Exploring in the Needles District
With its fantastic red and pink spires, the Needles District is a spectacular and popular part of the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. In the busy spring and fall seasons, most backcountry campsites are completely reserved months in advance. But yet there are still some remote areas there that are off the beaten track and ripe for days of exploration far away from the crowds - or any people at all for that matter.
This April I somewhat spontaneously booked a camping permit for a couple nights in one such "at large" backcountry zone in the Needles District. I spent three long days of hiking in there, exploring a variety of remote canyons and scrambling around on rugged slickrock terraces. An added bonus was that there was plenty of water this spring, even flowing creeks in the canyons.
One of the perks of backpacking in the less popular "at large" camping zones (as opposed to the designated and numbered campsites elsewhere in the park) is that you can find and choose your own perfect campsite wherever you want - which is one of the joys of backpacking!
On my first day, after a long hike in to the first canyon I intended to explore, I found a broad slickrock terrace to set up camp on, with an impressive view of the surrounding cirque of sandstone walls and needles. There was even a seep to get water from about five minutes walk from there!
On the second day I packed up camp and hiked further into this canyon network, exploring several other side canyons along the way. In one canyon when I was scrambling around scouting for a possible place to camp I spotted an interesting cave up in a promontory. An insurmountable cliff blocked my way to the cave, but with further exploration around a series of ledges, crawling through two tight tunnels and across another narrow ledge, I managed to find a way up and around to the cave entrance! Once I entered the cave I was astounded to discover that the center of the "cave" was actually an intersection of three big tunnels! There was even a "skylight" illuminating the center. What a peculiar place. This was one of those places that seemed so randomly remote and unlikely to get to that I wondered if perhaps I might have been the first person to step foot in there since hundreds of years. (Probably not, but who knows?)
As I explored more side canyons up this vast canyon network, the water eventually dried up and so did my energy levels before I could find another great slickrock camp. So I retreated back down-canyon to camp nearby an idyllic area I had passed through on my first day where the creek meandered over broad slickrock slabs.
That evening I fell asleep to a loud symphony of frogs, exhausted but satisfied with my little adventure in the Needles District!