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Sandstone fins make for detours

Chesler Park Backpacking Trip

April 17th & 18th, 2012

Needles District - Canyonlands National Park

 

Sunday April 15th, my wife and I left our motel room in Blanding, Utah and drove to the trail head of Collins Spring Canyon, where we took an enjoyable day hike down that canyon and into Grand Gulch.

 

Monday April 16th, we took as a "rest day". We toured The Edge of the Cedars museum in Blanding; did laundry; walked the streets of Blanding; and that night - packed our backpacks (REI Flashpack 65 & a smaller version for my wife).

 

We were glad we took two of our internal frame packs as the hiking we did on Tuesday and Wednesday required balance and maneuverability, in places.

 

We hauled all of our own water using small light plastic bottles that could be sealed flat when empty to make for easy packing out. By having many light containers instead of a couple of big containers of water, it was easier to pack and safer in case any one container were to develop a leak. We took Gatorade powder to add to water to taste and preference.

 

We took light but warm down bags; thin, skinny; long - self inflating Thermarest sleeping pads; and took our REI Quarter dome T2 Plus backpacking tent. All other gear was kept at minimum bulk and weight.

 

We left Blanding early Tuesday morning with the aim of arriving at the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park's "backcountry desk" as close to eight in the morning as possible to pick up our backpacking permit.

 

There are only a half dozen authorized backcountry camping sites in Chesler Park and half that many in Elephant Canyon. We had got our permit reservation far in advance, so we got the days we wanted and the backcountry site we wanted - CP 1 (Chesler Park One).

 

The National Park people and the visitor center rangers we worked with at getting our permits were first class and very helpful.

 

We had our packs shouldered and started out from the Elephant Hill trail head by around 9 am. The hike into CP 1 in Chesler Park was absolutely beautiful. There are many "ups and downs" along the way and as a result it took us over two hours (rest stops included) to backpack the 3.2 or so miles from the trail head to camp site CP 1.

 

The only negative of this trip was the weather and you can't do much about that. Shortly after we reached CP 1 strong gusting winds developed. We had to take our time and care to get our tent properly set up so it wouldn't blow away to Colorado nor fill with the fine dust that the winds kicked up.

 

We drank a lot of fluids, snacked, and loaded my wife's REI Flashpack up for me to carry as a "day pack", leaving my wife with only her hiking staff to carry on our planned hike from CP 1 to Druid Arch. We secured everything in camp and then headed out to day hike to Druid Arch.

 

We hiked south along the Eastern edge of Chesler Park on a smooth easy sandy trail. At the junction with the Joint Trail we turned due east to hike down to the Druid Arch trail, which follows along Elephant Canyon. This half mile hike from the Southeastern corner of Chesler Park down to the Druid Arch trail had some interesting slick rock pitches and I was really proud to watch my wife gain confidence as we went along, negotiating the various slick rock routes.

 

The high winds became less of a problem once down into the canyon bottom and hiking up toward Druid Arch. It was easy canyon bottom hiking for quite a ways. We reached a small watering hole (the first we had seen), where the trail up to the foot of Druid Arch peels off to the left (looking up canyon). The route was marked by two cairns.

 

From this point the route up to Druid Arch starts requiring a little scrambling and attention. A small black metal ladder aids progress in one place.

 

At about 1/4 mile from the arch it was slow going for my wife, so she agreed to stay behind while I quickly hiked up and back to Druid Arch for some photo ops, carrying only my camera and a bottle of water. Druid Arch is impressive especially up close and personal. You can hike to the very base of it and the view back down Elephant Canyon from here is spectacular as well.

 

Returning to my wife, we started our hike back to CP 1 on the same route we had hiked in. It was much easier hiking going up out of Elephant Canyon to Chesler Park than coming down.

 

When we got back into Chesler Park the afternoon lighting was looking good but the wind had picked up even more. We hiked along the huge sandstone "island" that sets in the middle of the pastured Chesler park bowl. This is where many of the other designated camp sites are located (along the western edge of the island).

 

We returned to camp; ate dinner; relaxed and took short walks from camp until darkness started setting in. The winds were blowing at their strongest as we got ready to get in the tent for the night. We had no choice but to leave the "rain fly" on the tent or we would be sleeping covered with six inches of red desert dust.

 

We needed to have some fresh air in the tent so we left the leeward vestibule to the tent rolled up all night, which let the cool night air into the tent and only allowed a small amount of dust to enter as well. It seemed a good trade off.

 

We both slept well that night and to our surprise the wind kept up most of the night with lulls in the wind becoming more often and longer as dawn arrived. By the time we were up and ate breakfast the winds had died enough to make packing up and getting ready to hike back out to the trail head, an easy task.

 

I don't know what our hiking time out was (from CP 1 to our car at the Elephant Hill trail head) but is seemed much easier and much faster. Of course we were carrying 1/3 the weight of water we had started with, so that made a difference.

 

An ice chest filled with ice cold diet Pepsi at the car and Teva sandals to replace our hiking boots made for a welcome arrival at our old Toyota RAV4. Our first resolution once we drove away from the trail head was to go directly to Moab, go into Denny's; eat a nice hot meal; and then get a Peach smoothie for me and a Mango/Peach smoothie for my wife...to go. We did, and it was a nice way to punctuate the two days of hiking.

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Road Trip summary:

 

DAY ONE: Home ~ Zillah ~ Biggs ~ Shaniko ~ Bend ~ Klamath Falls ~ Canby ~ Susanville ~ Reno.

 

DAY TWO: Reno ~ Minden ~ Lee Vining ~ Bishop ~ Lone Pine ~ [Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center] ~ Panamint Springs ~ Stovepipe Wells ~ [Artist Drive] ~ Shoshone ~ Baker ~ Mountain Pass ~ Searchlight ~ Cal Nev Ari ~ Kingman.

 

DAY THREE: Kingman ~ Wikiup ~ Wickenburg ~ Phoenix ~ [family visit].

 

DAY FOUR: [family visit].

 

DAY FIVE: Phoenix ~ Flagstaff ~ Cameron ~ Moenkopi ~ Tonalea ~ Kayenta ~ [Kalvin Adakai {Dine} art stand] ~ Mexican Hat ~ Bluff ~ Blanding.

 

DAY SIX: Blanding [Day hike Collins Springs Canyon and Grand Gulch Narrows]

 

DAY SEVEN: Blanding [R & R] [Visit Edge of Cedars Museum to see crooked-staff].

 

DAY EIGHT: Blanding ~ Monticello ~ Elephant Hill trailhead [Backpack into Chesler Park in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Set up camp. Day hike to Druid Arch and return to camp at Chesler Park {CP 1}].

 

DAY NINE: [Backpack out of Chesler Park to Elephant Hill trail head]. La Sal Junction ~ Moab ~ Green River, Utah.

 

DAY TEN: Green River, Utah ~ Price ~ Provo ~ Salt Lake City ~ Low ~ Wendover ~ Wells ~ Jackpot, Nevada.

 

DAY ELEVEN: Jackpot ~ Buhl ~ Mountain Home ~Lime ~ La Grande ~ Pendleton ~Umatilla ~ Zillah ~ Home.

 

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Taken on April 24, 2012