trip report: road trip in Colorado and Utah, September 2015

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In my previous post, I outlined three different road trip ideas out west. One thing I didn’t specify are the exact timing needed for each, though I had estimated 2 weeks. Since we had already planned to fly out to Colorado for Labor Day, I thought I’d put the idea to the test. The problem was that I only had 6 nights and about 6 days (5 full days and a couple of half days), so I limited the trip to the first half of the Colorado road trip idea. Since we did all day hikes on the trip, this report is more a combination of individual hikes reviews.

the decision

Last year, we visited Colorado because Meg’s friends were getting married. While we were there, we were able to hang out with Meg’s cousin Mike and his family. We also hung out with our friend Matt, who was a new Colorado resident even though his license plate still says otherwise. During that time, we saw just the tip of all that was out here. So said we would return, and we did.

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pre-trip research and planning

logistics

Our air travel was with southwest airlines. I used 14,964 southwest points and $5.6×4 from fees during their summer sale in conjunction with the companion pass to fly both Meg and I from Raleigh/Durham directly to Denver and back. From Denver we rented a car with advantage for a week. I had originally booked an economy car, but was upsold into an upgrade into an SVU because a couple of friends were joining us on our adventures. So… it was an extra $140 for comfort. I put the charge on my United Explore Card with has primary rental insurance (also finished my spending requirement for my signup bonus).

Since I was following the first section of my Denver road trip idea, we were going to camp in Rocky Mountain National Park and near Moab for both Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. This was also around Labor Day weekend, so the reservation for campsites were extremely poor online and especially true for Saturday and Sunday nights. The second objective to plan for was time to hangout with family and friends in Colorado. Lastly, I have to plan which of the billion of hikes to do and how to fit them in.

The plan I came up with was to have a hangout day when we first arrive in Denver with friends. Then I ended up book two night previous to Labor Day weekend for camping at Rocky Mountain National Park online before a hotel night on Labor Day Saturday. We would continue onto Moab for Sunday and Monday nights where there were many first come, first serve campsites. On Tuesday, we’d drive back to Denver for our evening flight out. I’ll get to the hikes in the trip report.

equipment

Since this was car camping, we were pretty loose with what we brought. There were 2 new purchases I made specifically for this trip, the first was a bear canister. After talking to the rangers, it’s mostly black bears in the area so leaving food in the car was absolutely fine. Unless you are planning to do backcountry camping, it wasn’t necessary. It did make for a fine seat though.

The second item were hiking umbrellas, which I found out about from reading Francis Tapon’s blog. I ended up purchasing 2 Swing Trek Silver Liteflex Trek Umbrellas from amazon. It was great for both the rain CU159_equip1 and sun. CU159_equip2 The construction was sturdy and it’s fiberglass material kept it light. My only complaint being that I wish it was a little bit longer and had a bigger canopy as my leg did get wet from the rain while hiking.

Otherwise, it was pretty much standard tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and layering set up for the rest of our equipment. With the amount we were driving, having an power inverter was useful. A collapsible cooler would have been nice, but I didn’t think of it or have one.

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trip report

pre-trip

Since our flight was early in the morning out of Raleigh-Durham (RDU), we decided to do our 3 hour drive to the airport the day before. Usually we’ve asked my friend Josh to take us to the airport and keep my car with him, but we didn’t want to intrude this time since with our friend Niki was joining us on this trip. I used the park, sleep, and fly website to book a room, a place to leave the car, and get shuttle service to the airport (there are discount codes you can find with a google search for the site). We stayed at the Days Inn and their shuttle service was very good. Talking to the hotel manager, they said we can arrange the park and shuttle directly through them rather than the website. Something I’ll try next time so I can get hotel points.

We did meet up with Josh his wife, Bethany, and I was impressed by the number of authentic Mexican food trucks around UNC. After drinks at Beer Study, we turned in early for the night.

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day 1: Denver

Our flight to Denver was not eventful. After meeting up with my California friend Arnold at the airport, we took the AAdvantage rental car shuttle to their offices (they are usually the cheapest at Denver but their fleet isn’t the best or the newest). I had booked an economy for a week and was up-sold into getting an SUV. Their claim was that I had a Yaris, but I should have asked to look at the car since they are known to misrepresent what the actual car was to up-sell. In the end, the SUV was probably best since we were traveling with 4 people and didn’t have to worry about space in the car or terrain we could drive on, which matters at certain parts of Canyonlands. It still makes me uncomfortable being up-sold to. We ended up with a Hyundai Santa Fe and the first thing we noticed was that it smelled like pot. Welcome to Colorado.

