Tag Archives: Canyonlands National Park

Pothole Point Trail

Standard

Pothole Point in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park was the first trail The Lady of the House and I hiked on our epic road trip in Arizona and Utah. At just .6 mile, it was a good way to start.

Pothole Point Trail is named for the indentions in the rock which are known as “potholes.” After a rain, each pothole is an ecosystem of various snails, beetles, worms, and shrimp which have hatched from eggs or emerged from dormancy.  Each ecosystem is fragile, and visitors are encouraged to keep hands and feet out of the potholes. Even when the indentions are dry, eggs may be lingering in them, waiting for a rain so they can hatch. Other creatures may also be in the potholes, also waiting for rain to move into the next phase of their lifecycle. A hand or especially a foot in a pothole could crush delicate life.

We were lucky to see these potholes filled with water.

The Lady and I were really lucky; all the rain the night before had filled the potholes. We were both excited to see the potholes filled with water; they really stood out when wet.

The hike was mostly across bare rock. The trail was marked by cairns (pronunced \ ˈkern \) because there was no visible path of well-worn dirt or trampled vegetation as one might see in a forest or desert. All we could do to navigate was follow small piles of rocks. It was my first hike with only cairns to guide me.

A cairn marking the trail.

Visitors are asked not to build cairns of their own because too many cairns or cairns built in the wrong places can be confusing to hikers. Unfortunately there were many unofficial cairns along the trail. Fortunately, The Lady was really good at navigating and kept us on the trail. Had I been alone, I might still be wandering around from one pile of stones to another, never finding the way back to my van.

Not only does the trail take hikers across bare sandstone, there’s very little shade along the way. I was glad for my big hat and glad we were hiking on a spring morning. I would not have enjoyed this hike nearly as much had I been doing it at midday in the summer.

The Lady and I took frequent water breaks, thanks to her reminders.

The trail wasn’t crowded, probably because our visit occurred before the high tourist season of Memorial Day to Labor Day. I absolutely encourage anyone who can manage it to do their exploring of any tourist attraction during the off-season.

Pothole Point Trail is a loop, and I was glad to see my van when we circled back around. I enjoyed the scenery and the company, but I was glad to get out of the sun and take a little break while driving us to the second hike on our itinerary. Next stop: Cave Spring Trail.

Some of the scenery we saw while hiking Pothole Point Trail.

I took the photos in thie post.

Really?

Standard

The Lady of the House and I arrived at the visitor center at the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park early in the day. We may have been the first visitors in after the doors were unlocked.

Two people were working at the information desk/checkout counter that morning, a young man with a beard and an older woman with straight grey hair. They talked to each other as The Lady and I looked at the souvenirs in the corner of the building that served as a gift shop.

We hadn’t been in the building long when another visitor came inside. I didn’t pay her much mind, but from what I saw out of the corner of my eye, she was old enough to be my mother and well-dressed. She made a beeline to the counter where the Park Service employees stood.

I have a question, she told them, but I’m going to wait until my husband gets in here.

I don’t know why she even started talking before her husband made his entrance. I guess she was excited.

The husband walked in within minutes and the question turned out to concern the Elephant Hill Road.

The couple had a rented four-wheel-drive vehicle, and they wanted to take it exploring on Elephant Hill Road.

According to information about Needles District trails and roads issued by Canyonlands National Park,

One of the most technical four-wheel-drive roads in Utah, Elephant Hill presents drivers with steep grades, loose rock, stair-step drops, tight turns and backing. Over the hill, equally challenging roads lead to various campsites and trailheads…

It would be ok to drive their rented vehicle there, wouldn’t it, the visitor woman asked confidentally.

I don’t recommend it, the Park Service employee with the straight grey hair said gravely.

Really? The tourist woman asked in a tone of voice that made it plain she couldn’t believe her plan to drive on Elephant Hill Road was being thwarted. It was obvious she thought the Park Service worker was wrong.

Does your vehicle have a wench? the Park Service employee asked the couple. Do you have the capability to self-rescue?

Oh no, the husband said. Nothing like that.

I don’t recommend it, the worker repeated. If you get stuck, the Park Service won’t tow you out, and you’ll have to pay $2,500 for a towing company to get you out.

