Utah - Part 4: Island in the Sky to White Rim, Canyonlands National Park

This is the final chapter from Utah, links to previous parts are below.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

With just a couple more days before Bob's flight back to England, we managed to squeeze in a quick trip down from Island in the Sky to the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park.

It was getting quite late in the day, so we arranged for a permit to camp in the small Murphy region of the part on top of the mesa.

The weather continued to be sunny and warm. Hardly a drop of rain touched the tent in the whole 10 days. The only major problem was the ubiquitous red dust getting into everything. It's no wonder that Utah has substituted for Mars in numerous movies.

We only had to hike in about a mile and a half to find a tent site.

I set about exploring the area, treading carefully over crypto soil, and following some coyote trails to see where they led.

I eventually found the sofa - a curved cut out seat on the cliff edge with a great sunset view over the west side of the White Rim.

It was time to eat, and I had a little surprise I'd been carrying with me...

A year ago, a friend visited bearing gifts from the camping store in Finland. Her 'novelty gift' was a canned cheeseburger - the practical meal every lightweight hiker needs! Only the Germans could think of something like this...

Now doesn't that look delicious?

I'd been planning to get rid of this damned cheeseburger for a year, and had carried it on several hikes and forgotten to eat it. Finally, we were able to taste its meaty fleisch.

It tasted, for those interested, not unlike sawdust with a smattering of dried tomato paste. The burger came from the same animal-type byproduct as corned beef. I detected no presence of cheese in any form.

Satiated with our tasteless meal, we relaxed and admired the sunset from the sofa.

Our plan the next dat was to hike down the cliff, walk along the Hogs Back to the White Rim, and back up a wash to the base of the cliff again for the night. That way we'd have a good night's rest before climbing out and driving back to Denver.

Well, it didn't quite work out that way.

We packed the tent and loaded up our packs, heading back to a split in the trail leading to the edge of the mesa. On the way we passed some old cowboy cattle ruins.

I found a rusted old tin, which I hope once contained beans.

On we went to the edge of the mesa. Once again, we found ourselves wondering how the hell we were going to get down.

And once again, the park service had found a remarkably easy route.

 Well, easy for those of us not afflicted by vertigo.

Once down the trail took us through sagebrush and yucca along the Hogs Back, offering spectacular John Wayne landscapes.

From a ridge we were able to look down at the White Rim trail - a four-wheel drive and bike trail running around the park.

Personally, I don't think a National Park is the right place for four-wheel drive roads. I can just about handle the mountain bikers, but if I was running the system, I'd make it hiking only. Maybe allow horses. To me, there is something weird about wanting to drive around a wilderness. It defeats the whole point of being there. Why would you want to take the traffic problems and tensions of your life in the cities into the wilderness with you? I go to these places to get away from the pressures of the everyday, and to realign myself with a more fundamental existence. I return from them calmer, at peace, content in the knowledge that I don't need all the trappings of modern life all the time. If you never get out of your massive 4x4, and experience the entire world from its air-conditioned luxury, what is the point of going. On this, I entirely agree with Abbey:

You can't see anything from a car. You've got to get out the contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbrush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you'll see something, maybe. Probably not.

After lunch with a ground squirrel, we followed the White Rim trail for a mile or so, before heading back into a dry wash. By now, mid afternoon, it was getting hot. Desert hot. And this was another dry hike, with no water supply.

We'd been told that there would be some slickrock side canyons along the wash that we could camp on, but we wanted, ideally, to make it to the foot of the cliff so we could make an early escape the next morning.

As we hiked up the wash, we passes some nice-looking camping spots which I eyed wistfully as my limbs become tired, my body exhausted. Carrying water is hot, heavy work.

We trudged through the sand of the wash, eventually reaching the end.

I climbed up onto the talus slopes at the base of the cliffs, and began the search for a campsite. Where there wasn't crypto soil there were uneven rocks everywhere. The only sandy ground consisted of tiny runoff rivulets. It was hopeless - and scorching under the sun. I felt the desperation of heat exhaustion setting in.

We searched for ages, and eventually found the only patch of level ground under a juniper tree. A few rusted tins lay around - it had obviously been used years ago by cowboys herding cattle into box canyons. But the rock surface was covered in tiny, sharp nodules. Those cowboys would have had sleeping blankets to smooth out the sharp points, but all I had was a tent and a NeoAir. If we pitched here, the groundsheet and bast of the tent would be ripped to pieces. The NeoAir would have been punctured in numerous places.

We sat in the limited shade of the tree and considered our options.

We were thirsty, and had a limited water supply. I could have drank it all there and then.

We could go back down the wash a couple of miles and find that slickrock section with the good campsites.

Or... we could climb back up, go back to the Ranger Station, change our permits, and sleep again in Murphy. I really didn't want to do this. I was exhausted - to the point of getting irritated, secretly swearing at Bob for not stopping to camp earlier on. But that was also my choice - I could have insisted, but didn't.

Reluctantly, I realised climbing up was the only option.

I looked up at the cliff. If the cliff was looking back, it was doing so impassively.

Tired, aching, thirsty; we set off.

Like the climb out of Death Hollow, it wasn't as bad as I thought. Taking it slow, the path wound upwards. Bob, however, was suffering. His vertigo was making his knees shake. Ha. Serves you right, I thought viciously, but also aware that it was tiredness and dehydration making me feel unnaturally mean.

Before I realised it, we were at the top. The car, and plentiful water, was only a mile or so away. We drank thirstily, then drove back to the station to change permits.

This is the problem with permit-based systems - they limit your options. There was nobody else in the area - not a soul - but I felt obliged to get the right permit: an utterly pointless endeavour. Nobody would have known if we'd camped in a different section of the park. To me, it seemed like bureaucracy was encroaching on my wilderness experience.

Nevertheless, law-abiding citizen that I am, we returned, permits in hand, back to find another campsite in Murphy.

In the end, it had been the right decision. In hindsight, we should have simply stayed two nights on top of the mesa. As it was, we essentially did a day hike carrying full loads. Utterly stupid.

But now, the sun was setting - on Utah, and on our trip - once again offering us a spectacular view.

It had been a great ten days. Utah is a spectacular place to backpack, and I shall return - with a lighter load.