We had a nice lunch at Cajun Kitchen and Bar near the airport, which was a Vietnamese and Cajun fusion restaurant. It may be because we are bored of SW Virginia restaurants, but we did enjoy the food here greatly. I got pho while Meg got the wonton nachos (she was very excited to see that it was on the menu as the ones she had on the Big Island in Hawaii, which were probably her favorite nachos in the world.

For the rest of the day, we met up Matt and Meg’s friends Casey and Shannon. Relaxed and went out for dinner and drinks. Dinner was from the simply pizza food truck (which was decent) parked in front of Grist Brewing Company. I’m sure most breweries are like this in Denver, but I really like the mix of experimentation and good quality standard beers they had. This was also where we found the only type of beer Meg liked, sours, the last time we were in Denver. I knew having booze on the first day was not good for getting use to the altitude, but that’s probably the most impossible thing for anyone to do here.

Shout out to Matt for putting us up for the night.

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day 2: Rocky Mountain National Park – Emerald Pond

The plan for day 2 was to drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park and do some light hiking to acclimate. Day 3 would be our shot at Longs Peak which is about 15 miles and some class 3 scrambling. We would have to leave at 1am on day 3.

It was gloomy when we started our drive to Rocky Mountain National Park, but we still decided to go the scenic route. I was able to book 2 days at Moraine Park Campgrounds for Thursday and Friday nights at $20 per night. The rest of the weekend was completely full as far out as 1.5 month, so it was a natural cutoff to our time at Rocky Mountain. We stocked up on food at the first supermarket we found leaving Denver, H Mart in Westminster; it was an oriental supermarket. I’ve missed these from my time in California, but wasn’t what I had in mind for a place to shop for camping food. Made our camping interesting though. We did see a Walmart right after, but I think we were happy with our choice.

We continued on our scenic drive up route 72 that continued onto route 7 into Estes Park and Rocky Mountain. The views were decent, but not all that interesting. I would say those views weren’t worth it since it was all winding roads and we were still getting use to the altitude. That combination made a few of us a little car sick. I had bought an annual national park pass earlier in the year, so all our park entrance fees were covered. We reached Moraine Park Campgrounds around 1pm and set up our campsite shortly before the afternoon rain.

We decided for a short hike anyways, so we drove up to Bear Lake and do a simple hike to Emerald Lake. It was still raining, so the umbrellas were proving useful already.

information

  • Emerald Lake
  • type: in and out
  • distance: 3.7 miles roundtrip (information from backpacker.com, I didn’t have my gps on this one)
  • elevation change: around 650 ft
  • time: 1.5 hours
  • location: east portion of Rocky Mountain National Park near Moraine Park Campgrounds
  • notes: there is bus stop at the beginning of the trail head.

After looping around Bear Lake,CU159_emerald_1
we headed up the trailhead with a consistent slight uphill that would take us to Nymph Lake,CU159_emerald_2 Dream Lake,CU159_emerald_3

CU159_emerald_4 and Emerald Lake.CU159_emerald_5

CU159_emerald_6 The clouds did damp our views but it was a nice hike to stretch our legs and lungs.

ratings (1-5)

  • views: 3. For the consistent vistas and multiple lakes, though we really couldn’t see too much. There is probably more upward rating for this.
  • difficulty: 1
  • technical: 1

After a quick diner, we retired early to try to get some sleep. We’d have to wake up at 1am for our attempt at Longs Peak the next day.

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day 3: Rocky Mountain National Park – Longs Peak

So I couldn’t sleep that night. I don’t know if it was the excitement or just the altitude getting to me, but my heart was racing the entire time I tried to sleep. Probably the last thing you want to do when attempting a 14er. With one 14er under my belt, I knew I was in for a tough day. The good news is that the skies cleared up overnight, so we were a go for the attempt. Arnold, Meg, and I left our campsite at 1am and reached the trailhead at 1:40am.

information

  • Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route
  • type: in and out
  • distance: 14.5 miles roundtrip
  • elevation change: 5100 ft
  • time: start hiking around 2am, reach keyhole around 6-7am, summit at 8-9am, come back down to the tree line before 2pm
  • location: east side of Rocky Mountain National Park south of Estes Park off of route 7

So as you can guess, we didn’t summit this time. Physically, we were all in pretty good shape by the time we reached the keyhole. We were well on schedule getting there about 6:45 am. I knew I’d start to feel the altitude around 13000 ft as I needed more stops to catch up on my breathing. I had a little headache as we made our way up the boulder field before the keyhole, but I was pretty sure that was more from the lack of sleep. And that’s what really stopped us from attempting the difficult final push to the summit.

