pot holes for fear there were also fish eggs or octopus in there as well. Poor Justin. Ranger Robb taught us that Justin wasn’t crazy or hard of hearing after all! These crazy little shrimp eggs can dry up completely and lay years dormant without water and still produce a perfectly functioning shrimp when that rain finally comes. Ranger Robb says these little Triops (tadpole shrimp) are even older than dinosaurs and they haven’t changed much since then either. We have some wacky things here on planet earth!
Cave Spring Trail
Our last hike was a short one but had some awesome features! We left Wobbles in the visitor center parking lot, as we had been advised to do so due to lack of parking at the hike. Upon arrival we were actually the first one’s there! Cave Spring Trail brought us to an old cattle ranch from the 1800’s. The spot was just perfect! It consisted of multiple very large overhangs from the rocks above giving it an open but cave like feel. These nooks were then connected by a series of walkways which also had an overhang to shelter one from sun or rain. The park had one of the overhang areas set up according to it’s past using many items that had been found left behind from the ranchers.
There was even a large storage box still intact. The handiwork was clever using old tin cans and other used metal items to close up the gaps in the wood to protect against critters and weather. It was such a neat little patch work quilt box!
Within the large overhangs we could see where there had been fires in the past as black soot lined the ceilings of the rock. In one central gathering place there was a natural spring!
This must have been a crucial factor in choosing this as a spot to stay. It was just beautiful! The water was seeping through the sandstone at a seam at which point magical looking maiden’s hair grew tendriling down the sculpted sandstone walls.
The walls were also marked with ancient drawings and grinding depressions nearby telling us that ancestors of today’s American Indians occupied these parts about 6,000 to 700 years ago. The pictographs were so neat to see up close as they were a brilliant red clay color against a sand colored wall.
Two lovely wooden ladders brought us up to exploring the rocks above the hidden dwelling. It is here that we got to see dozens of middens created by packrats in the area. It was incredible to see how large in size they were. One we saw resembled a dam made by a beaver. It was the size of a twin size mattress and bridged the gab in the rocks just wonderfully as a dam would using sticks, dirt, tree parts, dung, crystalized urine and who knows what else inside. We were even able to see the hole that the little thing went in and out of! Neat stuff!
It was at one of these middens that a very sweet older gentleman asked if we would like him to take our picture as a family. We thought that was very sweet so we said “yes.” It turned out to be quite an entertaining interaction. This sweet guy knew nothing about phones and was doing his best to take a good one. For the first couple minutes he was unknowingly taking pictures of himself as the camera screen was facing us. Once Justin explained how to turn the phone around he struggled to keep his fingers off of the lease. “I’m getting a bit of glare on the screen I think,” aka a finger was in the picture.
Both his wife and us were getting quite the kick out of watching his kind hearted attempt at taking our picture. The girls were in a fit of giggles by the time the photo session had ended. We found that over 100 pictures had been taken so one of them was sure to come out! Haha, oh my goodness! It was so hilarious!
The hike was a perfect short distance for the day with lots of excitement packed into it. Well worth it for sure.
This time at Canyonlands was the first time we gave a water bladder to our 4 year old to use herself. We were hopeful that she was old enough now to wear it and not abuse it. We had an issue last year (that now seems hilarious but as it was happening, not so much) where our little one was SO excited to drink from a “sucky pack” that she went way overboard and ended up peeing her pants when she couldn’t get down her overalls in time for her emergency pressurized massive pee! We didn’t have any issue with accidents this time but we did find at the end of the second day’s hike that her rubber mouth piece looked as if a mouse had gotten a hold of it! The thing was chewed through on both sides!! So much so that when I turned the tube lock position from lock to unlock it started spraying us like a hose. Oh dear! This explained why her shirt was forever getting wet on the hikes. We will give her one more try in a week or so but probably better luck next year.