Southern Utah 4: Canyonlands and Arches

This is the last post about our Southern Utah trip!

It’s a little weird, but because Canyonlands is split up in a Y shape by the river it’s actually easier to go to the Needles section of Canyonlonds (the bottom rightish area), then head over to Arches National Park, and then head back over to the Island in the Sky portion of Canyonlands (the top of the Y).


So we found ourselves in the Needles section one bright morning. We had debated whether or not we even wanted to come to this area since it was a less visited part. But we’d decided for it, and Billy picked out a hike that sounded fun.

The Druid Arch hike.

The first part of the hike was so fun. The whole time I kept saying how much I liked it and how this was probably my favorite hike. At first we were walking up and down these small stone mountains. The scarce foliage was beautiful in its scrubbiness. The sun was warm and it felt so nice to be using our muscles in such a wholesome way.


The view was always mesmerizing whichever way we looked. This land goes on forever, with nothing but wilderness for miles. It was nice being completely separate from anything man-made. And I absolutely loved not tripping over a hundred other tourists. We probably passed ten people on the whole 15 miles of the hike.

After a long while the sandstone path turned into a sand path. And once again I was so amazed by how awesome this hike was. Surrounding our sand trail were so many green plants and pretty flowers. It was a complete change from the beginning of the hike. It was a nice, flat trail that took us by all of these majestic, towering rock formations. We were having such a pleasant time that we even ran a good portion of it.


After the sandy trail part it turned back into the wavy sandstone path. A lot of it was walking along the edge of the skirts around the mountains. It was actually kind of hard figuring out which way to go sometimes because the footsteps of the others don’t mark the way like they would on a sand or dirt path. Cairns are great ideas.


This section of the trail was pretty cool though because we had to climb a few tall steel ladders that they’d strapped into the side of the mountain with metal cables. It was pretty impressive.

We also had to climb through this hole through the mountain. It was crazier, too, because there was a giant, human-sized crack running along the whole length of the ground that went down into a black abyss.


We were both still enjoying ourselves. The trail kept switching between the hard sandstone and sandy washbeds that would twist and wind through the land. It was fun having the variety.

Because of all the signs they posted along the way we figured out the trail was actually 15 miles, not the 11 miles our map had promised us. Plus we’d gotten a late start, which meant we were hiking during the hottest part of the day. And, keep in mind, our Southern Utah trip had been pretty cold or chilly the whole time. At Bryce it was still snowing. At Zion I wore a hoodie a lot of the time. In Buckskin it still wasn’t too hot.

Here. Here was another story.

It was about this point in the hike that we realized we didn’t have near the amount of water that we should’ve brought. We began strictly rationing our water to sip amounts and forged ahead, praying for the best.

I was worried but I still tried to enjoy myself. The hike was still beautiful.


I could feel my skin burning, getting worse by the minute. Neither of us had sunscreen, which hadn’t been a problem the rest of our trip. And it was about this time that we ran into some other people. They actually commented on my glowing skin and offered some sunscreen they had on them (great blessings be upon them). They warned us that the trail got harder up ahead.

Besides the beginning, the trail had been relatively flat.

Now it was not so flat.

We had to start climbing these rubbed-slick, sandstone slides that had me scared to death. Here’s a picture of one of the worst from the top. It doesn’t look nearly as bad as it was in real life. We were on our hands and feet, trying to find spots rough enough to give purchase to the grips of our shoes.


After another long, steep scramble and an encouragement from another little group we ran into, we finally made it to the Druid Arch.


We didn’t really care about the arch at this point to be honest with you. It was gorgeous and radiant, but we just wanted water and shade. We found a cooler spot and sat down for 15 minutes, ate an apple, and decided we’d better start heading out.

So then we did the trail in reverse. Except the contrast of the two trips was ironic. Whereas for the trip to the arch I was singing and talking about the beauty of the earth and we were both having a grand time playing games and talking, the trip back was misery in its purest form. The little water we did have was hot and unsatisfying. And the few sips we allowed ourselves satisfied nothing. By this point all I could think about was getting out of there. I stopped looking at the immense beauty around me. I was looking at my feet. I no longer enjoyed the warmth of the sun. My feet, my legs, my skin, my throat, my stomach all hated me for what I was forcing it to do. I didn’t want to walk anymore. I wanted to curl up in a spot of shade and wait for help to find us.

And it was scarier, too, because there were several parts along the way where we’d be hiking for a long while and look at each other and ask if we remembered any of this on the way in. Neither of us would, so then we’d both start worrying we’d gotten lost somehow. It was bizarre.

I started praying just to take my mind off of everything. I prayed only for what I was grateful for, for our blessings, for the kindness of strangers, for the incredible strength of our bodies, for the overwhelming beauty of this Earth we get to live on.