I was so sleepy and mentally fatigued that my confidence in my ability to alert and vigilant went to shits. All my movement felt a little sluggish and I was dragging. That hit home especially when I took a look at the backside of the mountain where there were pretty steep drop-offs; I went through the keyhole at the lower point where I couldn’t see the actual trail. I was told the trail was much better as you continued to a slightly higher point, but my confidence was already shot at that point. The cold wind and my lower body temperature from my body wanting to go to sleep didn’t help either.

We were all ok with turning back at this point. Arnold said he was 50/50 as we took a break in the hut right before the keyhole, he said he was feeling the altitude. Meg’s been freezing since we came out of the tree line. But I’m pretty sure I was the slow step of the reaction on this attempt.

It was also the case coming back down, as I was so drowsy that I actually needed to take a nap as we reached the overlook upon Chasm Lake under Longs Peak. I felt much better after a just 30-minute nap. We reached the trailhead at about 2pm just as the clouds started sending down drops for the afternoon rain.

Longs Peak is something I will come back to again, but much more prepared. Well, mostly actually getting a good night sleep. More acclimation to the altitude would help too. In my next attempt, there are a couple of alternative ways of going about it. There are first come first serve camping spots at the trailhead, they would give you a little more sleep. But the best possibility is the backcountry camping spots right before the boulder field. It is in a very windy area so a good tent is a must there. The good part of this is that you can wake up at a normal 5:30-6am. You’ll definitely have a good view while sitting on the toilets here.

ratings (1-5)

  • views: 4. Despite not summiting, the view were still worth it. The best part is the sun coming up over you as you scramble up onto the keyhole.CU159_longs_1CU159_longs_2 As you cross the keyhole, the backside of the mountain is a valley worn away by years of ice. CU159_longs_3This brought back memories crossing the many valleys of the Walker’s Haute Route for me. One the way down, you get a view across the boulder field CU159_longs_4and distant mountains that were not visible as you were walking previously in the dark. CU159_longs_5Lastly as you reach the Chasm Lake split, you see it tucked in under the face of Long’s Peak. CU159_longs_6I think I was a bit disappointed in myself that day and didn’t appreciate it as much in the moment, but I’ll be back now that I think of it.
  • difficulty: 4. The combination of having to wake up so early, the strong wind gusts, and the high attitude really makes this challenging. Oh, it’s also 14.5 miles long CU159_longs_topowith 5000 ft gain. CU159_longs_elevNow you’d think I’d say 5 because I didn’t make it, but really it was just not sleeping that really killed me on the mental aspect of the hike. Having hiked a lot of places in different conditions, having the right state of mind is really everything. Next time I’ll probably take a few more days to acclimate to the altitude. For this trip, this was really the only day we had a shot we had at it. In the end we hiked 13.3 miles with an elevation gain of about 4000 ft.
  • technical: 3 (2 for the portion we did before the keyhole). The backside of the mountain after the key hole is rated as class 3 scrambling. So fittingly, confidence and good scrambling skills are needed. Navigation is by the bulls eyes and cairns in the boulder fields (though there are some misleading cairns that will make your scrambling a little tougher). There should be no snow or ice if attempted in the summer and the morning is usually clear of rain. It is important to get down pass the boulder fields before the afternoon rain and the wet rocks makes this all the more technical.CU159_longs_ge

A nap was mandatory when we got back to camp. I was pretty out of it even as I woke up, took me a little bit of time to figure out where I was or what was going on. When I finally did, we started a fire and cooked dinner. We were planning to do some drinking and hang out late originally, but we were all too fatigued for that. We settled for some s’mores.

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day 4: leaving Rocky Mountain National Park and Hanging Lake National Monument

After a full night of sleep, we all felt much better. The plan for the day is to head down to Glenwood Springs to meet up with Meg’s Cousin Mike and his family. While on the way, we first decided to drive across Rocky Mountain National Park on Route 34 heading west to the other side of the park.

