The Whirlwind, April 2010

Cedar Mesa sandstone along the Chesler Park trail. Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
Cedar Mesa sandstone along the Chesler Park trail. Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

• Driving 14 Hours from Ada to Monticello, Utah

Driving on U.S. 550 in New Mexico.
Driving on U.S. 550 in New Mexico.

Had a nice breakfast with Abby, then hit the road.

Only stopped to shoot a few items.

Talked to some good friends on the phone, listened to satellite radio, and called Abby at least half a dozen times.

Note: Coffee always tastes different on the road, and the first sip always brings a pristine rush of memory, the taste of adventure ahead.

Arrived after dark.

Spires in the heart of Canyonlands, along the Devil's Pocket trail
Spires in the heart of Canyonlands, along the Devil’s Pocket trail

• Devil’s Pocket loop in the Needles District at Canyonlands National Park

Hesitant about the day early because of rain and high wind in the forecast. For much of the day, the sustained wind was over 40mph.

Along the Chesler Park trail
Along the Chesler Park trail.

Photographed Monticello’s Mormon Temple for my Mormon friends.

Headed up the Hart’s Draw road west of Monticello only to discover it was closed at the first campground due to heavy snow. Someone later told me Monticello had about 200% of their normal snowfall for the winter of 2010.

Drove to Elephant Canyon and hiked the Chesler Park/Devil’s Pocket loop trail for a total of about 8.1 miles in a little less than six hours. The actual Devil’s Pocket loop is pretty rugged, and I didn’t see anyone else on it.

On passes and benches, the wind was funneled into ferocious gales.

Came upon two friendly Park Service rangers who were on their way to examine some vandalism along the Chesler Park trail.

For the first time since I have been hiking in the desert, I got back to the trail head with zero water.

Had a blow-out coming out on the Elephant Hill access road, and I assume I struck a sharp rock or other obstacle. A nice couple of guys came from Sandstone Tire in Monticello and got me going after I discovered I didn’t have the key to unlock the wheel.

Back in Monticello after dark.

Deep in the Heart of the Needles at Canyonlands
Deep in the Heart of the Needles at Canyonlands.

• Natural Bridges National Monument

At Kachina Bridge after hiking much of the White Canyon trail; note my fleece tied around my waist, since it was cold in the morning but warmer when I returned
At Kachina Bridge after hiking much of the White Canyon trail; note my fleece tied around my waist, since it was cold in the morning but warmer when I returned.

Abby and I hiked to the Sipapu Bridge on The High Road in 2003. On this trip I wanted to hiked down to the other two, Kachina Bridge and Owochomo Bridge.

I had breakfast at PeaceTree Café on the north end of Monticello. I’d seen it on several other trips, but only now actually gone in. It was one of the best breakfasts I have ever enjoyed on the road.

The moment I started hiking this morning, I felt that wonderful burn in my calves. After yesterday’s long hike, my calves were stiff as always. It’s a familiar feeling that says to me that I am challenging myself. Within ten minutes the stiffness is gone.

Cold again when I got up in Monticello, and not much warmer when I arrived at Natural Bridges National Monument. And again it was crazy windy, though only on exposed areas like cliff tops.

Hiked down the steep but relatively short trail in White Canyon to Kachina Bridge. I found the bridge itself to be larger and more impressive than I had imagined it would be.

Continued up White Canyon for several miles exploring and hunting for native ruins, which I found but did not photograph.

Hiked back up to the trail head and drove to the Owachomo trial head. A different option if I had more time would be to hike the canyon between the two, which is about three miles.

Short, easy trail down to Owachomo Bridge. Made some decent images despite somewhat subdued light. The Bridge itself is fairly impressive. The obvious temptation is to climb on top of it, but this must have become a problem because signs say it is expressly forbidden.

The magnificent Kachina Natural Bridge viewed from the approach
The magnificent Kachina Natural Bridge viewed from the approach.
Owachomo Bridge viewed from below after hiking down through the opening; note water flowing on right side of the frame, a qualifier for this formation to be called a natural bridge.
Owachomo Bridge viewed from below after hiking down through the opening; note water flowing on right side of the frame, a qualifier for this formation to be called a natural bridge.

• Driving Home

I drove home with some sense of urgency due to a crisis with Abby’s father becoming critically ill. I didn’t stop much and only shot one photo. Despite rapidly turning around from Utah, I was able to make a couple of excellent hikes, and I had a good time in the wild.

Additional images:

Snow field in the foothills of the Abajo Mountains, Utah.
Snow field in the foothills of the Abajo Mountains, Utah.
Looking very serious as I drive U. S. 550 in northwest New Mexico.
Looking very serious as I drive U. S. 550 in northwest New Mexico.
Hotel sign, Cuba, New Mexico.
Hotel sign, Cuba, New Mexico.
Backpackers pass "The Wall" on the Chesler Park trail at Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
Backpackers pass “The Wall” on the Chesler Park trail at Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
The Chesler Park trail passes through this section known as "The Crack."
The Chesler Park trail passes through this section known as “The Crack.”
This layered sandstone crack leads down into Elephant Canyon.
This layered sandstone crack leads down into Elephant Canyon.
Hiking on the Chesler Park trail.
Hiking on the Chesler Park trail.
View on the descent into Elephant Canyon.
View on the descent into Elephant Canyon.
Ascending the other side of Elephant Canyon; this portion of the trail is steep enough to utilize a few switchbacks.
Ascending the other side of Elephant Canyon; this portion of the trail is steep enough to utilize a few switchbacks.
A long-dead tree branch frames pinnacles for which the Needles District is named. This ended up being one of my favorite images from this trip.
A long-dead tree branch frames pinnacles for which the Needles District is named. This ended up being one of my favorite images from this trip.
art of the adventure in a place like Canyonlands is the playground-like landscape, which begs to be explored.
Part of the adventure in a place like Canyonlands is the playground-like landscape, which begs to be explored.
The Devil's Pocket trail passes through several cracks like this, which take on an almost cave-like appearance.
The Devil’s Pocket trail passes through several cracks like this, which take on an almost cave-like appearance.
View from the edge of a side-canyon.
View from the edge of a side-canyon.
At the very north end of the Devil's Pocket loop, the trail takes a left turn into the heart of the Needles formations, past this impressive piece, then down into the Pocket itself.
At the very north end of the Devil’s Pocket loop, the trail takes a left turn into the heart of the Needles formations, past this impressive piece, then down into the Pocket itself.
The trail bends southwest beneath this enormous mushroom rock.
The trail bends southwest beneath this enormous mushroom rock.
The trail passes a backcountry campground, then follows the Devil's Pocket itself, which is a long, narrow flat, seen in this view looking back to the north.
The trail passes a backcountry campground, then follows the Devil’s Pocket itself, which is a long, narrow flat, seen in this view looking back to the north.
Looking forward as I continued my counter-clockwise journey on this trail, it was easy going through much of this empty, flat area.
Looking forward as I continued my counter-clockwise journey on this trail, it was easy going through much of this empty, flat area.
In the distance to the south are towering sandstone spires.
In the distance to the south are towering sandstone spires.
A dramatic sample of "desert varnish" marks the overhang in the right side of this frame.
A dramatic sample of “desert varnish” marks the overhang in the right side of this frame.
The trail passes a large dead tree on the floor of the Pocket.
The trail passes a large dead tree on the floor of the Pocket.
This two-panel panograph shows the view from the top of the bench at the south end of the Devil's Pocket, looking north. The trail is visible in the center of the frame.
This two-panel panograph shows the view from the top of the bench at the south end of the Devil’s Pocket, looking north. The trail is visible in the center of the frame.
From that same spot looking south. The wind at the top of this bench was funneled into a constant, pounding, sandy gale.
From that same spot looking south. The wind at the top of this bench was funneled into a constant, pounding, sandy gale.
The trail climbs farther up as it turns east, leading past some of the tallest, most impressive hoodoos in the area. I would guess these to be 75 feet tall or more.
The trail climbs farther up as it turns east, leading past some of the tallest, most impressive hoodoos in the area. I would guess these to be 75 feet tall or more.
Moving eastward up some rocky benches and switchbacks, the Needles of Elephant Canyon become visible.
Moving eastward up some rocky benches and switchbacks, the Needles of Elephant Canyon become visible.
Another hauntingly beautiful dead, weathered tree on the trail.
Another hauntingly beautiful dead, weathered tree on the trail.
In shadow, Cedar Mesa sandstone takes on a cool blueish hue.
In shadow, Cedar Mesa sandstone takes on a cool blueish hue.
Approaching the intersection with the Chesler Park trail.
Approaching the intersection with the Chesler Park trail.
Back on the Chesler Park trail, moving toward Elephant Hill.
Back on the Chesler Park trail, moving toward Elephant Hill.
Two-panel panograph of the view from the top of the bench near the intersection of the Chesler Park trail and the Devil's Pocket trail; I've shot from this spot many times, and I regard it as the garden spot of the Needles District, and as one of the most amazing places in the world.
Two-panel panograph of the view from the top of the bench near the intersection of the Chesler Park trail and the Devil’s Pocket trail; I’ve shot from this spot many times, and I regard it as the garden spot of the Needles District, and as one of the most amazing places in the world.
Sunset, South and North Sixshooter Peaks, Indian Creek Scenic Byway.
Sunset, South and North Sixshooter Peaks, Indian Creek Scenic Byway.
Utah state highway 95 and the Comb Ridge.
Utah state highway 95 and the Comb Ridge.
At the bottom of White Canyon in Natural Bridges National Monument is the impressive Kachina Natural Bridge.
At the bottom of White Canyon in Natural Bridges National Monument is the impressive Kachina Natural Bridge.
View from directly under the Bridge, showing hikers for scale.
View from directly under the Bridge, showing hikers for scale.
Kachina Bridge from the other side after walking through the opening.
Kachina Bridge from the other side after walking through the opening.
A mile or two upcanyon, I found this wide spot in the stream where water flowed noisily through a stone field.
A mile or two upcanyon, I found this wide spot in the stream where water flowed noisily through a stone field.
Smiling for my wife Abby as I hike White Canyon; even when she can't be with me, she is with me.
Smiling for my wife Abby as I hike White Canyon; even when she can’t be with me, she is with me.
This is the classic view of Owachomo Bridge, viewed from the approach. Climbing on the span is expressly forbidden.
This is the classic view of Owachomo Bridge in Natural Bridges National Monument, viewed from the approach. Climbing on the span is expressly forbidden.