Thursday, April 6th, 2023, 1030-1630
S3 Needles outpost to Lost Canyon site 3, Canyonlands National Park
8 miles, elevation 5250′
It was the coldest morning yet at just 20 degrees. It made it very hard to get up, so I played with my phone for awhile inside my quilt. Eventually I packed my stuff and headed for the camp store, where the wifi was. We lingered there forever, doing stuff on phones, playing with Coco and chatting with Mac, Amber, and Caleb. Two women, Jill and Sarah, were just finishing their trip and offered us their fuel canister. I’d just been fretting over whether mine would make it to Hanksville…the trail provides. Since they were so nice, I asked if we might get a ride back to the main road. They happily agreed and once there, offered to take us further, since they weren’t in a hurry. So we figured we might as well get a ride to the Salt Creek trailhead, saving us some more road walking. I think it might have cut about 5 miles from our alternate route but then again, we were already adding miles by taking the alternate, so what does it matter.
We started down the very popular Salt Creek trail for a few easy miles, stopping at a cool hole in the rock and pictograph panel for lunch. There were multiple layers of ancient paintings, one on top another like graffiti. It’s incredible how little we know of our past ancestors. They might as well have been an alien civilization, compared to how we live now. Well, some of us are still trying to live out here with the rocks and creeks, or at least pretending for a time.
While taking a break, I came up with a new Hayduke Tradition: If taking the Peekaboo alternate trail, one has to moon everyone below in Salt Canyon while standing in the hole in the rock and yelling “peekaboo!”
We surprisingly didn’t see anyone else until the turn off for the Peekaboo connector trail. There we ran into 4 rangers out for a familiarization hike, who of course asked to see our permit. We were happy to oblige, being spot on with our date and distance to the site. They bid us well, also glad we were playing by the rules…otherwise it could have meant more paperwork for them. We turned a corner around a rock and couldn’t figure out where the 4 had just come from, since the trail seemed to end abruptly. Then I saw a 20 ft ladder leading up a crazy crack in the wall…this was the beginnings of our trail.
We went up high onto the melted cheese rock, bouncing from one ledge and mound to another, testing our traction on the crazy angles, and making a game of finding the next cairn…an Easter egg hunt. It was a fantastic “trail”, full of surprises and views. It would not be fun in snow, ice, or rain but it was a beautiful blue bird day, perfect for adventure. It even started to get hot climbing around on top the exposed sandstone. I saw a weather forecast at the visitors center the day before calling for a week of clear skies and warming temps. In fact, it said highs would be in the 80s by Monday!!! I couldn’t even imagine.
We dropped into Lost Canyon and started weaving up the creek bed. We passed many day hikers and a few backpackers. We stopped to talk when Mac caught up. He’d gotten a permit for a jeep-accessible campsite all the way on the SW side of the pack, some 10 miles away. He needed to get a move on to make it there before dark. We, on the other hand, were only 1.5 miles from our site. We got there around 4 pm, wondering what to do with the rest of our time. We debated moving on to share Mac’s site but ours was so nice and peaceful. Plus, we’d payed a king’s ransom for it. Mac paid only $5 for his site, the standard NPS rate per person for a backcountry site.
Consider that we would have paid just $10 for our site, had we been able to reserve it last minute and in person at the visitors center. Of course this isn’t generally possible since all the sites are made available online, months in advance. The government gives away rights and profits to the private company that administers Rec.gov, which has become one bane of my existence. I hate the site and even more so the outrageous fees it charges. There was a 360% ($36) markup on our backcountry site, all for the privilege of reserving it online in advance. This is price gouging and how much of that money is actually going back to the park? It’s not right for a private company to be making big profits on selling access to our public lands back to us, the people who own it. Rant over for now but I’m really pissed about the way things are headed…. Pay to play.
We really did enjoy the site, though. It was under a couple junipers and had great views of the canyon. It sounds like all sites are single party occupancy (hence their lack of availability), so we had it to ourselves. We had a huge pool of clear, beautiful running water in the creek below. I spent some time just sitting by the water, listening to it gurgle. Bliss. We cooked dinner utilizing the camp furniture and went for a short hike up a sandstone mound to see the evening colors. I guess these are all the normal things normal backpackers do after arriving camp so early. Today we were very normal backpackers and it was pretty nice. We’d be back to doing miles the next day but a chill day was in order for enjoying the park. Actually, it felt like a lot of days on the Hayduke had been chill thus far … were we doing something wrong, I wondered?