As soon as we parked the car I realized why I had to book this campsite four and a half months out just to get an available weekend. The entire area was nestled up against a short sloping canyon wall. There were tent pads strewn all through the group site and everyone seemed to have shade. Picnic tables tucked away under overhanging rock and trees and a huge fire ring surrounded by logs to sit on. The first thing everyone did as soon as pitching their tent was scramble up to the top of the rock outcrop surrounding the campground to take in the views. Man, were there views.
We could see canyons on almost all sides of us as well as Chesler park off in the distance with its spires of sandstone jutting up towards the sky. As the sun was setting sunlight was pouring into the canyons to our west and lighting up the pink and red sandstone. The landscape before us seems to sprawl on for eternity and it seemed everyone’s vocabulary was limited to “wow” and “this is amazing.” We were in the Needles District of Canyonlands an area less often visited than Arches and the main entrance of Canyonlands.
This was the first Adventure Actual meet up of sorts although we had fewer people turn out than expected we still ended up with around 20 people looking for an escape plan that weekend. There were people from all over the country and many I had not met yet. About half of us showed up early that first evening with more trickling in throughout the night and the next morning. There was talk about rock climbing, mountain biking, canyoneering and the sort but we decided by and large that a 9-mile hike through the park to see some of the canyons was likely the best course of action. You see, none of us had actually been to the needles district before and we were anxious to explore it.
Our first night consisted of setting up camp exploring the surrounding rock formations and sipping tequila by the fire. With the Needles District a solid hour south-west outside of Moab, it had been quite a journey to get there from Denver. We, of course, stopped in at the Moab Brewery on our way for lunch and beer or more importantly those Jalapeno fries. That night we told storied by the campfire and got to know one another.
The next morning, we were up early to cook breakfast and prep for our 9-mile hike through the canyons. A few members of the group set off before the rest of us looking to get a jumpstart on the day…they ended up getting lost. The rest of us set off towards lost canyon from a trailhead right across the road from our campsite. We shot out across a field, up over a large rock outcrop, and then descended into Lost Canyon. Once in the canyon, we followed the winding trail surrounded by canyon walls. Every once in a while, a gap in the canyon wall would reveal a rock formation or the tops of the faraway La Sal mountains. The views were breathtaking and I was surprised by a large amount of vegetation growing on the canyon floor.
After about 4 miles we began to climb out of Lost Canyon and came to a spot overlooking Lost Canyon and squaw canyon. The scene was unreal. The cloud cover we had been hiking under while in Lost Canyon broke to clear blue skies over Squaw Canyon and the point we were on seemed to be the divider. It looked like the sky was cut in half right above us and this seemed like a perfect place for lunch. Once finished we headed down into Squaw Canyon.
The views headed through Squaw Canyon did not disappoint either. Again, we wound through canyons of layered rock towering above us. The ground at our feet cascading ever down to the valley floor. The walls told stories millions of years old as we visited them during our little blip of time. The formations seemed like some time of alien landscape like they weren’t real. Having grown up on the front range in Colorado I have always had an attraction to southeastern Utah because the landscape was so close but so foreign to me.
We rounded another corner in the Squaw Canyon revealing an open field and out home stretch. The team was happy to be close to camp as the sun had finally cut through the clouds and started to beat down on us midday. We careened back into our campsite and made for some shade. There we met a few others who had arrived late and heard the story of the group that headed out before us.
Now with the group all together we decided we would head up the surrounding rocks of the campsite to watch the sunset later. The sun would set just over the towering needles of Chesler Park which we thought would make for a spectacular sight. After a little R&R, we packed up some beers and a little food and started scrambling up the rocks surrounding camp. We actually ended up carving out a spot atop the west facing side of the rock outcrop about a half mile from camp.
While we waited for the sun to set we drank a few brews and explored this area that was so close to camp. Several of us attempted to climb to the very top but found it difficult to accomplish without ropes and climbing gear, that plus the fact we had all had a few at that point deterred us from getting too far up the rock. Chesler Park could be seen in the distance and as the sun set behind them they were outlined like teeth against the horizon. We headed back to camp in the light of dusk for dinner and drinks around the campfire.
More stories by firelight that night while friendships were being built. I kept thinking to myself that this wasn’t a half bad trip for Adventure Actual’s maiden voyage. While we did not get to rock climb, raft, mountain bike, or rappel into a deep canyon, we did have fun and enabled everyone who wanted to and made the time to get outside and experience something new. That is really what Adventure Actual is all about. As we said goodbye to our new friends my only hope was that they enjoyed the weekend as much as I did. -Martin Upton -Photos by Lauren Ellington, Matt Hass, Alexis Ortega, and Eva Gonzales.