I had been waiting for this for a very long time… Precisely, I had been waiting 1 year to the day… Since returning from my trip to the slot canyons of the Escalante wilderness with Taylor, to have 3 days to explore the desert canyons again. This time into the perfectly manicured Zen Garden of The Needles Section in Canyonlands National Park.
The desert in the spring is a beautiful place! Wildflowers, cactus and other succulents blooming everywhere in little arrangements that are too perfectly arranged to have had any help from the hand of man… We would refer this place often as The Zen Garden.
Memorial Day weekend… 3 days to get out of town, explore and have some fun… That is, along with everybody else. We crawled slowly out of the city in the holiday weekend traffic, but soon broke free and were travelling at a fair clip. The drive from the Salt Lake valley to The Needles takes about 5 ½ hours with no traffic. We were leaving after 6pm with some traffic. Needless to say it would be late when we rolled into the campground.
It was about 12:30am when we arrived at the Squaw Flat campground to read the sign at the entrance… “Campground Full”!… Crap! What the heck are we going to do now? We were both very tired have worked all day and then the long drive. Ok, no one will know if we are up before anyone arrives… We’ll just drive out to the Elephant Hill trailhead and sleep there for the night and figure it out in the morning. After a short few hours of laying out in the open, under the desert sky, pondering the stars, moon and whether any scorpions would be looking for a warm sleeping bag to crawl into… the sun began to rise. Up we go… no rest for the weary… we quickly packed up the sleeping bags and drove the several miles back to the campground. So, I think I’ll just take a drive through the campground just to have another look… and there it was… the most beautiful spot with lots of trees for shade… and better still, not taken. “My goodness SuzAnn, you must have brought your Angels with you!” It was the last and only camp site available!
We set up camp relatively quickly and decided we should save our main itinerary hike for the following day. This way we could try to get a good night sleep for all the miles we hoped to do. Instead we decided on a shorter loop hike that I had never done called the Slickrock Loop. It was a great warmup hike in the northern section of The Needles with grand sweeping vistas out over the desert towards the Island In The Sky section of Canyonlands. We took our time and enjoyed lunch on the way. Me with my typical assortment of dry nuts, jerky and granola bars. SuzAnn on the other hand, packed in fresh fruit, berries and fresh salad. Guess it was my puppy dog look, ‘cause she shared with me… yeah! After returning from the hike, we explored some areas off of the dirt road that leads out to the Elephant Hill trailhead and then climbed up to the top of the rocks next to camp to view the sunset.
We were up early again the following morning excited for the day’s adventure into the heart of The Needles. I grabbed my camera, climbed the rocks and captured a beautiful peaceful sunrise.
Our chosen route for the day is one of my all-time favorite desert hikes. Through The Needles to Chesler Park and back. Here is where The Zen Garden can be found… it is not particularly elusive or hard to find, all that is needed is to open your mind, and eyes of course, to the intricate beauty that is all around!
The trail is fantastic as it crosses slickrock areas next to grand sandstone towers, threading through the finlike canyons of The Needles and then crossing the open desert Zen Gardens to the next set… Repeat this several times and you then reach Chesler Park by crossing through a high pass in the sandcastle like rock formations. Here at the pass it is shaded with the most wonderful cool breeze coming up from the desert below. How this is actually possible still baffles me when the open desert below is so hot! We sat overlooking the otherworldly expanse spread out below us for quite some time, till the sweat on our shirts had evaporated and had a brief conversation with some oriental folks from California. We then hiked a short ways out into Chesler Park to see that view which is fantastic in its own right, but this was only the halfway point and we had many miles yet to go before we were back at the trailhead.
Slow and steady we retraced our steps, enjoying all of the gardens wonders and occasionally conversing with other nomadic desert wanderers. Tired, but not too worse for the wear, we were back to the Jeep and had another incredible adventurous hike to tell the story to any who will listen…