After packing up our camping site, we said goodbye to Longs Peak and the grassland in the Moraine Park valley. CU159_hang_1The drive took us up and across the continental divide with many vistas that demanded stops.
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After a couple of hours, we were on the other side of the park CU159_hang_4and continued on our next 3 hours down to Glenwood Springs including driving through the scenic Glenwood Canyon on I-70. This is also where we planned to meet up with Mike’s family, our friend Matt from Denver, and his girlfriend Meghan. The hike we were interested in was the Hanging Lake Trail.

As we reached glenwood canyon, the storm clouds rolled over and begin the afternoon rains. This turned out fortunate for us since it opened up available parking spots at the Hanging Lake Trailhead. The trailhead is actually a rest stop exit off of eastbound I-70. Since it was made a national monument a couple of years ago, people have flocked here in masses making it almost impossible to visit because of the lack of parking. Without the rain, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do the hike, especially on Labor Day weekend.

information

  • Hanging Lake
  • type: in and out
  • distance: 4.6 miles from the parking lot
  • elevation change: 1237 ft (my gps was having a bit difficulty in the canyon, so not exactly sure if this is accurate)
  • time: 2.5 hrs
  • location: White River National Forrest, Hanging Lake rest stop on I70 eastbound

The hike itself is pretty short, but the elevation change is real. Even after a rain, there were tons of people on this trail, so don’t expect any solitude and do come with your best trail etiquette. Because of its easy access off the freeway, being listed as 3 mile round-trip, and now a National Monument, it draws a large diversity of people and not regular hikers. So patience and a smile is what I’d recommend for this trail.

And it is worth it as you first walk along the canyon carved out by the Colorado River before heading up on the actual part of the trail. CU159_hang_5The trail steeply ascends next to a stream into the valley with plenty of lush tree cover. You’ll pass cool rock formations, CU159_hang_6cascades, and a random wooden hut along the way.CU159_hang_7 After a short final stretch with guardrails, you reach the majestic hanging lake. CU159_hang_8

CU159_hang_9Don’t forget to check out the Bridal Veil Falls while you are here.CU159_hang_10

ratings (1-5)

  • views: 3. This place was beautiful, but I didn’t get the grandiose aesthetics that just knocks you on your butt as several other places. This might be because I’m comparing to the other hikes on this trip. Secondly, this is probably one of the places that would loss some points for the crowd.
  • difficulty: 2. Yea, be ready for uphills. We did find our spirit hiker on this trail. This old lady who has to walk with a cane was determined to get up there, and she did one slow step at a time.
    CU159_hang_elev
  • technical: 1. No scrambling or navigation issues on this hike; It’s pretty straight forward.

Afterwards, Mike hosted us for a cook out; it was wonderful. I have to make a big shout out to Mike and Eugenia for hosting our troupe of friends, Conner for letting us play with is toys, and Brianna for all the hugs.

We headed to the Hampton Inn in Rifle as bedtime drew close and we were all happy to see our second shower on the trip. This was a paid stay for me since I just started investing in Hotel reward programs and credit cards. Hostels works well when I’m by myself, but not nearly as cost effective with more people. At least I was able to rack up 5502 points not including bonuses from credit cards, look out for season point promotions on the hotel chain sites.

Anyways, 5000 is no joke as that’s enough for a free night at a category 1 Hilton affiliated hotel, the cheap categories are really the sweet spot for their reward program. Secondly, I needed 4 stays by the end of the year to get gold status from the citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature.

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day 5: Arches National Park

The hotel was nice, but another day of early wake up was needed. The plan for the day is to head out to the Moab area and get us a first come serve camping site. Still being Labor Day weekend, everything that could be booked ahead of time was. The key were the many Bureau of Land Management campsites that were first come first serve.

After a quick hot breakfast and a coffee/hot chocolate mix (I credit that to Jason, a former postdoc in my lab), our caravan was on our way out. An important stop we had to make before crossing into Utah was at a liquor store. This is because of Utah’s strict beer laws. I know we are going to the desert and need plenty of water, but I’d that’s going too far. The only one on our way that was open at 9am on a Sunday was Fun Junction Liquors in Grand Junction. I give them mad props for giving us very knowledgeable recommendations on the local beer scene and being open for our alcoholic needs.

