Utah - Part 3: Syncline Loop, Canyonlands National Park

After a day off in Escalante staying in a cabin at the lovely Outfitters there (excellent pizza and a fine selection of Utah's 4%-ers) we drove up to Moab to check out Canyonlands National Park.

Moab itself was a godawful place best left unmentioned, and the stream of cars crawling up the road into Arches National Park would have had Edward Abbey rolling in his hidden grave.

I'm always a little worried going into the National Parks that the limited backcountry passes will all be taken, but my anxiety was, as usual, unnecessary. At the Visitor center there were a total of no other people backpacking. I find it amazing that so many people drive to the National Parks, but so few go to spend any length of time in the backcountry.

We decided to do an overnighter around Upheaval Dome, and then another couple of nights above and on the White Rim. Permits in hand, we set off.

We began at the top of Island in the Sky, a vast mesa rising some 1000ft above the White Rim, which itself rises another 1000ft above the Colorado River.

The Syncline Loop circles Upheaval Dome, a geological mystery where the Earth's interior rocks have been somehow inverted and thrust to the surface. It's a fairly easy day hike, but we decided to make it an overnighter so we could take it easy. I'm glad we did, as the return journey was a little more strenuous than we were led to believe.

I was very impressed with the National Park's routefinding - there was always a very cleverly planned route to be found down even the steepest rock faces. Often we would look at a wall of rock and wonder how the hell we'd get up or down it, but the Rangers had it all planned, making what would have been terrifying descents quite pleasant.

We passed a couple of sprightly older folk bounding up the trail in the opposite direction while we staggered down on our increasingly rickety knees.

The views down into the canyons were quite spectacular - you can see for miles in this country, following the canyons winding towards the Colorado River.

There was no water on this route, so we had to carry it all with us - another reason to keep the trip short. Once we got down to the bottom, we walked a little way up a couple of side canyons, and found a nice spot for the night, avoiding the crypto soil as best we could.

Canyon Wrens sang to us as we pitched the tent, and as the night drew in bats danced above us. Although there were coyote tracks everywhere, we never caught sight nor sound of them.

After a delicious Pad Thai, we settled down for the night, awaking only in the morning as sunlight rolled over the rock formations.

We didn't waste any time in the morning, and hit the trail for the exciting climb back out of the canyon.

The higher we got, the more circuitous the route became. Huge boulders blocked the way, necessitating some fun climbing.

It's always nice to be able to test your abilities a little, but it helps when you know you're on the approved path!

The rest of the hike followed a gentle incline back to the parking lot through groves of cottonwoods. As we neared the trail head, we passed a few other hikers. I hope they were only going a little way; they were only carrying one small bottle of water between all three of them. I imagine that when they got to the rocky section they'd turn back pretty hastily.

After refilling with water at the visitor's center, we went to check out the White Rim Viewpoint - a short mile and a half to get a fantastic view down over the apocalyptic canyons below.

It also afforded me the opportunity for a heroic pose.

After some lunch, we made our way over to the section of the park called Murphy for our next adventure.

To be continued...