A few years ago when we were at Arches National Park, we paid a day visit to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands. Although we were impressed with what we saw there, it was the Needles, a wall of sandstone spires like an obstacle loomed menacingly and impregnably over the far horizon that took our imagination. They seemed to be protecting some hidden treasures; however, it also invitingly begged to be explored and discovered. Unfortunately the drive to the Needles was 4 hours away where we were. But the sight of the Needles burned into my memory, like some old friends awaiting a visit.
We planned 3 days trip to visit the Needles this time. The campground at Squaw Flat was small therefore we knew that we had to get there early to get a campsite. Luckily it was the day after the Memorial Day so we got a great campsite with a big rock behind us and looking over at the Needles. The next day, we drove to the Elephant Hill trailhead for our much-anticipated hike to Chesler Park. Actually we were thinking of hiking the Chesler Park Loop/Joint trail but weren’t sure if we were up to the 11 miles hikes as it would be the first time we each had to carry a baby and we hadn’t any serious exercises for a year. We decided that we would make the final decision when we got to the Chesler Park Viewpoint (the pink trail shown on the map to the right). Also I didn’t know how well I can hike as I had painful bloody cracks on both heels of my feet from perhaps wearing sandals too often.
Canyonlands is a great place for 4-wheel driving into the back country. There are many 4-wheel drive trails. Maze District is the most remote and requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle to navigate. There are a few in the Needles district as well. At the trailhead, there was the famous Elephant Hill 4WD trailhead. We saw the sign (click on the picture on the left to read description) and walked up the trail a little bit. Oh my god. Even if I had a 4WD, I wouldn’t attempt it: it was steep and narrow, filled with hairpin turns and large rocks. Experienced drivers were definitely needed to tackle this drive. While we were getting ready to hike, we saw a jeep with a few people–yelling and screaming–headed up the 4WD trail but, within 15 minutes, the jeep backed down the trail with people subdued. They probably gave up.
This would be Kadia’s first serious hike, 6 to 7 miles if she hiked to the Chesler Park Viewpoint and back. She had done a few hikes that were a couple of miles long before but this would be equivalent of us hiking 30 miles, I estimated. She seemed to be in good spirits and carried her cereal, not knowing what was ahead for her and my intention of not carrying her for as long as possible. The hike started off with some steep climb. After about 300 yards, it luckily leveled off. The trail then winded through some open areas with shrubs and micro crusts. The view was great with many rock formations: spires, mushrooms, and hoodoos. The hike had varieties: sometimes we walked on the famous Utah slick rocks with cairns guiding our way; sometimes we squeezed our way through narrow canyons that could only let one person through at a time; one time the trail seemed to disappear then we discovered we had to climbed down a steep cliff; there were also times we hiked along a narrow footpath half way up a canyon wall with steep drop-offs.
Kadia was amazing. She hiked and hiked without many complaints except she asked and drank a lot though. She constantly asked for water. I knew she liked to drink through the hose of our camel pack. The day was in the mid 80’s and there were few shades. After a while, I realized that she might be drinking for the fun instead of the need; we had to limit her drinking to every 15 minutes to regulate our supply and also her intake. She was always eager to take a few more steps quickly when it was about the end of 15 minutes interval. We did a lot of counting as I told her that she could take a drink once we counted together to 100. Maybe her counting prowess started from that day.
It was a steep climb the last 150 yards to the viewpoint. Some steps were as tall as Kadia. When we got to the top, I was actually disappointed with the view on the other side as the view had been great all along the hike. We hiked down into the area known as Chesler Park and found a wimpy tree for a little shade and stopped there for lunch. After lunch, I took Bryden into the Chesler Park a little more to check out the place (see above) as we had determined we didn’t have enough water to go on anymore and we might not have time as we were going at a very slow pace and it took us 3 hours to get to the Chesler Park viewpoint. After exploring for about 10 minutes, I think the place looked promising. The area was big and there seemed to be many interesting things far away. We reluctantly turned back.
Kadia had great fun going back down from the Chesler Park Viewpoint (see above). She slid down many rocks on her butt and called it slide-rock (滑石 in Chinese) as if she was sliding down rock-made slide. Eventually she was really pooped so I carried her the rest of way with her sleeping in the backpack. In total she hiked about 4 miles and she was only 39 months old. I doubted that I could do that when I was her age. We also learned a lot about ourselves, what pace we could expect if Kadia were to hike and how much water we needed. It proved useful in many of our other hikes later on the trip. There were a lot of other great hiking trails there: Joint Trail, Druid Arch, Angel Arch, Devils Kitchen. We will be back, with or without a 4WD. Here was Bryden studying the map where he may want to hike the next time he comes.