Now, I haven’t really mentioned too much about the driving we had to do on this trip. It actually passed relatively fast for us thanks to Arnold’s creative mind. In the matter of a couple of hours, he had created a world where the crew of the mystery machine was enrolled in a Hogwarts like academy to become masters of the druidic arts. Yes, it is as you feared, we were playing D&D. This was the first time for Meg and Niki, and they really liked it to my surprise. They earned their nerd card on this trip. It was really amazing how quickly our drives passed by when we were so engaged in the story set up my Arnold, our DM. If you have any interest in D&D, I’d recommend visiting his site to get a glimpse of his ideas.

We did pause our game as we got closer to Moab. Mike gave us an amazing tip in taking Route 128 rather than the GPS recommended highway 191. The difference between the two route is very minimal time wise, but route 128 follows the Colorado river and through the canyons and bluffs that have worn away. Here is a spoiler from the youtube as I have no pictures because I was driving. Secondly, there were many BLM campsite along route 128 so it made it easy to find an available camp site.

We ended up finding a great spot at Upper Big Bend campsite. I believe the number was 8 under a big tree. It was the far right campsite as you enter the grounds. If you ever have a big party, this is the campsite I’d recommend, as there was enough room there for 5-6 tents. There was a self-pay drop box at the announcement board at each location and a night was $15 for each spot.

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It was about lunch time after we set up our tents, so my car headed into Moab for some grub while Matt took a nap. Moab is mostly a tourist town serving the masses that go to Arches and Canyonlands, so there are plenty of touristy food traps. However, we really enjoyed a hole in the wall authentic Mexican restaurant call El Charro Loco. It’s pretty much perfect for the long hikes in the sun. They had a terrific Horchata and their food portions were ginormous and equally delicious. Maybe I just miss my hole in the wall Mexican places California too much. This place definitely rated high on my value to price scale.

With our belly full, we met up with Matt again at the entrance to Arches National Park. We took the Arches Scenic Drive to the end where we took the advice of the sample itineraries and did the Devils Garden Trail and primitive loop, but in reverse for less people.

information

  • Primitive Trail and Devils Garden Trail
  • type: loop
  • distance: 7.4 miles – variable depending on how many side routes and arches you visit
  • elevation change: 1234 ft – again variable depending on what you do
  • duration: 4.3 hours
  • location: Arches National Park

This hike is a scorcher, so be sure to fill up on plenty of water if you plan to do the loop. Meg and I used our hiking umbrellas the entire time and it really made a huge deference. There was a very noticeable temperature difference under the canopy than the outside.

The beginning of the trail is very busy and just a standard wide path. As we took the right split onto the primitive trail as the landscape arch came into view, CU159_arches_1the trail was a trudge through sand. As we rounded a corner, we came into view of thin protruding ridges that reminded me of battleships lined up next to each other in formation. CU159_arches_2It was quite a grand view. CU159_arches_3A little bit further after walking along a dried creek bed, CU159_arches_4we started to climb onto those ridges. CU159_arches_5

CU159_arches_6CU159_arches_7We took a side trip over to the private arch CU159_arches_8along with a private view over looking the other side of the ridges. CU159_arches_9We continued on the loop as saw several more arches including the double o arch, CU159_arches_10Navajo arch, and one again the landscape arch. We also saw a big natural phallic structure (not a surprising theme here) call dark angel; it even had balls. We were a bit disappointed to find out what that actually was.

ratings (1-5)

  • views: 4. My favorite weren’t actually the arches, but the ridges.CU159_arches_11
  • difficulty: 3. The heat really bumps up the difficulty here. The slipping sands also is a challenge at times.CU159_arches_elevCU159_arches_topo
  • technical: 2. Minor scrambling is needed. The trail is pretty well marked, even in the primitive trail by Cairns.CU159_arches_googlemap

After a quick stop to take a look at Delicate Arch in the distance with the sun already set, we made our way back to our campgrounds. This wasn’t easy as the canyon is in total darkness and the signs aren’t very reflective. So if you are driving at night, note the mile marker where your campground is located.

We drank a lot that night around the fire and I crash pretty hard. Fun times.

