Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Canyonlands, the Needles District - Part Three.

In March of this year, we had the opportunity to go back into the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. This time we concentrated solely on two trails, Elephant Hill Access Road and Colorado River Overlook; both are quite an adventure and we spent about six hours exploring them.

Here's a hint about this park, get there early in the morning, between 8 - 10am, for the best viewing of the Needles.  As the sun begins traveling over them, the haze makes them very difficult to see, and impossible to photograph, even with a lens hood.

One of first formations you come to as soon as you leave the Visitors Center is Wooden Shoe Arch; couldn't help myself and took several photos of it; then it was off to Elephant Hill Access Road.

Elephant Hill Access Road is a 3 mile, graded dirt/gravel road which is all wheel accessible; in other words, passenger cars can be driven along it, not just 4-wheel drive.  The formations are towering, very striking and often unusual; Mother Nature was very creative indeed! 


Turtle Rock

One mile along the Access Road, there is a pull-in area with an informational board about The Needles; this is also your best vantage point for viewing them if you don't want to do the 11 mile round trip hike.  From this area, you can also get a panoramic view of The Needles, The Maze and Island in the Sky - the three sections of Canyonlands National Park.

The Needles
The Needles, The Maze, Island in the Sky Panorama

At the end of the three miles is a parking area, restrooms, picnic area and the entrance to the Elephant Hill 4-Wheel Drive Road.  This trail is rated one of the most difficult trails in Utah!  It starts out easily for about a quarter of a mile; if you decide not to turn around at that point; consider yourself warned!

We headed back to the main road, headed down towards Big Spring Canyon and stopped at the picnic area near Pothole Point.  I'm always telling people to pack a picnic, so hopefully these photos will convince you on why you should.

From the Visitors Center is where the Colorado River Overlook road can be accessed.  This trail begins easily, but turns into a moderate to extreme trail at various points; 4-Wheel Drive is a must!  Even though we had 4-WD, high clearance and a skid plate, there came a point where we knew we would not be able to continue via vehicle, so hiked for a mile.  We saw the trail continue onward, but it wasn't meant for us on this day.

Condition of the trail

This is the point we finally stopped at and began hiking instead.

There was another vehicle nearby and the couple inside were considering doing this incline.  After watching us, they u-turned their vehicle and headed back.

The Landscape 

Island in the Sky can be seen.

Whale Rock can be seen from a side trail off of the Colorado River Overlook road.
Of course, I enjoy taking photos of the local plantlife; in other words, take time to look at your surroundings...up and down.

Newberry's Twinpod (Mustard family)

Woolly Locoweed (Pea family)
...and that concludes this more recent adventure into Canyonlands - Needles District.  Perhaps you've been inspired to do more than stick to the paved road?

Mary Cokenour

1 comment:

  1. FYI, the first part of Elephant Hill is the hardest part of the trail. If you can make it through the first two tenths you are good. Additionally, it's not even close to the hardest trail in Utah. They try to scare people at the Visitor's Center to keep them from trying it. Short wheelbase and a small lift is enough. No lockers or winch needed.