It seems like I have been making a pilgrimage at least once a year since the mid ’90’s to get my fix of the soul candy that are the landscapes of southern Utah. The more time I spend there and the more I explore, the seemingly more enamored with the area I become. There is something about the juxtaposition of coming from a land defined by water (Michigan) or the mountains and forests of Colorado and having such a sharp contrast in landscapes. If the UP of Michigan is the Ying, than the canyon country and desert of southern Utah is my Yang. It truly takes one to fully appreciate the other as they are nearly polar opposites in the visual and tactile aspects of the lands.
Having just returned from Austria 4 days prior, we wasted no time high tailing it down to the Moab area to indulge in the last free weekend I would have till spring. Snow has already been falling in measurable quantities in and around the Vail Valley and mountains of Colorado. My job starts getting extremely busy from this point till April and we yearned to get one last camping trip in before the busy season.
We loaded up the rig and sped out of Minturn on Friday morning as a winter storm was passing through the highcountry. Kruz got to experience his first snow flakes as I loaded him in the car seat and we set off.
Our original idea was to spend a few days in the Maze District of Canyonlands but with the government shut down still in effect and the possibilities of taking on some of the routes in the park, we came up with an alternative that would afford us a true canyon country experience but without the hassles of an inept federal government. We headed for Moab, the jumping off point for this outing.
Moab is a place both revered and also despised by many people. It is easy to be turned off by the masses of people drawn to the small town for biking, climbing, river running, and 4 wheeling. It can be an absolute zoo at the peak times of year. Despite that, there are some great places still to get way out off the beaten path and some absolutely stunning scenery.
Our destination for the night was Chicken Corners, a perch above the Colorado River across from Dead Horse Point and near the entrance to the Lockhart Basin trail.
Taking a breather between Hurrah Pass and Chicken Corners.
There were signs of heavy rains recently with washed out sections of roads and puddles still scattered about the route.
The narrows on the road to Chicken Corners.
Our campsite’s view for the night. Kruz trying out his new sleeping bag.
Sun setting from our camp above the Colorado River
Golden hour portrait of Jules
After a perfectly calm evening and night we were treated to another great day Saturday. A little perspective of our camp Saturday morning.
The chug on full patrol duty.
Not sure what the occasion was but there were a bunch of planes flying over and through the canyons while we were hanging out there. One guy even came right over us, diving down into the canyon at a close distance. Pretty exciting to watch… in the pic above there are two planes flying below us.
After enjoying a killer breakfast we headed out and started the long route of Lockhart Basin. The trail starts off with a technical climb out of a wash that had several obstacles that required spotting from Julie.
I was impressed how well our stock little FJ Cruiser did through this section seeing as it is quite technical requiring very precise lines and an ability to put down traction with often times, 3 wheels on the ground. Julie killed it with the spotting and we didn’t even need to reverse once or make multiple attempts. We dragged the rock sliders a couple of times but that was about it. The more I have used it, the more impressed I have become with the Atrac traction control system on the FJC. We didn’t use the rear locker at all, just left Atrac on and it did an amazing job of getting us though with no drama. I think the Land Rover LR4’s system might be a bit smoother but in the end, the results are pretty similar.
At this point you get a vast view of the expanse of canyon country with Island in the Sky on the right and the Needles District off in the distance ahead.
There is no end to rock forms that attract the eye in this land. Call it eye candy, perhaps soul candy would be more appropriate.
Julie got some time behind the wheel too while Kruz was sleeping away peacefully in the back. This kid LOVES to drive around in the truck, the rougher, the more content he is. Too funny. Julie piloted us through several tough sections showing a natural feel for it.
Few places look as striking in the late day sun as the landscapes of southern Utah.
Some motherly love.
Textures of the desert
Shadows getting long and our camp for Saturday night.
Me and the little guy
Home most definitely is where the heart is.
Sunday morning was a bit brisk. We had strong winds move in as a weather system was passing through the region on its way to dumping snow back home in Colorado. We skipped the elaborate breakfast since there are few things more frustrating than trying to cook with blowing sand.
We took the spur down Lockhart Canyon that takes you down to the Colorado River. It was a fun detour that mostly follows a dry creek bed. Evidence of heavy flooding recently was everywhere from the steep washed out banks that the route periodically climbed down to residual mud in places. This was NOT a place you wanted to be when that last bought of rainstorms came through.
An old desert relic that had seen some action.
After rejoining the main route the road improved dramatically. For the first 20 miles or so of the route it was mostly rough, slow going 4 wheel low, with some technical spots that required spotting periodically, the last 10 miles or so is mostly graded dirt road with interspersed slickrock. It felt good to stretch the legs a bit. As we approached Indian Creek and neared the end of our dirt odyssey we crossed through this area of cool rock formations and small canyons that were full of life. Some of the cottonwoods were just changing colors. Julie found some evidence of arrowhead making along the rim here.
Shortly after crossing Indian Creek we were back to pavement near the entrance to Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. While we were out on this trip, the state of Utah decided to fund the National Parks and the parks had opened on Saturday. We stopped at Newspaper Rock and took it in for a bit. One other couple was there but the whole area seemed relatively devoid of people. The government shut down was having a real effect on the tourism to the area no doubt.
We headed back to Moab and ran into some friends randomly on the way to grabbing some dinner. On the drive back to Colorado we passed through some pretty big thunderstorms as the weather system began its assault on the Colorado high country. We were spent by the time we arrive back in Minturn.
It proved to be another fantastic outing. Our third such with Kruz camping. We were told by many that once we had a baby, our traveling and adventures would come to an end. We are happy to say that they haven’t and in fact, they have become all the more rewarding. It is going to be fun taking our little boy on more travels and adventures, hoping he catches a touch of his parents’ wanderlust. I have a feeling he will.