Traveling can transport you, physically and mentally, but it can’t help you outrun unpleasant neighbors or bad weather. They’ll wind up following you almost anywhere. Late-night loud music, fresh dog poo just outside our tent, yelling children (and their parents), a screaming fight, and an ancient loud generator complete with spotlights and a surround sound movie experience at midnight. These are a few of the experiences we’ve been treated to over the past four and a half months while we’ve been camping. The vast majority of our neighbors have been fantastic, but we’ve had six that have left us thankful that we’re not their permanent neighbors. Unfortunately, we encountered two of these six neighbors during our visit to Canyonlands National Park. Putting aside the two nights in a row of camping next to or near families that do not communicate except by shouting, and doing so constantly, be it 10pm or 5am, we seriously enjoyed Canyonlands.
Our camping options in Canyonlands were limited, so we crossed our fingers and drove the forty miles from the nearest town to the twelve-spot campground hoping for a miracle. Two sites left! Hallelujah! This was easily one of the most beautiful places we’ve camped thus far. Sure there was absolutely no water (you have to pack it all in), but the views were incredible. It seemed like you could see forever in just about every direction from atop the mesa, and just a short walk down the road took us to one of the best views in the park, Green River Overlook. The only downside to our stay (aside from the less than neighborly neighbors) was the nightly ritual of counting seconds between lightning and thunder. The storms were beautiful to watch, but they were intense, and were frighteningly close at times. Although we should have been following the 30/30 rule (seek safe shelter – in our case, the car – when there are 30 seconds or less between lightning and the resulting thunder and stay in the shelter until 30 minutes elapse with no thunder ), we wound up following the 15/30 rule (don’t try this at home, kids). This kept us out of the car for 2 of the 3 nights, but we did spend several hours in the car during our second night of camping when the strikes were much too close to our campground.
Despite all my whining, Canyonlands wound up being one of our favorite places that we visited on this trip. Because it doesn’t have the name recognition that many of the other Utah parks have (Arches, Bryce, Zion, to name the big three), it doesn’t have the crowds. There are four sections to the park, two of which require a 4-wheel drive vehicle; however, we only visited one section of the park, the Island in the Sky District. We’re already talking about going back when Van is older and bringing a 4-wheel drive with us, not only so we can visit the other sections, but so that we can drive right down into the canyons and backpack and camp along the river. Talk about a great wilderness experience!
But, I digress. Even without the 4-wheel drive, we were able to get out and hike to some great spots in the park. We also dutifully pulled into each of the scenic lookout spots that we could, joining the other visitors (almost all European, many in their rented RVs with California or Nevada plates) to gasp at the incredible vistas full of far-off mesas, rock monuments, and cracks in the earth that were full of lush greenery and running water. It was in Canyonlands (and not nearby Arches) where we hiked to our first arch, Mesa Arch, and even climbed atop the somewhat narrow arch for the fun of it! Most amazingly, Van sat through an entire ranger program on the geology of the park. We often have to skip these because there’s no way he’ll sit through a whole program without howling at some point. But this one was outside, so we figured we could make a quick escape if necessary. No escape needed!
My favorite of our hikes was the Upheaval Dome hike. It was a short two-mile hike (roundtrip), mostly on slickrock, to the edge of the dome. While scientists don’t agree on how it was formed, they speculate it was either because of a meteorite or because of a salt dome, essentially a salt bubble caused by pressure over millions of years.
With more time and a four-wheel drive vehicle, we might still be in Canyonlands! If you’re ever in Southeastern Utah or planning a trip to Moab or Arches, you should definitely make time to visit this park.