Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer season for travel, and desert areas draw big crowds early, before it gets blistering hot. New park staff are learning the ropes, and kids clamor for their attention to complete the Junior Ranger workbooks. We were warned by a Forest Service ranger at the district headquarters that road construction, park development and crowds had created a 5-mile traffic jam between Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.
We decided to adjust our goals. We camped in the Manti-La Sal National Forest in the Abajo Mountains south of the Visitor Center in The Needles district of Canyonlands. We didn’t go to the Island in the Sky area or to Arches at all. This turned out to be a great compromise, I think. It meant that after hiking in the hot, dusty canyons, we could drive uphill to our campground in the forest where it was much cooler. The temperature difference between the canyon high and the mountain low in one day was 40 degrees.
It also meant that we could drive through a stunning change in ecosystems, both ways. It was absolutely breath-taking. Our tent was pitched under aspen and oak, in view of a snow field atop the mountain.
From around the bend in the road, we could see down into the canyonlands. As we descended down into the Indian Creek valley, the exposed red and white sandstone layers and the dramatic effects of erosion captured my attention.
This part of the country is more vast and wild than any I had ever seen. I was acutely aware of its majesty and vulnerability.
As you read this, consider your ideas of land use and ownership. This was and is a continual topic of conversation for me and Steve.