After a very long time we made it back to the beginning section. Which was heartening. But by this point neither of us were doing okay at all. We’d been out of water for a while now. We kept asking each other if the other was okay, and I think when we answered yes what we really meant was “no I’m not about to pass out from dehydration and sun stroke- keep walking before I do.” Anytime we stopped it was the strangest, most terrible feeling. My legs felt like they were trying to pull energy from these dead, dried-up cells, like little lightening strikes were searching throughout my whole body to find some water and coming up empty. We both had bad headaches. I felt like a dried out husk. And still we kept hiking. Billy was slowing down, which was scaring me.

Here’s a picture to show that it was still really beautiful around us.


Eventually we did make it back to our car. I really wasn’t sure we would. I kept imagining Billy collapsing and me having to run and find water on my own and what else I’d have to do. But we made it. We unlocked it and got a bottle of water for each of us and started drinking slowly. We walked over to the restrooms and I just sat in the shade and I don’t think I had control over myself for several minutes. I wanted to get up and put cold water on my burnt skin and put cold water in my bottle instead of the hot water from the car. I didn’t even drink anymore. All I could do was sit there and stare.

Billy had gone into the bathroom and a good ten/fifteen minutes later I “woke up” and realized that he’d been gone for a long time. Then I started imagining him passed out on the bathroom floor. I called out his name once and there was no answer. I called out again, panic really starting to wake me up when I heard him yell faintly, “I’m okay!” A couple seconds later he walks out and tells me when he got in there he got really dizzy, everything looked sideways and he started throwing up the carrots we’d eaten earlier and the hot water he’d just drank. We helped each other dump cold water on ourselves and headed back for the car. Billy started driving but he still wasn’t doing well at all. So I made him pull over and we switched. I drove to the first dirt road I could find and prayed there was a free, empty camp spot we could stop at.

And what do you know. There one was. We set up the tent really fast and slowly drank water and rested until the sun started setting. Water has never tasted so good before. We felt well enough by then to eat a small dinner. Then we went to bed after a fun night of games and talking.


And that’s the end of the Needles.

We woke the next morning and were on the road by 6:00. We were both completely burnt out and not excited by the idea of hiking at all. We got to Arches before they opened and drove around looking at the park. We hiked Delicate Arch, which was a fun hike, but we both hated it because it felt like we were still reliving our hike from yesterday.

Once we got to the top we were both glad we’d done it.


After that hike I swore off all other hikes for the rest of the trip. We did walk the ten steps to the Sanddune Arch. But mainly we drove around and took pretty pictures out the windows.


We didn’t stay too long. We did, however, demolish an entire bag of red Doritos. And I didn’t even care.

Still we drove around taking more pretty pictures out our windows.


As we were leaving we were both really glad we’d gotten there so early because the line to get into the park was unreal.

A few minutes down the highway we were turning off to head towards Island in the Sky. The road to get there took about thirty years, and when we did get there there weren’t any hikes, which I thought was weird (not that I wanted to do any). We did one that was less than half a mile round trip. Billy had to convince me to even do that much. But it was worth it to see this beauty. The Mesa Arch.


This part of the park wasn’t my favorite. There wasn’t much to do. All they had were overlooks. Which were pretty, but I think I have to hike it and experience it to really appreciate it.


The views of the never-ending lands full of these canyons were pretty cool though. I thought it looked like the land was decaying, like some nasty bacteria was eating and rotting away the flesh of the earth.

We spent less than an hour there and headed home. The car ride was really fun because we were both kind of going crazy. And then we pulled up to Hillary’s apartment and took the most wonderful showers ever.

So that’s the end of our little southern Utah trip. It’s funny, because while we were still in school I had these grand notions of going to Europe to celebrate both of us graduating. I kept trying to convince Billy because I really wanted to go, but he kept giving me the same answer over and over. “Why would you want to travel half way around the world to see things when we haven’t even seen the things that are only a few hours away from us.”

And it’s so true. These places were beautiful. Grand. Magnificent, resplendent, glorious, monumental, awe-inspiring, majestic. Just because it might not seem as exotic or cultured as a trip to Ireland or Australia doesn’t make the places of America of any less value, because they are worth it. In fact, people from all over the world were at these parks that we visited! It’s sad that we so often overlook our own beautiful country because it’s not as “exciting.” I truly appreciate national parks a lot more than I think I’ll ever be able to appreciate any great cathedral in some other country (don’t get me wrong though, I still really really really want to see those). I don’t know if there are many other places that you can experience quite like a national park. You become a part of them, part of their history. And they change you, and become a part of you. It is a beautiful, transformative thing. And it’s something I wouldn’t trade for anything.


One thought on “Southern Utah 4: Canyonlands and Arches

  1. Great photos! We love Arches and Canyonlands. We did a mountain bike/camping excursion along the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands a few years back and the scenery was unbelievable. One of the most memorable things I’ve done. Great part of the world.


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