Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

Moab, Utah May 2015 – I knew Moab was a very popular place on Memorial Day and that all the RV parks were booked for the weekend but I justified heading that way without a reservation because it was only the Wednesday before the holiday weekend and there were so many first come first serve campgrounds listed in the directories of the area. I stopped at a campground in town that was reported to offer water and a dump for only $5, Slickrock Campground. Without much optimism I asked if they might have a site for the night. They said they did but only for Wednesday night and I gratefully paid them $43 for a water and electric site so that I didn’t have to drag my rig all over the countryside looking for a campsite.

I dropped my 5th wheel in a site and headed out to find a place to plant myself for the remainder of the week. I drove over 70 miles to a half dozen BLM campsites and an area called Sand Flats Recreation Area. I looked at about 200 sites only to find few large enough for my rig and all of those taken. I was about to head back to camp to rest and look again after dinner when I decided to try one more spot. I read that Ken’s Lake, 8 miles south of Moab, had 31 sites, all large enough for a medium sized rig. I arrived and found this was not completely true but was happy to find 2 sites large enough to accommodate me still available. I gratefully paid $15 per night for the next 6 nights including the one I had already paid for in town. I locked up my scooter and cooler in plain sight, put my paid receipt on the pole, and a line of rocks across the drive, and headed back to Moab for the night. I am grateful I found this campsite when I did. By the time I moved in Thursday morning every site was full and stayed that way until Monday.

Ken’s lake turned out to be an amazing camp. My site was HUGE. A stream runs behind the campsite and a half mile walk downstream brings you to the lake and a half mile walk upstream takes you to a large waterfall. They diverted water from the other side of a mountain, through a large pipe, and let it flow down this side of the mountain. Then they built the lake to hold the water. They call it Faux Falls but only the source of the water is manipulated. The rocks and stream are natural.

The falls were a welcome sight when I was driving in to camp.

And they were a great destination walk on a hot day.

I was dying to see Arches National Park so I headed there on Friday knowing it would be a madhouse with so many people in town. I drove first to the windows section and hiked a total of about 3 miles to see everything that area had to offer. I loved the North and South windows from the primitive trail that loops behind them. They look like two eyes.

Double Arch was quite remarkable as well.

I then drove to the Delicate Arch area. The trailhead parking was full so I proceeded to the viewpoint parking area and was happy with the short walk and the view of the arch in the distance. I saved the Devil’s Garden area for a second visit.

I returned the next week on Tuesday. The last hike I wanted to do was one of the most popular in the park. So I arrived before 8 and walked the developed portion of the path to Devil’s Garden where you can see half a dozen arches from the trail. Landscape Arch was my favorite.

I was glad I arrived as early as I did. I still had to share the trail with dozens of people but by the time I left the expansive parking lot was almost full and groups were pouring down the path.

I went to the Islands in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park on Memorial Day. It was a beautiful place. I hiked to Upheaval dome which is a deep, unexplained crater with a gray mountain range jutting up in the middle of it.

I then hiked the rim trail. It was just gorgeous but a rainstorm was threatening so it was hard to get a good shot. If you are viewing this on your mobile device zooming in on this pic may give you a better idea of what an interesting landscape it was.

Canyonlands has its own pretty incredible arch. There were no signs against standing on this one. So I did! It was a few feet wide in the middle so not difficult to get out on at all. But there is about a thousand foot drop behind the arch if you happen to make a misstep.

The two ladies that did it before me were doing yoga poses and standing on one tiptoe. I was happy to just stand there firmly planted on two feet.

I passed through Moab about 2 on Memorial Day. There was an incredible traffic jam. Apparently the visitors who had been filing in all week all had to leave after lunch Monday. The two lanes leading north toward interstate 70 were packed all the way through town, about 5 miles. Thankfully I was headed south to camp. The campground was fairly deserted when I got back and stayed that way till I left on Thursday.

Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah – May 2015 A fellow camper told me about a boondocking area outside Goblin Valley State Park. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon and most of the people there were packing up. There are tons of trails here where people can ride ATVs and dirt bikes. Most of the campers that I’ve seen come and go this week had one of these large toys. It has been a great location, totally free, and mostly quiet. Right outside my front door are white sandstone monoliths which I’ve climbed several times during my visit. Here is a view of my campsite from the road to the state park. You may have to zoom in where the arrow points to see the campers. There are many other possible campsites in the area down dozens of dirt roads but I was happy with this big gravel parking lot just off the paved road.

The obvious draw here is Goblin Valley State Park. It was a very short drive from the visitor center to the end of the road and a scenic overlook. And I thought “is this what I paid $10 to see?” But a walk down in to the valley full of strange looking hoodoos changed my perspective. It really is a fascinating place. It is also impossible to give it justice in photographs but here’s my best effort.

It is easy to let your imagination run wild in this place and see the forms of fanciful castles, goblins, dragons, and other whimsical creatures in the strange landscape around you.

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I enjoyed a great hike nearby, my favorite so far this year. Wild Horse Canyon is next door to the state park and impossible to miss if you are visiting Goblin Valley. There is no fee to visit. It is a very popular hike of a slot canyon because it is accessible to all skill levels. It doesn’t require any special climbing abilities to traverse. It’s about a half mile down a wash where you have to climb a bit to get around an obstacle, and then you are at the beginning of the canyon which is about 3 miles long. Sometimes it gets a little tight in the canyon. This is a pic of one such place. That skinny sandy path scattered with rocks is what you have to walk on and sometimes you have to lean hard left or right to squeeze through.