The Park Service employee asked them what they hoped to see, then helped them decide to go partway down Elephant Hill Road, but turn around before the road became too rugged for their vehicle.

(Let me say here, every employee I’ve encountered doing his or her job at any of the National Parks I’ve visited has been absolutely friendly and helpful, even when a visitor has been asking for something ridiculous or impossible. Without exception, the employees of National Parks I’ve seen interacting with the public have been professional to a degree I find awe inspiring. I consider folks who work for the National Parks in a class above all service industry employees, save perhaps for those employed in some capacity by Mickey Mouse. )

When we got back in the van, I asked The Lady if she’d heard that tourist woman get thwarted.

Oh yeah, The Lady said. She seemed so sure of herself.

The Lady and I made up the following story about the tourist couple: The woman had her heart set on driving Elephant Hill Road and was trying to convince her husband that the vehicle they had rented could handle it. The husband was skeptical.

Fine! We could image the woman saying, We’ll ask at the visitor center.

The way she said, Really? made it clear she hadn’t expected to be told no.

The way she said, Really? made me think she hears the word “no” on a highly infrequent basis.

I took these photos in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Canyonlands National Park, The Needles District

Standard

The Lady of the House and I woke up in Superbowl Campground to a beautiful view. It was difficult to believe any rock formation could be redder or more beautiful, but The Lady just smiled knowingly. She’d never visited The Needles District, but she’d been to Arches National Park and the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands the previous summer. She knew there was a lot more fantastic ahead of us.

After eating breakfast and cleaning up, we got on the road to the Needles District of Canyonlands. We showed The Lady’s Southeast Utah Parks Pass at the admission booth, then stopped at the visitor center to plan our day. We decided to drive the scenic loop, stopping at overlooks and going on two hikes—Pothole Point Trail and Cave Spring Trail. While these two hikes weren’t the longest or most strenuous in the Park, at .6 miles each, they were long enough for me. We also planned to do the very short (.3 mile) Roadside Ruin Trail on our way out of the Park.

I was in awe at the wondrous formations we could see from the visitor center. Again, The Lady indicated You ain’t seen nothing yet, and we set out on our driving tour.

I was in awe from the moment I got out of the van at the Needles District visitor center.

The first magnificent formation I saw didn’t even have a name.

This is Wooden Shoe Arch. It really looks like a wooden shoe! Nature is incredible.

What’s it called? I kept asking The Lady. Why doesn’t it have a name?

Certainly something this majestic deserved a name.

The first named formation we stopped to see was Wooden Shoe Arch. It was my first arch, and it really did look like a wooden shoe! Erosion is an amazing phenomenon.

Next we drove to the Confluence Overlook Trailhead, which was at the far end of the loop. We had no plans to hike the 10 mile trail, but we did walk around the area near where we had parked, and we looked out over the vast wonder of nature. It was scary to stand on the edge of a massive drop-off, but feeling like a tiny bug that could be swallowed by the earth does put the human experience into perspective.

The Lady stands on the edge. It may look as if she could step down to the next level of ground, but in reality she was way high up and the ground was way down below.

Both the Pothole Point Trail and The Cave Spring Trail were a bit strenuous for a couch potato like me, but I certainly enjoyed the sights I saw along both trails. (Each of these adventures warrants a future individual blog post.)

My first ladder.

My most memorable moment in The Needles District was descending my first trail ladder. This event occurred on The Cave Spring Trail. I tend to be clumsy, so I took things slow and made it down with no problem.

As planned, we walked the Roadside Ruin Trail on our way out of the Park. It was a short and easy trail, more of a stroll than a hike, and perfect for the end of the day. We dashed up, saw the relic,

one of the region’s many ancient granaries – used by various Native American cultures who cultivated corn, beans, and squash when the climate in the area was wetter,

according to the Modern Hiker website. The Lady and I agreed it was cool, but we were tired, hungry, and ready to go, so  we returned to the van for our drive to Moab.

The aforementioned Modern Hiker article says, “…this granary – built sometime between 1270 and 1295 CE – is particularly well-preserved (and is also unique in that it’s accessed via a door on top of the granary instead of the sides).”

I took all the photos in this post, except for the photo of myself. The Lady took that one.

