Visiting the high deserts of the Colorado Plateau has become almost a tradition with us (oh, who are we kidding... it IS a tradition!) More often than not, we visit in the spring. Sometimes we focus on a particular park. Sometimes we try to cover a large swath of land. And we like to try and introduce new people to this wondrous, stark, beautiful, luminous place. It is a land of lands, with different areas similar yet at the same time so unique. We can't stop coming back!
In this incarnation of our yearly visit, we visited in early April. Last year's visit
in March coincided with the year's only major snowstorm, so for a while our taste for March visits will probably be diminished. Our original attendee list included Peter and Pu, long time trip devotees who unfortunately needed to back out at the last minute due to personal reasons. We were left with six: myself, Jennifer, Luke and Sophie, Ewart, and Catherine (a friend of Luke and Sophie).
This was Ewart's inaugural trip to the desert, and I was excited to introduce him to a locale which I am sure he will develop an attachment. Ewart had never been to the desert before, and in particular had never seen the wonders of the Colorado Plateau.
I've always tried to mix things up each we go to this area. I decided to focus on an area that none of us, including myself had ever been to: the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. The plan was to focus a large chunk of our week-long trip there, and then work our way back east, across southern Utah, towards Las Vegas (our standard fly in/ fly out location). Everybody in our group was keen to do some backpacking, so the plan was to try and fit in two backpacks, and then fill the remaining time with a bit of day-hiking and some mountain-biking.
Our itinerary called for us to start our outdoor adventure in Canyonlands National Park. I had previously booked several camp permits with the park; we were on a fixed timeline and had to reach the park on the proper nights for our permits. We worked out a schedule which maximized our vacation time, but this meant that our first two days were tight - we had to complete our flight down to Las Vegas, drive 600 kilometres northeast to a point near enough to Canyonlands so that we could springboard from there the next day, drive a rough and remote jeep road to the trailhead, and backpack in far enough to set up camp. Whew! Ambitious, but necessary if we were going to make the most of our 7 days of on-the-ground vacation time.
We are a little late in arriving in Las Vegas, so we are already running a little behind by the time Luke and I snag the rental vehicles from Dollar rent-a-car. We rent two red Jeep Liberties -- we want vehicles that are capable of some moderately difficult 4wd roads, and these were the best we could find on offer at a standard rental place, and that had enough room for us.
After picking up Catherine at a local Vegas hotel (she had flown down separately a few days before), we high-tail it north towards Utah. Ewart is not much of a gamblin' man, and he doesn't at all mind our speedy departure from sin city. We drive north on I-15 into Utah, stopping for some groceries and camp fuel along the way.
Hoping to get to the small community of Hanksville before it got too late, we drive a marathon session up I-15, then east on I-70, then on scenic (but dark at this point) back-road to tiny, isolated Hanksville, Utah. I've made a pseudo-reservation at a local campground. I say 'pseudo', because they said they were full but still claimed they had spots for us. We find out what that meant, because they truly are very, very full - a spot on the grass on the front lawn of the campground, underneath the lit campground sign.
Still, it is a place to put up our tents and it is late. We've regained the time we lost from the late plane arrival, and all we have to do is get some decent shut-eye before getting up early and starting the fun stuff - our journey into the Maze!