Possibly the Coolest Place on Earth

Of course, I’m talking about southeastern Utah. Moab, Monticello, and Canyonlands National Park. One of the greatest perks about my job is that I get to travel to gorgeous, remote places like this. And usually when I do, I arrange my schedule to visit at the end of the week so I can do a little bit of hiking along the way!

This trip was even more fun than usual, because I had company! My cousin-in-law Katy, whose 20th birthday we were celebrating, came with me!

Katy’s birthday dinner at the Sunset Grill in Moab!

I was very glad to have Katy with me. It’s a six hour drive from Salt Lake City to Blanding (where I had to work), and I’m not really good at sticking my head out the window to wake up and still managing to steer the truck. Having someone to talk to is much better! Also, Katy is pretty hilarious.

Katy has also never been hiking in southeastern Utah. So naturally, we had to go. We went into The Needles area of Canyonlands, which was spectacular to say the least. It was also HOT. In the morning it was cool and cloudy…but when we started hiking the clouds went away and the sun came out with a vengeance. Booooooo to sunshine, boo I say! Despite the (brutal) heat, we had a good time. We went hiking in late August, but if you have the choice, go between October and March. It’s much more pleasant if the sun isn’t frying your brain in its own juices.

We took lots of short breaks in shady places. Here were some of my favorite photos from the hike (which was in Lost Canyon).

Pothole pools near the beginning of the trail.

These pothole pools reminded me of the tidepools by the ocean in the town I grew up in! Throughout this whole area, I’m always reminded of how much the desert and the ocean have in common.

View to the east of The Needles.

The main road (Highway 191) is waaaaay on the other side of those mesas. The entrance to The Needles are about 22 miles off Highway 191. On the way, you can see cool petroglyphs like Newspaper Rock!

Newspaper Rock

It’s a large rock under a protective overhang full of petroglyphs. Pretty cool. There isn’t consensus on what the petroglyphs really represent, but it is still neat to go and look at it. Art that’s been around for many, many hundreds of years – it has a bit of a presence to it.

Dead tree still standing

Living tree growing out of a cliff

I love the contrast between these two trees. To me, this is what the desert is all about. A stillness that preserves what once was living for a long time, and the tenacity of life in difficult places.

Lichen growing on a rock.

And speaking of tenacity of life…isn’t lichen beautiful? I love the designs it makes. Everything in the desert, even the soil itself, is full of the unexpected. There’s cryptobiotic soil all over Canyonlands, which helps to stabilize the growing environment for other living creatures. COOL.

While we were hiking, we did get a sprinkling of rain on the slickrock.

View to the north of Lost Canyon in a thunderstorm.

This was an INCREDIBLE sight. We could see that we were hiking back into some cloud cover, so when it started sprinkling it was such a nice feeling – cooled it down for a few minutes! We sat under a boulder and watched this downpour soak the desert for a few minutes. After the rain stopped, the rock started drying immediately and it heated up pretty quickly. Once we had put another mile or so between us and the storm clouds, we turned around and watched as some of the clouds sent down ladders of rain and lightning forked downwards at the spires of lone trees growing on the rocks. The sound of thunder reverberating through the canyons was unbelievable. It was the same feeling as standing next to a bass speaker at a concert – that steady vibration that you can feel bouncing around in the inside of your chest. Amazing. And beautiful. And humbling.

I’m not a great outdoorswoman by any means, but I love the serenity that the desert imparts. As we hiked through, we were barely a blip on the radar in this enormous place. If you get a chance, go hiking in The Needles! It’s unlike any other place on earth.

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