How to Save Money While Visiting Tourist Attractions

Standard

If you live nomadically, you have more freedom to visit tourist attractions across the U.S.A. From Arcadia National Park on the coast of Maine to Disneyland in Southern California, nomads can spend their days basking in natural beauty and having fun in amusement parks and at roadside attractions. Since fun often comes at a price, and nomads aren’t the only people on a tight budget, today I offer tips on saving money while visiting tourist attractions. The tips are aimed at nomads, but will be helpful for anyone trying to save money while on vacation.

#1 Visit in the off-season, Peak tourist season is usually Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend  when lots of kids are out of school, but some places (I’m looking at you, Southern Arizona!) have the opposite peak season because of the ultra-hot summers and the mild winters. Some places (like Taos, NM) have two peak seasons—one during family vacation season in the summer and another during ski season in the winter. Do some research on the places you want to visit to find out when they’re less likely to be busy.

Not only are attractions less busy in the off-season, you may find nearby accommodations and activities deeply discounted.  Some amusement and theme parks offer better deals on admission during slow times.

#2 Sleep cheap. Find free or super cheap camping near the places you want to visit. You can save a bundle by camping instead of staying in a hotel or motel. I’ve found free camping close to several national parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Carlsbad Caverns) using the Free Campsites  and Campendium websites. On occasions when I couldn’t find a free campsite, I’ve found campgrounds listed on those sites (like the Super Bowl campground right outside the Needles District of Canyonlands) with a nightly fee under $10.

If you want to splurge on a night out of your rig, but don’t want to spend a wad of cash, look into staying at a hostel. Available in both mega cities (several in  NYC, three in San Francisco, and the Phoenix Hostel and Cultural Center in Phoenix, just to name a few) and in smaller towns near ski areas (the Lazy Lizard in Moab, UT; the SnowMansion northeast of Taos, NM; the Santa Fe International Hostel in Santa Fe, NM) hostels offer budget rates on a place to get a shower and a bed for the night. Cheapest accommodations are usually in dorms, but some hostels offer private rooms with private baths and cabins.

#3 Keep your food cost down. Bring your own snacks and drinks into the attraction if you can. Most national parks and monuments allow visitors to bring in food and beverages, so stock up before you arrive and don’t pay gift shop prices for granola bars and trail mix. Many amusement and theme parks do allow visitors to bring in a limited number of bottles of water, small snacks, and medically necessary food.

If possible, cook for yourself instead of eating out. If you’re boondocking or staying in a campground, cooking for yourself will probably be part of your normal rubber tramp routine. If you’re sleeping in a hostel, use of a community kitchen is often included in the nightly fee. If you do stay in a hotel or motel and the room includes a microwave, take advantage of it to make a simple meal. Also take advantage of any free breakfast the hotel/motel offers, as well as any free coffee or tea available to start your day.

Remember: food will usually cost less in supermarkets than in convenience stores or small grocery stores, so stock up on food before you hit the road or you might end up spending a lot of money on food in a remote location.

#4 Buy all your gear before you head to a tourist attraction. Similarly, supplies are going to cost more in remote locations. Avoid paying gift shop and small town prices for sunscreen, insect repellent, propane, fire starter, and batteries by planning ahead. Save money by getting supplies before you leave civilization.

You may also find better prices on fuel for your rig if you buy it in a place where several gas stations compete for business. If you can even find fuel in the middle of nowhere, you’re going to pay more for it. Top off your tank before you leave civilization.

#5 If you’re going to visit several attractions in one area, look for a bundle pass that offers access to multiple places for a one-time price.

When my host family visited Utah in the summer of 2017, they planned to visit Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Natural Bridges National Monument. Admission to each park costs $15 to $30 per vehicle, but the Southeast Utah Parks Pass was only $55 and allowed unlimited access to the three attractions the family wanted to visit, plus Hovenweep National Monument. Because the pass was valid for 12 months, The Lady of the House used it again in April 2018 to get us into those places during our epic Arizona-Utah road trip.

