A Heart of Stone

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Ultimate Utah, Day 5:  Monticello, UT to Blanding, UT

Having visited Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in 2012, we are skipping the Moab area on this trip.  However, we couldn't resist checking out the Needles District of Canyonlands, some 75 miles south of the area we saw around Moab.  We set out north on US-191 from Monticello this morning and turned west on Utah-211.  At the intersection we saw what is known locally as Church Rock.  
What appears to be a small opening at the bottom is actually 16 x 24 feet.
A 200-ft. solitary sandstone formation, Church Rock got its name from a misconception that a nearby religious commune intended to hollow it out to create a house of worship.  In reality, the property is owned by descendants of a local rancher who, in the 1940s, had a recess dynamited out of the bottom of the monolith to store salt licks and feed for his cattle.
Petroglyphs are created by scratching or carving into a rock surface; pictographs are painted onto the rock.
Midway to Canyonlands on UT-211, we stopped at Newspaper Rock Archaeological Site, a petroglyph panel etched in sandstone. Presumably, it was named by someone who thought that ancient peoples posted news on the rock. Signage at the location indicates that scholars have been unable to interpret the meaning of the figures, but the carvings are believed to represent different cultures and eras. Unfortunately that includes modern era in the form of graffiti. A more respectful relic we found from today's world was a letterbox hidden nearby but well away from the historic rock.
Another 18 miles on 211 took us to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.  But even before we reached the park, the roadside was lined with majestic rust colored buttes that soared above the surrounding landscape like Greek temples.
Once we entered the park and checked in at the visitor center, we took advantage of some short hikes off the scenic drive.  A short stroll on the Roadside Ruin Trail took us to an Anasazi granary built of rock and mud into a high alcove in the sandstone.  Ladders were used to access these food storage facilities.
Cave Spring Trail
An area used by early natives and later by cowboys has been developed as the Cave Spring Trail.  As might be expected, the path passes by Cave Spring, a rare year-round source of water.  Inside a nearby alcove were remnants of a cowboy camp with a kitchen and open-air bunkhouse. In other recesses, evidence of earlier human use include pictographs and smoke-blackened ceiling. Although just six-tenths of a mile, the trail features two ladders which take hikers to a higher level atop rocks for better views of the area.
Once at the top of the first ladder, one has to hop from one large rock to another nearby.  Knowing my  propensity for stumbling, I decided it wise to skip this part of the trail.  As we were turning back, a family with a spunky little cowboy and backpack-riding toddler approached the ladder.  Like me, 3-year-old Arlo was reluctant to scale to the top also, but with lots of encouragement from his parents, he made the climb and when he reached the top, a huge grin of pride split his face.  A little panic returned when he realized he somehow needed to get to the next rock, but Mom passed him from one rock to Dad on the other, and off they went to continue their adventure.  
We returned to the scenic drive.  At its end, we stopped at the overlook for Big Spring Canyon, which offered trailheads for longer hikes, expansive views and the opportunity to get up close with some of the park's colorful Navajo sandstone formations.
Before we departed, there was one more short trail that we wanted to check out.  Pothole Point Trail afforded the opportunity to study naturally occurring sandstone basins called "potholes."  As collectors of rain water and wind-blown sediment, these ephemeral pools (dry today) host tiny ecosystems with a surprising variety of plant and animal life.  The trail also offered distant views of the Needles formations which give this section of the park its name.
To get a closer look at the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa sandstone that dominate the area requires a long day hike or a challenging 4-wheel drive trek.  Even if we'd had such a vehicle, we would have thought long and hard after the advice the park offers regarding their four-wheel-drive roads:  "Drive carefully.  The risk of vehicle damage is great, and towing expenses typically exceed $1,000."  We decided we could wait for Bryce Canyon's more accessible opportunities to get up close and personal with sandstone columns.

After planting a Love This Park letterbox just outside the park boundary, we returned to US-191 and drove north a few miles to the turnoff for the Needles Overlook, thinking from the name that we might get a view of the needles formations.   Though it is not a part of the park and doesn't overlook the needles, the BLM site offers an excellent vantage point over the canyons of Canyonlands National Park.
From a stony peninsula, one has panoramic views to the north, west and south, taking in Indian Creek Canyon, 11,000-ft peaks of the Henry Mountains more than 60 miles away, and the Colorado River Gorge that forms the heart of Canyonlands.  We found the views as inspiring as some we saw in the northern part of the park on our last visit but not nearly as crowded.
As we returned to Route 191 and drove south to our overnight stop in Blanding, we continued to marvel at the stunning geological formations that Utah has in such abundance.  The Needles section of Canyonlands National Park has considerable more diversity in landforms than the district accessed from Moab.  We were glad we decided to check it out, even though we "had already visited Canyonlands."  Tomorrow we'll take UT-95, another scenic road (aren't all roads in Utah scenic??), west to Capitol Reef National Park, another of Utah's "Big Five" national parks.


    •  Started in:  Monticello, UT
    •  Ended in:  Blanding, UT
    •  Miles driven:  208   (total 2,425) 
    •  Weather:  32° to 60°, sunny to partly cloudy
    •  Letterboxes:  Found 2, Planted 1   (total:  F10, P4) 
    •  Walked:  4.25 mi  (total 20.81)
    •  Spires:  8,235
    •  Buttes:  378 
    •  Balanced Rocks:  12 
    •  Mushroom Rocks:  201
    •  Potholes:  826
    •  Brave little boys:  1
    •  Wary old women:  1

Loved:  We thought it was an odd name when we saw a reference on the park map for the Wooden Shoe Arch overlook.  It all made sense when we saw it, and we had a great laugh.  

Lacking:  Agility (and courage?) to hike a trail over elevated rocks

Learned:  Open range livestock aren't nearly the hazard one would expect.  We've driven through many areas with warning signs about unfenced cattle and have seen hundreds roadside.  Only rarely do we see any in the road, and those along the shoulder are cautious about oncoming cars.  And even though we've all heard about the cow that jumped over the moon, these lumbering beasts aren't as likely to leap in front of a car as deer are.

More Photos from Today
We found the letterbox more impressive than the actual Newspaper Rock.  No graffiti here!
Relics from an old cowboy camp on the Cave Spring Trail.  Soot gives away the location of the stove.
Ken checks out the Cave Spring.
More of Canyonlands' Glory