I have traveled to the Canyonlands National Park now 5 different times. My first trip I was like the rest of the tourists and only visited Island in the Sky. A big disappointment when you get back and find out what you missed by not going to the Needles District. But my next trip I spent a lot of my time in the Needles District. I had just bought a Trooper 4×4 and was ready to do some major offroading and explore the renown Elephant Hill.
I was alone this trip for two weeks. And looking back at some of the stunts I pulled on this trip I can truly say I was an idiot. You should not climb slick rock in a car alone. But I did it anyway and was lucky. Over 1,000 miles away from home and no spare parts for my truck I truly tested my limits going over the Elephant Hill and other areas like the Colorado River Overlook and Horse Canyon. There were several times I had to get out to see how to navigate the treacherous trails and build up ramps out of rocks to climb 2 foot ledges. Not a smart thing to do alone.
Chesler Park, Canyonlands National Park
I hiked to the north side of Chesler Park and on to Devils Kitchen. 12 mile hike all total then up and down 200 foot cliffs. I soon realized why so many people go to Island in the Sky instead of the Needles. Pretty good workout on the legs carrying all the camera gear I had with me.
My second trip there I took my wife with me during the winter month of December. It was very cold and I took her just to the north of Chesler Park again. She would not listen to me about getting dehydrated even in the winter months and did not drink a lot of water like I told her. So luckily this was our last day on this trip and she could no longer walk the next day since she cramped up so bad.
The best tip I had here was when I took a group of 5 of my closest friends with me. I started them off easy in the Arches National Park and worked them up to the hike in the Needles area. We spent 3 days here. I took them to Druid Arch first and we averaged 12.5 miles of hiking that day. The next day I wanted to go on the back side of Chesler Park and the Joint Trail. So we took the same route I normally take to the north side of Chesler Park and would join up with the off road trail of Devils Lane. They pussed out on me and went to Devils Kitchen in stead. I split off from them and was determined to get a sunset shot of the south side of the rock formation in Chesler Park.
We were here in early March and we had storm after storm come through during our visit. The path I chose I could not see what was coming to the west of me until I climber back up the canyon and past the Joint Trail. When I go to the place to take my shots I looked to the west and saw a nice black line of storms coming. I had just a few moments of sun to take my shot. And God willing I had a nice beam of light that came through and lit up the rock formation.
I made my way back as fast as I could to meet up with my friends near Devils Kitchen which was another 4 mile hike. By the time I met up with them the storm had hit us. Thunder and snow. We still had another 6 miles to get back to the trail head at Elephant Hill and it was 6:30pm and getting dark fast. We decided to take the off road trail back since it would be easier and safer than climbing up and down the cliffs of the main trail we came in on. We finally crawled back to the truck at 11pm and we were dead tired, cold and wet. I just let the Trooper crawl back to the campsite enjoying the heater. I hiked 14 miles that day with all my camera gear and I was wiped out. We didn’t even fix anything to eat when we got back to camp. Just slammed a few beers, ate some beef jerky and crawled into our tents and we all fast asleep. Photographically with all the dramatic weather we had it was one of my best photo ops ever.