Mars, Cave-Dwelling, and Cowboy Camps: Welcome to Moab, Utah

Hanging upside down in the desert

It feels like a while since my last update, but perhaps that’s been because I’ve been doing quite a bit of exploring since first arriving here in Moab, Utah. Arriving in Moab: now that’s a picture I’d like to paint for you. After rolling through the Rocky Mountains from my last internship, the landscape changed gradually but considerably into a place almost resembling another planet. With all of the red rock formations around here, I would probably liken it to Mars—and apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so. Just in 2010, a movie: “John Carter” (of Mars) was filmed here. Arches of sandstone, Kayenta rock formations that look like molten earth bubbling over, and vast open desertscapes are the scenes that I am confronted with every day. Now that I work in the Visitors Center in Canyonlands, I do my best to remember the feelings that I had upon first arriving here: overwhelming beauty, vastness, a sense of being a stranger in a strange land. When I remember my initial feelings, I am better able to help the visitors get a grasp on where they are and what they should probably check out while they’re here, as it is probably their first time here as well.

Petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock (the Needles)

As a way to help us get acquainted to the area, the good folks at Canyonlands took us on an introductory camping trip down to the Needles district. The Needles is an area known for great backpacking trails that twist through giant sandstone pillars. Some of the hiking trails go past old cowboy camps and the remains of Native American sites such as old granaries and petro glyphs. The campsite that we stayed at during this three-day trip was pretty amazing as well. It was in a giant cave, the top of which was a rock with a gargantuan split down the middle.

Our cave dwelling of a campsite

I packed far too much in the way of warm clothes because I had been used to backpacking in chilly Summit County, Colorado—but the nights here were balmy and warm. During this trip we were trained in how to give interpretive talks and got to watch some neat interpretive presentations by the rangers. One of my favorite talks was about how Native Americans used the local plants to survive out here. The most versatile of the plants we learned about seemed to be the Yucca plant. Native Americans were known to use the sharp Yucca leaves as needles, or to ground them down to make tough cordage. The flowers, seeds, and fruits were known to be edible. The roots of this plant also had saponin properties which allowed for the creation of shampoos and soaps. Overall, we learned a lot about the diversity and usefulness of the desert plants common to area.

Bighorn sheep!

During this trip we were also got to see a group of fourteen Bighorn Sheep down in the Canyon near the Colorado river. This was especially exciting for me as I’ve been looking for Bighorn sheep all summer. In Colorado I even went out with the wildlife crew in search of bighorns with no luck. I’ve heard they are elusive and so I hadn’t been counting on seeing one, but while we were out on a group hike, someone spotted movement down in the canyon, and sure enough we saw a bunch of white animal rear ends (an identifiable symbol of Bighorn sheep) scattered below us. Luckily, some visitors were hiking nearby at the time, so we were able to pull them over and share the experience. This was an exciting introduction to what will most likely be a fantastic time out here in the Canyonlands. As the weather cools down with the oncoming fall, this area will be ripe for exploring. The other SCA’s and I have a goal of hiking all of the trails in the Island in the Sky district of the park, and one of our big trips starts next week with a backpacking trek on the White Rim Trail. This is a world-reknowned trail for 4 wheel-drive vehicles and mountain biking, so stay tuned for an update. Thanks for reading!

Hiking in the Needles