Canyonlands Sojourn

A joy of living in Moab is that trips I thought of as requiring planning and a long drive are now local.

A quick look on the map, some easily acquired permits, and some fast packing and I am at places that I’d have to burn some precious vacation time or plan around a long weekend in previous years. And face I70 traffic, of course.

But I am giddy (and there is no other way of describing the feeling) at the fact that Cedar Mesa, Arches, the La Sals, and other places are now as simple as getting up Saturday, pouring my morning cup of joe,  and being at the trailhead around 9 AM.


Ever since I took my first trip on the Colorado Plateau back in 2001, the place entranced me. The red rock with the mountains as a backdrop. And of course the echoes of the ancient cultures.

And that magic is not wearing off years later.

The well-known Newspaper Rock just before Canyonlands National Park proper.

Joan and I went to the Salt Creek Zone in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.  An area rich in scenery and archeological interest.

We walked along the hoodoos, towers, and red canyon walls.

We had a simple goal this weekend. Not mileage or checking off boxes of sites to see.  But our goal was to meander and wander. What is up that side canyon? If we scrambled up there, what will we see?

The NatGeo Canyonlands map lists some of these places we spied. But an observant traveler can not only see the spots noted on the map but also hidden places along the canyon walls.  Ancient dwellings high on the cliff faces beckon. Petroglyph and pictograph panels are only found by word of mouth or happenstance and reveal themselves by patient observation and the occasional walk through thick brush. The walk is again that typical Colorado Plateau experience of walking through a museum where the canvas is red rock.

And then there are the canyons themselves. Sheer cliffs of red and white as you walk along the canyon bottom.  The yellow cottonwoods line the path. And night, the Milky Way appears above the same cliffs as you sip your hot chocolate and again take delight in everything that brought you to this point in your life.

What a joy it is to cowboy camp in slickrock country. Is there any better way to enjoy October than to watch the sun make the clouds pink and rock even redder? To feel the warmth of the day radiate underneath you? We are not in a cocoon of nylon and insulated from the natural world. We are sleeping under the stars. It is our blanket above.

We have the canyon to ourselves. Seeing the sight people over eight hundred years ago probably saw, too.

And in the morning, the canyon walls guide us. Sometimes we find an ancient site. Sometimes the canyons wall themselves are all we see. And that is good enough.

We make our way back and start to see signed, marked, and mapped areas such as the amusingly named Paul Bunyan’s Potty.

No. Really. The formation is called Paul Bunyan’s Potty!

Cottonwoods at peak color line the way back. We continue to see no one on another glorious Utah Autumn day.

We soon reach our trailhead. And I indulge in cold and tasty post-hike treat.

But we are not ready to go home. A short, but very memorable and nearby hike awaits at Cave Spring. More echoes from the past greet us.

And views to our the La Sals, and our home, in the distance.

The Colorado Plateau is my home, now.  And I plan on making the most of it while I am here.

All the photos…


Didjaya know????  Bear canisters are required in Canyonlands National Park in the Salt Creek Area.  That part is understood. A trend that has been in place for a while among NPS, USFS, and even state parks. I think bear canisters are going to be  common required standard gear in the years head for reason’s I’ve stated before.

What didn’t I know? However, I never realized that bear canister loans are free via the Canyonlands Needles District Visitor Center. Just sign the paperwork, take a canister, clean out the sand when done, and return it. Awesome!  The canisters available are the smaller BV450 canisters. Perfect for three or four days solo or shared for a weekend.  Joan and I have larger canisters. She has a more functional BV500, and I have a heavier and slightly bigger Bear Keg.  Both better for guiding or longer trips.  I’ll break down and get a smaller canister soon as I foresee more of a need for this piece of gear in the years ahead.


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In the “WHO KNEW???” category: I’ve known for a while that Canyonlands National Park requires bear canisters in the Salt Creek Zone. A relatively lush zone, there is some evidence of bear activity. So, the NPS mandates the requirement of bear canisters. . What I did not know is that bear canisters are loaned out for *** free! *** Though @ramblinghemlock and I both have canisters, they are larger ones sized for multi-day trips or guiding. Not for a quick overnighter or even a long weekend. NPS loans the popular BV450. Just sign the form in the Needles District Visitor Center backcountry office first, make sure the sand is removed when returning, and that’s it. Easy peasy! The BV450, with some adroit planning, can fit enough food for four days. Or two days if sharing a canister. . With more and more govt land agencies starting to require canisters, I think it is only a matter of time before we look at bear canisters as a mandatory piece of gear except in a few places. At some point soon, I’ll probably break down and purchase a small canister. In the meantime, nice to know we can easily get a small canister for the quick weekend trip. And, of course, have the larger canister for extended trips! … … #hiking #camping #backpacking #canyonlandsnationalpark #nps #nps100 #findyourpark #bearaware #coloradoplateau #utah #moab

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Ryan Palkki
Ryan Palkki
5 years ago

Salt Creek is awesome! The upper part in particular has lots of nice ruins and rock art… I’m jealous of your new home town!

Brian Snyder
Brian Snyder
5 years ago

Hey Paul, I really enjoy these writeups, especially since I have moved back east recently and am jonesing for some southwestern outdoor time. I’m an archaeologist that worked in the southern part of Canyonlands for a couple seasons, and was introduced to this article about an archaeological find from one of the park rangers there: I thought you might be interested, given your musings on the ancient people of the area. The article is a little dry, but it basically details a pouch filled with tools and food from A.D. 700 or so that archaeologists found in the Great… Read more »

5 years ago

Thanks for sharing!
-Salt Crk is amazing, we did a shuttle to hike the whole enchilada. You’ve motivated me to see more!
-Bear cans keep ‘other’ mammals out and I sit on mine. Bear Cans are not smell proof, so I store mine away from tents.
– Great photos (as always)
– Nice link about tools! Thx.