Four Days in The Needles

Joan and I originally planned a four-day backpacking trip to an archaeologically rich but lightly visited area.

The problem? The weather forecast called for a full day of rain and sleet turning into snow at night. While we certainly do not mind these types of conditions overall, it can be a sloppy mess. Especially when driving on equally muddy roads where the chances of becoming stuck become high.

So we modified our plans. We’d spend four days in The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park with two days spent backpacking and two days of hiking based out of the first-come, first-served (in winter) Needles campground.

The backpacking portion saw us seeing a canyon we both know well and seeing sites new to us.

As we made our way down the main canyon, we could not believe the prediction of snow on the way. The temperate weather, blue skies, and warm sunshine belied the storms we could see building upon the far horizon.

We found a suitable place in the main canyon and set up camp. From this base, we’d see some places new to us.

Down some side canyons, we saw panels that aren’t readily discernible when staying along the main travel route.

The highlight meant going into an alcove with some astounding acoustics.

And high up on the wall, a striking blue panel of Ancestral Pueblo faces.

Across the canyon wall, and after another scramble, you can look from a kiva to the panels across the canyon floor.

The following morning we did a leisurely hike out, drove to The Needles campground, and found a spot overlooking places where we’ve hiked in the past few weeks.

Not long after setting up our rain shelter for the truck, the sleet came down, and we hunkered in for the night.

Some hot drinks and looking over our maps and guidebooks gave us some ideas for the following two days.

By morning the evening snow mainly melted. And a cold but sunny day greeted us for the day’s walk.

The sunset from camp did not disappoint, either.

The last day of hiking saw more weather starting to roll in. But a perfect day to walk in a lightly visited canyon with more Ancestral Pueblo structures and a lesser-known “Cowboy Cave” that dates back to at least the 1890s regarding ranching use.

Often the different eras mingling next to each other. People enjoy sleeping in warm and dry alcoves regardless of the culture or year.

And other signs that perhaps humor has not changed among young and (probably) bored men:

No matter how many times we come to The Needles, there’s always more to see, do, and remember. I think we could be here twenty years, and we won’t see all there is to see.

I look forward to putting that assertion to the test in the years to come.

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