Needles District Backpacking

May 23, 1999; Sunday                      Mi Casa; Fort Collins, CO

 This story actually has its roots months past on a cold winter evening when Dave and I mulled over topographical maps of the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park; a backpacking trek through the area no more than a fantasy. By and by that led to correspondence with the Park Service, reservations, more planning, shopping, packing, etc., all leading up to 6:30 AM on a dull and cloudy Sunday in Fort Collins. We loaded the final necessities and stopped by a bagel shop on the way out of town.  Why do all bagel shops sell Odwalla fruit drinks?

 The clouds became less substantial as we drove west on I-70 through the Rocky Mountains, and soon the weather matched our spirit of adventure.  We stopped in Glenwood to have lunch with a friend, Rachel.  We grubbed on greasy Americana fare at Burger King, and an hour later, Dave and I were on the road west once again.  Grand Junction came and went, and soon we crossed the state line after which we exited I-70 on 283(?) and sped through the bustling town of Moab, UT, stopping for gas at an outdated Conoco filling station (the kind where the mechanic doubles as cashier).  The road led us to Canyonlands National Park about the same time the weather turned ugly.  We picked up our permit after paying (grudgingly) the $10 entrance fee (we already paid $25 for the reservation).  We had planned to camp at Squaw Flat, but it was full of the first come, first served crowd.  At the suggestion of the ranger with a skunk spot on his beard, we camped about 6 miles outside the park on BLM land. (Land of the free)  The campsite we found was beautiful; nestled under young cottonwoods in a grassy field.  Across the 2 lane blacktop lay a mammoth butte with sheer rock faces rising 200 feet straight up in the air from a base of rubble accumulated after eons of weathering the desert.
 The weather let up without raining, and we set up camp in comfort.  Dinner of spaghetti served uphot followed, and shortly after dinner the sun came out.  I took the opportunity of pleasant light to take my first trip snapshots.  Camera junkie.  It's an expensive habit.

        After dinner's dishes were clean and stowed, we hiked over to the butte across the road.  We followed a trail up the boulder-strewn slope, passing cactus, bunchgrass and lots of lizards.  We examined the vertical cliffs along with the subtle adornments of very brave rock climbers (screws in the rock about 20 ft up).
    We agreed that no such thrill sounded inviting at all.  I prefer to keep my feet on the ground where the possibility of compound fractures is significantly less.  Moving along a sand pathway, we found a crack in the wall that led to a cave created by a vertical slab of rock, probably several million tons in weight, letting go of the rock face, falling to the base of the butte and then slamming back up against the cliff after having wavered out away from it about 10 feet.  Caves of any kind are meant to be explored.  Unfortunately this one afforded about 1 minute worth of active exploration, but it was interesting all the same.  I tried to photograph it but the sun was low and the light was insufficient for a satisfactory shot.  Nothing more was left to see, and the sun was getting low behind a red mesa. Shadow slipped over  our camp in the cottonwoods below.
    We went back to the tent and watched tiny bats, like nocturnal butterflies, flap slowly but deftly against the dark blue horizon seeking their invisible blood-sucking prey.  They were so close at times we could hear their ultrasonic sonar pulse (the not-quite ultrasonic portion of it anyway).  A doe came to investigate our camp briefly while I was shuffling through gear in the Jeep.  It bolted at the sight of me and disappeared instantly in the thick brush.  Night set in and we retired to the tent until dawn.  I slept well with the prospect of a week's adventure ahead.

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