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day 6: Canyonlands National Park or “Candylands”

I was woken up early in the morning by a natural alarm clock, rain droplets. We had decided to leave the rain cover off for once seeing how we were pretty much in the desert and it was indeed very comfortable throughout the night. We quickly scrambled to pack up our sleeping bags, pad, and tent before the downpour started. I found out later on that this was the same time there were flash flood further south in Utah, so we were lucky it was just a rainy morning for us. Matt and his girlfriend Meghan were heading back to the real world and Daphene ran off with Earl to elope, I mean Niki went with them so she could have more time in Denver. We were down to 3 for the last day in Utah.

We found a cute breakfast place in Moab called the Eklecticafe and lounged there for a couple of hours. Their breakfast was very large in portions for the price, but nothing special. It was nice to relax in the morning before we drove down to the Needles section of Canyonlands. The rain had surprisingly stopped by the time we got to the park and we were looking at another sunny day for hiking.

There are many hikes in this area and the information center can also provide you with good suggestions. Four-wheel drive is not necessary for this park itself, but there are certain trailhead that can only be reached with one.

We were originally planning to camp there for the night, as they have first come first serve campgrounds. We may have changed our minds after another 11 miles in the desert heat. Before you start, make sure you load up on water for this one. Our hike was long and would be in the sun all day. There are water available near the trailhead at the camping site, but it’s a bit grimy with a heavy iron/dirt taste. It also comes out a bit brown. That may also have played a role in our decision to find a hotel for our last night of this trip.

information

  • Squaw Canyon and Elephant Canyon loop
  • type: loop
  • distance: 11.1 miles
  • elevation change: 1423 ft
  • duration: 5.75 hours (we stopped a lot in to just gaze)
  • location: the trailhead is located at the Squaw Flats campsite, we took the Squaw Flats A trailhead.

At the trailhead you can either go left or right, which is clockwise or counter clockwise. We went clockwise, though I can see an argument for going the other way you would be on the rocks earlier and would walk through the desert squaw flats valley last. Regardless of which direction, our hiking umbrellas proved useful once again under both the scotching sun and a little bit of rain we felt saw in the late afternoon.

So after we took the left at the trailhead, we quickly went up a rocky flat to give us a nice look east. CU159_canyon_01After that, we descended into the Squaw Canyon. The canyon was a desert for the most part CU159_canyon_02and it wasn’t until the end of the canyon that the fantastic rock show really started.CU159_canyon_03

The trail went up onto the rock ledge and we were soon treated to the amphitheater of red rocks. CU159_canyon_04This continued until the trail to Big Spring Canyon branched off to the right. After a short while, the trail went through a tunnel in the rock face. We thought the use dead trees as footholds were pretty awesome. CU159_canyon_05Also awesome was the walls in the next section.CU159_canyon_06

The trail continued along the wall and started to head up toward the pass into Elephant canyon. CU159_canyon_07It was awe inspiring all around. CU159_canyon_08To get up to the pass, there were a couple of ladders bolted into the walls and we got another amazing view at the pass including the Needles in the distance.CU159_canyon_09

After a few moments at the pass, CU159_canyon_10we headed down using another set of ladders. CU159_canyon_11The trail here is a little confusing as it seems like some hikers have put up cairns of their own. CU159_canyon_12The trail here actually goes to the right. CU159_canyon_13Once you get down to the valley floor, many people ended up walking along the river floor, but that isn’t the actual trail. CU159_canyon_14The trail would branch off either to the left or right. CU159_canyon_15If you end up at a point where the river bed drops off, backtrack and look for cairns at the side of the river bed for the trail that branches off.

After passing the trail toward Druid Arch and another to Chesler Park (which would be great if we had time for another 5-6 miles or so), the trail heads off to the right as you start making up the rocks to cross into the main part of Elephant Canyon. CU159_canyon_16On the way, you’ll pass a miniature arch and continue up and down on the different rock ledges. CU159_canyon_17

At this point, we saw some rain clouds start to come in, so we picked up our pace and lessened the photo taking. CU159_canyon_18The trail eventually merges with the Big Spring Trail before coming to a split for Squaw Flats A and B trailhead. At the car, we were treated by a rainbow left over from the rain clouds that passed.CU159_canyon_19

ratings (1-5)

  • views: 4. The rock walls at the end of the canyons were spectacular. The different canyons and rock faces were pretty good throughout. There was much less people out in Canyonlands than Arches. CU159_canyon_googleearth
  • difficulty: 3. This was a bit longer than the hike in Arches with the same amount of sun. There were areas of trudging through the sand, but you were mostly on the rocks.CU159_canyon_elev
  • technical: 2. The trail is decently marked by cairns other than right after the pass into Elephant Canyon. Not much scrambling, but endurance is needed.CU159_canyon_topo

CU159_canyon_20Being our last night, we decided to find a real bed back in town with a real dinner. We were also craving something cold and not so much the mucky water at the campsite. Furthermore, this would allow us to see the view point at the Island in the Sky portion of Canyonlands, reachable though the other side of Moab. Staying in Moab would also save time on the long drive back to Denver to make our afternoon flight.

