Exploring Cayonlands’ Needles

Our camp, looking south
Arno and Diego join me on the rock

I’m loving my morning ritual of sitting on the rock with my camera. I love our little campsite here. First thing after morning cleanup, we headed into the park and found a trail. Miguel was feeling even worse, and elected to stay in the truck while the rest of us hiked. We left windows open for him. Diego and Tara were less than inspired about hiking in the sun, but they were forced to endure the happy enthusiasm of Arno and I who felt FINALLY released on a trail to do what we had been so looking forward to.

A rock near the Squaw Flat Trailhead

We chose the Squaw Flat Trail and walked out into the desert sun. The trail was fascinating for a nature- and desert-lover like myself. Diego even became interested in desert flora along the way, taking photos with my camera. Tara had energy that belied her consistent complaints about heat. She kept getting ahead of us on the trail so that she could find shade, then sit in the shade and wait for us to catch up.

Our desert trail stretches out before us, with the destination ridge on the horizon.
Diego and Tara turn to violence

We crossed an actual creek with water in it, went through a forested area, crossed an open plain, and yes, scaled the inevitable slickrock path to the top of a saddle in the distance. The kids had been going along ok and then Arno points out across the wide desert and says, “See that ridge on the horizon? That’s where we are going.” Which, of course was followed immediately by the kids whining about what evil torture we were forcing upon them. I still have some things to teach Arno about the psychology of kid-rearing. Don’t ever point waaaaay off in the distance and say “We’re going there.” There is only one possible reaction, and it’s not a good one. He followed my lead and we did not discuss distance again. We got to talking and pointing things out and telling stories and before the kids knew it, we were there!

View south from the top of the ridge
Multicolored layers visible in Needles
Indian Paintbrush in foreground, growing out of the biological soil crusts that form in the shallow layers of desert dust

Everybody had sunburns by that time, even though we had applied sunscreen. But I consider it an expected side bonus of springtime. Pain followed by itching and lizard skin. It’s my Spring ritual. The return trip was still enjoyable and a little cooler, since clouds had moved in.

We found Miguel in decent shape, still in the parking lot. Back at Hamburger Rock we made another tasty lunch and made plans for the afternoon excursion. This time Miss T wanted to stay at camp and read her book. She might also have been hankering for some non-boy time.

Dirt road to our next adventure

We left her there, and Miguel, who had finally rested enough to feel somewhat human, wanted to come along. We left on a dirt road from behind the Needles Visitor Center along Salt Creek. It is a designated four-wheel drive road and the truck has 4WD. We decided to try and find this overlook point that a woman at the Visitor’s Center had told us about. There is a wide spot where we were told to pull over, and then we wandered around till we found the trail. A little way down the trail there was a sign. Good call, that. The sign was not visible from the road, and probably keeps many people away from this spot.

Keep your children under control!!
Diego and Arno peer into the chasm

We found an incredible canyon that simply drops away into a chasm without any warning. Well, ok, there was a pretty clear warning. But it’s the sort of intense drop-off that a person isn’t prepared for, even after she just read the warning sign about possibly losing errant children over the edge.

It’s a good thing we were paying attention. The ground remains perfectly flat right up to the edge, and then it drops instantly 800 feet or so. Wow! What a sight. Not even brave enough to stand at the edge, we laid on our bellies to look over the edge. There is a tiny alkali creek trickling into the vast crevasse. We stood at the edge and watched gusts of wind blast the creek right back up on top of the ledge! Not even enough water power to make an effective waterfall.

This Google satellite image helps me illustrate the drop off

We walked back to the truck up the creek. The high mineral content of this water caused deposits to collect on the creekside until it looked like a recent snow had come through. Blades of grass, the gravel on the shore, and rocks at the waterline were crystalline white and sparkling when the sun made its tentative bursts to life.

Mineral deposits look like fresh snow

Arno at the top of a rock

My camera did not capture the brilliance, but trust me, the scene was beautifully captivating. There is something about white that transforms a landscape. Arno had not been on this road before, and it was his idea to try it. It was an awesome sight, and with no real hiking, a good thing for Miguel to do while he remains miserably sick.

On the way back, we stopped by some rocks that were calling to Arno, and he went off and climbed to the top, while the rest of us scrambled around and enjoyed the scenery. Diego and I took more photos.

Back at camp Diego and Arno tossed a football from rock to rock above the campsite while there was still sunlight. The strains of a violin wove through the night air, and Tara went off to investigate. She found another teenager girl camper who was practicing her violin, so the girls spent the evening together.

Sun sets on the rocks and tents

I was fussing by the fire when a blue light lit up the sky. I looked up and witnessed my first bolide. A marvelous brilliant burning blue orb – as big as the moon in the sky! – went shooting from north to south. Near the southern part of the sky, there was a burst and the blue turned green, while two red sparks flew off on either side. Then it went blue again and finally burnt out at the southern edge of the sky. I was shouting, “Look up! Look up! Look up!” in hopes that someone was nearby and would also spot it. Tara and the girl and Diego were on top of the rock, and got a brilliant view. Arno, the degreed astronomer, happened to be inside the truck cap, buried in camp gear digging for something and didn’t manage to get out and look at the sky till it was all over. Dang! After my description though, he is the one who told us what we had just seen. A bolide, he explained, is a shooting star, only a big one. “Baseball sized,” he said. “I’ve only seen that a couple of times before.” Well, I felt a little better since he had seen one before. It was a first for the rest of us.

North Six-Shooter Peak in the setting sun, viewed from my rock perch


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