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Utah Trip 2009

Day 6 of 10

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Wednesday, April 15th
Visiting Canyonlands National Park

Last night was not good. The wind howled all night, which in and of itself made it difficult to get any sleep. In addition, because there was so much sand everywhere, it blew under the rain fly and into our tent through the mesh. Obviously because of the geometry involved this didn't happen every time, but after enough gusts it would be like someone throwing sand in your face. Eventually Jean rigged a garbage bag over much of the mesh to help, but that didn't stop the wind from keeping me up.

When we got up in the morning, it was mostly clear and sunny, but the wind was still going. And it wasn't all that clear, either. While there weren't many clouds to speak of, it seemed rather hazy to me, which seemed odd to me at first. It didn't look like typical morning fog, either.

The wind was so bad that the kids stayed in the car for breakfast. Even with the shelter it was hard to boil water and make breakfast, everything threatening to blow away at a moment's notice. Eventually we did finish and made the short drive over to the Canyonlands visitor's center.

The visitor's center is small but looks like it was undergoing some renovations so might be better by the time you visit. In contrast, the Dead Horse Point State Park visitor center was much larger and nicer. Someone asked the ranger about hike suggestions for today. He admitted that although the park is known for its great views, it was unlikely there would be any today. That haze I saw was simply the result of the wind kicking up sand and dirt everywhere. While the radar screen was clear for the moment and the forecast rain/snow had yet to arrive, the wind was a serious inconvenience. He suggested Mesa Arch or the Upheaval Dome hike, which didn't involve looking miles away.

I figured we'd give Mesa Arch a try. First, we headed out to a few overlooks just to see what it was like. First up was the Green River overlook, where it was so windy I couldn't even bring myself to take my camera out at the edge of the overlook. We then drove through the Willow Flat campground. There were definitely spots available, and the trees were a bit taller here so perhaps the wind would not have been as much of a problem, but the wind at the nearby overlook was the worst, so maybe it didn't matter. It was just not a good night to be camping. And starting a campfire probably wouldn't have been very smart, anyway, since the embers might have blown far away and started a brush fire.

Next, we drove down to the Upheaval Dome trailhead. I didn't intend to do the hike, but was hoping there might be something to see from the trailhead, but no such luck. This wasn't because of the wind, but the trailhead simply isn't very exciting. So we drove back toward Mesa Arch to do the hike there. Unfortunately by this time Jared had fallen asleep. Rather than wake him up, I decided I'd just drive to more overlooks until he woke up.

I should point out that when I say Canyonlands, I really mean the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands. It's such a large park that it has three separate districts, of which Island in the Sky is just one. Because of the geography (those gaping canyons in the middle), it takes hours to drive between the districts. Perhaps we'll visit one of the other districts on a different trip.

Next stop was Buck Canyon overlook. I was amazed when I stepped out and there was almost no wind here. The views were still hazy, but at least I could see a little and take some pictures. Next stop was the Grand View Point overlook. It was very windy here again, but I managed a few pictures. All in all, just a very unpleasant day.

View from Buck Canyon overlook

View from Buck Canyon overlook

View from Grand View Point overlook

By the time we got back to Mesa Arch, I noticed that the blue sky was gone and visibility had gotten even worse. We decided to skip the hike and drive down to Moab for dinner (since cooking at our campsite was not a pleasant thought). After a 40 minute drive, we were in Moab, where the weather seemed to get worse by the minute. Light poles shook in the fierce wind. Empty shopping carts raced across parking lots. The sky grew darker, even though it was only 3pm.

At this point, we made the decision to scrap our plans for camping that night. Even if it didn't rain or snow, we'd still have to deal with the wind and sand. We checked into a motel and then started driving back to our campsite to pack it up. As we did so, the rain started. Only it didn't just rain water. It rained mud. All that dirt/sand in the air was coming back to earth. Each drop on the windshield was brown, and I had to use the windshield wiper fluid constantly to avoid driving blind.

We made the left turn from Highway 191 onto Highway 313 to head up toward Dead Horse Point State Park, and it got worse. The rain turned to snow. I actually thought to myself that it was a good idea we had plenty of food and water in the car -- just in case anything happened. There were still other cars on the road in both directions, but not many.

The snow never let up as we pulled into our campsite and took everything down as quickly as we could. While we'd been gone, even more sand had flown into the tent. Now, our campsite was a muddy mess. Our bare hands froze while we worked in the falling snow. We broke our camp in less than half an hour, then drove back to Moab. As we entered Moab, even though it was still only around 5:15pm (and sun wouldn't set for another 2 1/2 hours), it seemed darker than night. Perhaps it was because many of the city lights hadn't yet come on. At least it wasn't raining mud anymore, just normal rain.

Back at the motel, we washed the mud off our tent and laid it out to dry so we could ship it the next day. After four nights of camping it was nice to finally clean up. After dinner we took advantage of the motel laundry room. At least that was one more thing we wouldn't have to worry about once we reached Capitol Reef.


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