#6 If the price of admission allows you to enter the attraction for multiple days, take advantage of this option. Most national parks are expensive to visit, usually $25 to $35 per vehicle (and probably more in some places), but most national parks I’ve visited have allowed visitors to enter for five days to a week after paying the admission fee. Spending $35 to visit an attraction seven days in a row is a much better deal than spending $35 to stay in the place for just a few hours. Especially if you have a free or cheap camping spot nearby, slow down and get your money’s worth by exploring a place for as many days as your admission fee allows.

#7 Find out if the place you want to visit offers birthday discounts or freebies. Out of Africa wildlife park in Camp Verde, AZ charges between $18.95 (for kids 3-12) and $33.95 (for adults, with discounts for seniors and active duty members of the military and veterans) for admission, but offers folks free visits any day during their birth month. While such birthday gifts may not be typical, it’s worth checking into at privately owned attractions.

#8 If you’re eligible for a federal senior pass or access pass, get it! The access pass is available for free to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are legally blind or permanently disabled. The senior pass is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents 62 years or age or older. The senior pass now costs $80, but that’s a one-time fee, and the pass is valid for the pass holder’s lifetime.

Both of these passes admit the pass holder and passengers (in a private, noncommercial vehicle) to national parks and other federally managed lands. These passes also provide 50% off camping fees in many campgrounds on public land. Even at $80, the senior pass could pay for itself after only a couple of visits to national parks or a few nights in a campground.

#9 Participate in activities included in the price of admission. When my friend and I visited Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southern Arizona, we found ranger-led van tours were included in the cost of admission. We rode in a passenger van driven by a ranger while another ranger told us about the desert scenes we saw through the windows. On another day we returned to the monument and went on a hike led by a ranger. The ranger drove a group of us to the trailhead and we hiked together while the expert shared information about the plants and animals we saw.

The visitor centers at most national parks and monuments—and at some state parks too—have educational exhibits and movies. These exhibits and movies are offered at no extra charge and allow visitors to learn about the area at their own pace.

The visitor center should also have information about upcoming ranger talks or ranger-led activities. The last time I was at Sequoia National Park, I attended a free ranger talk about woodpeckers. It lasted about half an hour and was fun and informative.

#10 If you must have souvenirs, buy small, less expensive items. At only 51 cents each, pressed pennies come for a price that’s hard to beat. At the Utah national parks and monument gift shops I visited, quarter-sized tokens depicting famous landmarks were going for 99 cents each. I also found strips of six postcards at the same gift shops for $1.99 and individual postcards for about the same cost per card at a supermarket in Moab. Not only were these items the least expensive souvenirs, they take up very little of the limited space in my van.

If you’re attracted to larger (and usually overpriced) souvenirs like sweatshirts, water bottles, and coffee table books, ask yourself these questions before you buy: Do I need it? Where am I going to put it? Will I really use it? Can I really afford it? What will I have to give up in order to bring this into my life?

#11 If you’re visiting with kids, set spending limits before you walk into a gift shop or step up to the snack shack.  Offer options within the set price range, such as You can spend $5 on lunch, which means you can have a slice of pizza or a hot dog and fries. or You can spend $10 on a souvenir. Do you want the flashlight or the Smokey Bear compass?

If you and the kids are visiting national parks, collect all the Junior Rangers freebies available and do your best to convince the children the free stuff is better than anything for sale in the gift shop.

Being on a budget does not have to stop you from having fun. By planning ahead and using skills you already have as a rubber tramp (such as knowing how to find free camping and cooking for yourself) you can have fun and see gorgeous places without breaking the bank.

Blaize Sun has been a rubber tramp for almost a decade, but has been a tightwad for a lot longer than that. Blaize comes from a long line of tightwads, including a grandma who could squeeze a nickel so tight the buffalo would groan. Blaize knows how to have a good time on the cheap and firmly believes if she can do it, you can too!

I took all the photos in this post.

Superbowl Campground

Standard

When we planned our trip to The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, The Lady of the House and I decided to camp the night before our visit. At that time of year (early April) The Needles (Squaw Flat) campground in the southern section of the park is on a first come-first served basis, and we didn’t know if we could get there early enough in the day to snag a campsite. We looked at the Free Campsites website in hopes of finding something totally free close to the park entrance, but the free spots we found were father away then we wanted to be.