Even on a Tuesday afternoon with rain threatening this place was crowded. I saw at least 30 other hikers and often had to wait for a group to pass before making my way down a narrow section. This would have normally diminished my enjoyment of the hike. But this particular hike was well worth battling the hordes. This hike is often hiked with nearby Little Bell Canyon for an 8 mile roundtrip.

I first planned to stay at this camp for a week. But there was zero cell service for a 20 mile radius of my camp and I had a couple business transactions in the works that I really needed to be reachable for so I decided to leave after 3 days. The night before I planned to leave a group of a dozen campers pulled in about 5pm. They circled their wagons at one end of the parking lot. Not a single camper had solar panels. I fell asleep to the drone of their generators thankful I was packing it in in the morning.

Lake Powell

Glen Canyon NRA, Utah – May 2015 Lake Powell had been on my must see list since reading a blog a few years ago about a kayaker paddling its slot canyons. Fortunately it was also the warmest destination in Utah so that is where I set my sights. I found a campground near its southern end that looked promising called Lone Rock. It was a beach with no designated campsites so you could set up anywhere you could find an open spot. Everything I read said it was free but when I arrived I found you are supposed to pay $10 per night but there wasn’t anyone around most of the time to collect it or enforce it.

The view from my front door was lovely and I enjoyed it so much I stayed for 10 days.

The weather was mid 70s and sunny most days. This was plenty warm enough to get wet and the lake water was clear and inviting. I kayaked out around Lone Rock my first day and explored the shoreline beyond. I discovered a cove that just kept going with many twists and turns creating many private lagoons, a couple with nice beaches. I made plans to return later in the week with all the provisions for a private beach party.

I set out the next Wednesday morning loaded up with lunch, a few adult beverages, a beach chair, and music. There were a few other people in the area and my location of choice was occupied when I got there. But I found another even better spot a little farther inside the cove. Here is a shot of it from the rocks above.

Within an hour the other parties (two kayakers, a jet skier, and a paddleboarder) had explored to their heart’s content and departed. I didn’t see another soul the rest of the day. I enjoyed the rare solitude until my beverages were gone and I had a pink hue.

One afternoon I drove 30 miles west to a place I had seen on my way in called Toadstools. It is on the very edge of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It’s an easy hike of a couple miles to an area that has many toadstool shaped hoodoos. This is a picture of the main formation of them but there are many others scattered behind them and on the ledge above.

I noticed not much further west of Toadstools and still inside the national monument the map said “Paria ghost town”. It was 6 miles from the highway on a very well maintained gravel road. It turned out it was actually the site of an old town and later the site of a Hollywood movie set where several movies were filmed. Both the real town and the set built nearby could not withstand the constant flooding of the Paria River that flowed past, and too often through, the area. I was disappointed not to find any remains at all of either; not a single board, piece of rusted metal, or pile of rock.

But the scenery more than made up for my disappointment. The view of these mountains was stunning. You could clearly see every layer of rock, each with its own vivid color. My favorite layer was a beautiful purple color. I wish I could have taken a picture that did them justice. But this is the best I was able to do.

I didn’t realize until later that these distinctive layers of rock are the grand staircase they are referring to in the name of the national monument. I was grateful to have accidentally included it in my itinerary.

Mount Zion National Park

Mount Zion NP, Utah – May 2015

Utah is the state of my dreams. I have longed to spend time there since a coworker showed me her vacation pics 20 some years ago. But other than a brief visit 17 years ago I have not seen any of this wonderful state. I tentatively plan to spend the entire month of May in Utah.

First stop, Zion National Park. The most reasonably priced camping options were in the town of Hurricane, 25 miles from Zion’s entrance. I stayed at a nice park called WillowWind RV Park for a few nights for $33 per night. It was a spacious park with a new laundry and fitness center. And grass! There was lots of grass which I had not seen in a while.

The first full day in the area was a Saturday. I was not about to head to the busiest part of the park on the busiest day of the week so I drove up a beautifully scenic road on the eastern edge of the park called Kolob Terrace Road. It ended at a beautiful mountain lake. I could have kicked myself for not yet purchasing my Utah fishing license when I saw a fellow effortlessly pulling in trout from the lake shore. I headed back down the mountain and stopped to eat my lunch at the Hop Valley Trailhead. I followed my lunch with a hike of a few miles out and back with incredible views.


Most of the other hikers appeared to be in it for the long haul with massive backpacks or pack animals.

I headed to the main part of the park early Sunday morning. The main park road is closed to private traffic and the only way to see it is to ride the shuttle buses. I parked my truck and soon boarded a bus. My number one destination was the end of the road where a path led along the river to the narrows. A very popular hike is to walk to the end of the paved path and then walk along and in the river as the canyon closes in around you. It is impossible to do this hike without getting wet so I didn’t expect it to be very popular this time of year given a high of 60 the day of my visit.

Obviously there are many hardier souls than I as you can see at least a half dozen are wading across the river in this photo and that was just a small portion of the people I saw taking the plunge. I was content with the paved path and gravel bar at the end with this great view. If I am ever in the area in July or August I would definitely like to wade in to the narrows.

Every park seems to have a resident wildlife species to represent them. Big Bend has rattlesnakes, the Grand Canyon has Elk, but Zion has squirrels! They had the friendliest, fattest, most content squirrels I had ever seen. They just sat quietly along the path staring at the hikers ignoring persistent photographers.