We had a second meal at El Charro Loco, which was again terrific and looked for a hotel. We stay at the intercontinental branded (IHG) Holiday Inn Express because of their seasonal points promotion was very good for beginners (2 free nights at any of their properties for 4 nights stay). Because it was late, I was able to ask the front desk for a discount and it saved us more than the advertised price. We were impressed by the hotel and jumping in the hot tub after a week of hiking was very nice. We didn’t stay at the Hampton Inn for my Hilton bonus was because that advertised price was higher for Hampton Inn in Moab.

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day 7: the last day

The plan for our last day was to get a look at the viewpoints on the Island in the Sky side of Canyonlands. Again, I wish I had a couple more days on this trip for another day around Moab and at Rocky Mountain.

We woke up early in the morning to a pretty decent breakfast with really good cinnamon buns at the Holiday Inn Express. They even gave us a bag so we could take some to go on our drive out.

It took about 40 minutes to drive to the Grand View point Overlook. It was very early so there were no cars and we had the overlook to ourselves. CU159_island_1CU159_island_2We stopped at another overlook on the way out CU159_island_3and had to book it back to Denver to make our flight. The drive was mostly uneventful other than Valma getting turned into a vampire and detouring around some construction. Daphne… I mean Niki rejoined us in Denver before we reached the airport for the conclusion of our adventure temporarily.

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final impressions

Overall the trip was a lot of fun. It was also humbling too as it’s probably the first hike that really kicked my ass to the point where I couldn’t continue, but I’ll be back with actual sleep and better preparation. In terms of the overall plan, the initial road trip plan for Colorado seems pretty feasible. If following the original trip idea (not including our direct drive back to Denver), none of the drives were more than 4-5 hours with 2 large drives between the 3 regions. We passed the time with sessions of D&D, but the drive themselves provided interesting change in backgrounds as well.

Again, I wish we had a couple more days than we had. The first would be for rocky mountain where we can have another day to get use to the attitude before attempting Longs Peak. Furthermore, we spent our time on the east side of the park. I would have liked another day to camp on the west side and doing a hike there, perhaps Mount Ida.

We also didn’t spend any time around Glenwood Springs and Apsen area this time around. One of my itinerary ideas just had us spend the second half of the trip in this area. Since Meg and I have been there before and will be back, we were happy with our final plan. Mike suggested talking about doing a 3 day backpacking trip that starts at the Snowmass Lake trailhead (will write about in the future), going over that pass into the maroon bells, and the continuing on the aspen to black butte trail the next time we are back. I’m looking forward to that one already. Also in this area are a few 14ers including Mount Elbert, the highest among them.

Lastly, I would have liked another day at least in the Moab area. A couple of hours could be used to hike to the Delicate Arch up close. There are also so many more hikes in the Needles area including making the loop we did into a backcountry trip so as to be able to hike to Chesler Park and the Druid Arch. Again, Canyonlands are almost like 3 parks in 1. The Island in the Sky seems like a great place to mountain bike while the Maze area is great for more backcountry camping and hike. However, you’ll need a good 4×4 for that section or take a boat from Moab. Either way, each of those sections could use a day or so each. My preference next time would to explore the Maze section.

budget

The cost was pretty feasible for us. The total cost between Meg and I was about $1,300 and 14,964 miles. This includes all the eating out, drinking, and other expenses that were optional. Secondly, we did split some of the costs the rental car, housing, and gas. If we were doing this solo, our total costs would have been around $1,650.

CU159_budget

acknowledgements

I want to thank Matt for putting us up in Denver and joining us for part of our trip. Also thanks to Mike, Eugenia, Connor, and Brie for hosting us in Glenwood Springs, we’ll be back. Lastly, thanks to Niki and Arnold for joining us on our adventures. It was a blast.
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