We ended up figuring things out on the fly due to a four day delay imposed on us when my van’s water pump had to be replaced. While I drove, The Lady pulled out the informational brochures she’d picked up in Canyonlands during her visit the previous summer.

There were three campgrounds on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land outside the boundaries of the National Park. The camping fee at each was $5 a night. That wasn’t quite as good as free, but pretty dang close.

We were aiming for Creek Pasture Campground.  It was the closest campground to Highway 211 (the road that would take us into the National Park), and it seemed to be big enough to offer us hope of finding an available site.

We thought the trip to the campground would take us about five hours. We left Winslow, AZ early enough that we thought we’d get to the campground before dark. We had visions of cooking dinner, eating it leisurely, watching the sun set. I’m not sure what happened. We did stop to hand a can of Fix-a-Flat to a couple having tire trouble in the Navajo Nation, but that couldn’t have set us back more than 10 minutes. We stopped for one gas and bathroom break, but that took 20 minutes, tops. I also pulled over to take a photo of the Utah sign when we crossed the state line, but The Lady didn’t want to fight the wind, so she stayed in the van. Could my photo op have cost us more than three minutes?

After we got into Utah, the sky turned overcast. It was dusk when we passed through Blanding, and dark when we went through Monticello. I was glad the GPS lady was there to tell us when to make the turn onto Highway 211; otherwise I might have missed it in the night.

At some point after we turned onto the 211, the rain started. Suddenly I was driving on a twisty, turny, curvy mountain road in the dark and the rain. I really should be more scared than I am, I remember telling The Lady.

I saw the sign for Superbowl campground, but figured it would be full on a Saturday night. We hoped the larger Creek Pasture Campground would have a place for us.

Maybe the rain has sent people home already, I hoped aloud.

We found Creek Pasture Campground, and I drove slowly down the entrance road, then through the campground. Every campsite seemed to be taken. We saw one that appeared empty, but when I jumped out of the van to investigate, I found a tent pitched behind some vegetation. Another site appeared deserted, save for the registrations slip clipped to the pole. The departure date was the next day, and I suspected the campers had been chased off by the rain, but I had no proof. We didn’t want to risk being on someone’s site if they returned, so we decided to backtrack and check out Superbowl.

We turned onto the main road into the campground and followed it to its first offshoot. We turned down that road. Immediately to our right was a campsite. There was no car parked there, no tent pitched in the bushes, no registrations slip on the pole—in fact, no pole. I pulled the van right in, and we let relief wash over us. We had a legal place to stay for the night.

The rain continued, so we didn’t get out of the van to cook dinner. We just ate snacks and laughed a lot, as if we were at a slumber party. I fell asleep and didn’t hear another sound, but The Lady said it rained all night.

Sunday dawned clear and sunny. As much as I hate driving in the dark, I love arriving in the dark and waking up to the surprise of beautiful scenery. I hadn’t had that pleasure since boondocking at Indian Bread Rocks in Arizona more than a year before, but we really lucked out at Superbowl Campground. I couldn’t stop oohing and aahing when I stepped from the van.

Of course, my photos don’t do justice to how our surrounding really looked. The rocks were red and huge and the formations so very Utah. Even the walk to the pit toilet was wonderful in such a beautiful location.

There was a sign on the information board saying the campground had been under renovation. That probably explained the brand-spanking-new fire ring and picnic table on our site. The renovations maybe also explained why the campground seemed bigger than 17 sites. Maybe it had been expanded as well as renovated.

There was only one pit toilet serving the entire campground, so there was a bit of a wait to use it, but it was decently clean on Sunday morning. There was toilet paper available, which is always a plus. The campground didn’t have a camp host, but someone was servicing that restroom.

The Lady and I took a brisk walk around Superbowl so I could try to get some good photos. As we walked around, we saw other campers cooking breakfast, packing up, and generally starting their days. Lots of campers looked young and athletic. I saw helmets in the bed of a truck, making me think the campers on that site were a group of rock climbers. I know practically nothing about rock climbing, but even I could see it would be exhilarating to climb any of the surrounding formations.

All in all, Superbowl campground was peaceful and surrounded by beauty. I was not upset to drop into the iron ranger the envelope with our $5 camping fee enclosed.

I took the photos in this post.