Four Days in Abbey Country

My friend Markhamm proposed a trip to Utah prior to Thanksgiving. A chance to see one of the most gorgeous places in the American West, get in one last backpacking trip of the season and get in some needed outdoor time before his child is born in a few months. (All my friends are having kids it seems!)

My trip idea was to go to Canyonlands National Park just outside of Moab.

It would be a relatively short drive, would have some backpacking opportunities and is a place I do not know that well.

We made the trip up on the fly and picked a place the looked promising.

The Salt Creek Trail was described as rugged, little used and offered views of canyons, petroglyphs and access to arches. A-ha!

On Wednesday, we grabbed our permit, hiked in 3 miles or so along and 4WD road and made camp for the night.

The morning was cold..and each morning would get progressively colder. I had brought a 20F bag and would layer. All I can say is that by the last night, my water bottle had frozen solid. :O

Cold morning in camp


No matter. The views awaiting us were ones to pull us further and further into the canyon country. Cutting the trip short was not an idea that crossed our minds.

As we progressed along the trail, we zigged where we should have zagged. We missed a cairn on the “trail” and ended up walking down a side canyon. Very easy to get turned around in this area! After some map consulting and some off trail traveling, we wound up back on the trail. A side trip we had not planned..but still nice none-the-less. I do not think there is such thing as a bad view in this area!

We continued down the drainage enjoying the red rock formations around us. The warm sun, easy hiking and ample water made the hike a delight.


We pushed further down the trail and decided to make camp…at 4:45 pm. We had only a half-hour of daylight left. 13 hr bag nights makes winter camping interesting to say the least.

At this point, we decided to head back. Camp along the road we hiked in at and do an early morning hike to The Confluence Overlook. It was something we both wanted to see.

Thought it was an out and back, what we saw the day before looked new. Each bend of the canyon revealed something new. And, the side trip to Angel Arch was something we just had to do.

At 150 ft high, it was an impressive sight. All the more impressive because we had to hike there.



Sitting under the arch, drying out our gear and simply delighting in the view around us…well, I ain’t gonna complain.

We hiked out and retraced our steps. The canyon continued to delight.

We made good time, reached the Peak-a-Boo campsite and pressed on. A stealth camp was made off the side of the 4WD road and we settled in for one last (long and cold!) night.The following morning, we did a “gorp and go”, reached the car in short time and gratefully turned on the heater. Ah…..Markhamm and I soon reached The Confluence Overlook trailhead. A flat rock at the trail with a commanding view of the canyon country below made for an impressive place to drink the morning coffee. I was dirt. Sand was all over my clothing and body. I did not care.

Drinking my coffee in the morning sun with no one else around was as good a breakfast I’ve had in a a long time.

After this pleasant and leisurely interlude, we dropped all the gear we did not need and made our way down the trail. In direct contrast to the trail we hiked the past few days, this trail was well marked and apparently well used (based on the footprints). The scenery around us was just as enchanting.

Over the washes and through the arches we went. We both kept on using adjectives of “beautiful”, “gorgeous”, “awesome” and both commented how lucky we were.

We reached the confluence overlook and enjoyed the views of where the Colorado (formerly Grand) River and Green Rivers meet to form the actual Colorado River [1].

As at our breakfast stop, Markhamm and I were in rush to leave. This view has been described as one of the best in the park. We sat and simply enjoyed the view. The history geek in me could not help but reflect how I was looking at the meeting of two of the most important (if not THE most important) river systems in the American West. The culture, the politics, the history..all below me. This river system has shaped the American West perhaps more than any other facet of the area. Impressive to look at it…impressive to contemplate.

We packed up our gear, let another hiker enjoyed the solitude we also enjoyed and made a quick hike back to the car.

The journey in the park was over.

As we were making our way to Moab and driving along the desolate, but raw beauty, of Utah some very appropriate music Sufi music was playing.

By coincidence, we were listening to the Dead Man Walking soundtrack. The haunting, Middle East based music, formed the perfect backdrop as we left the desert behind and approached Moab. The haunting chants coincided eerily with the scenery around us. Songs of devotion, passion and contemplation. As my friend Chris said about the desert, it is no surprise that three influential world religions came out of the desert….

We made our way back to Colorado and arrived in Boulder at 10:30 or so.

The short, but wonderful, journey was over.

My trips to the desert are not as many as my trips to the mountains. Perhaps that is why these desert forays stand out in my memories so much.

A land of starkness..but all the more beautiful for it. Someday I hope to take a long journey in this environment.

Until then, I have my memories. And I am thankful for every time I return.


[1] At the Confluence Overlook you can see where the Green and Colorado (formerly the Grand River) form the real Colorado River. What was called the Grand River flows into the Green. The Grand River was renamed the Colorado River in a fit of 1920s political wrangling for water rights. The water does not lie however. You can see what river is truly the main river.


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