Wednesday – Sunday, April 21-25, 2021
If you live here long enough, the blow sand gets in your soul. That’s why you stay here.
Last spring I was looking forward to spending a few days hiking into upper Salt Creek Canyon in Canyonlands National Park with Diane so I could show her around one of my very favorite places on the Colorado Plateau for the first time. I was also hoping to squeeze in some deeper explorations into the area while we were there. Unfortunately, COVID-19 struck and would have other plans for us when Canyonlands cancelled our permit for the last weekend in April. I then managed to quickly snag another permit for later in May, but that permit was subsequently cancelled, too. I guess we would be waiting until the spring of 2021 to try again…
Dear Canyonlands National Park Backcountry Permit Holder,
The National Park Service is working with state and local health authorities to phase in re-opening of Canyonlands National Park with public health in mind. With this overnight camping including backcountry camping will continue to be closed through May 29, 2020. All backcountry permit reservations through May 29 will be cancelled.
If you have a permit reservation for a trip that extends beyond May 29 the campsites/zones after May 29 will remain reserved for you in our system. If you wish to cancel these campsites/zones and receive a credit for your reservation, please reply to this email.
Permit Credits: All cancelled reservations that have been paid for will receive a credit for a future reservation starting within one year. When reapplying for a reservation please use the same email address and enter a note in the comments section indicating you wish to use your credit. If possible, also include the cancelled permit reservation number.
Our office hours will be limited, and communications may be delayed. We may not be available by phone and will respond to emails as soon as possible. Please refer to the park’s website for up to date information.
We look forward to welcoming backcountry visitors back into park and hope to have you visit in the future.
Canyonlands National Park Backcountry Reservation Office
Fast forward to November, and I was able to secure permits again for the last weekend of April on Recreation.gov. These are actually the first permits for Canyonlands that I have reserved on Rec.gov since they had just moved to the new system for the 2021 spring season. I am already missing the old system. I had hoped that Diane would still be able to join me on this trip like we originally planned, but she was now too busy with school and would not be able to go, so I ended up inviting my friends Jared and Jerry along instead.
I left right after work on Wednesday afternoon and headed out to meet up with Jerry and Jared near the Cathedral Butte Trailhead. Traffic into Moab was absolutely terrible and was backed up all the way to the entrance of Arches National Park. I have never seen it backed up so far before, and it was only a Wednesday evening! What was going on? I made it to our planned campsite just after sunset and met up with Jerry who was already there. We weren’t expecting Jared to show up for a few more hours, so after catching up for a bit we went to bed around 10:00pm and figured he would find us later. I’m not sure what was going on with me, but my stomach immediately started to hurt and would continue to hurt me all through the night. I barely slept at all and was feeling pretty terrible. After a very long night, the sun finally started to come up and I was still not feeling well, so I told Jerry and Jared that I didn’t think I would be able to continue on with the trip and that they should probably just go on without me and I would head home. They thought we should wait a few hours around camp to see if I started feeling better, so that’s what we did. A couple hours later I was feeling slightly better- not much, but enough that I thought I would give the hike a try….
Even though I was feeling absolutely terrible as we descended into upper Salt Creek Canyon, this place always feels like a bit of a homecoming for me.
Upper Salt Creek Canyon Trail
A quick shot of the pictographs above the trail shortly before reaching Kirk’s Cabin.
The remains of an old wagon just outside of the cabin.
The interior of Kirk’s Cabin.
The clouds and light were looking good today, it’s just too bad I wasn’t feeling well enough to take many photos.
Much of the first day is kind of a blur to me as I was pretty tired and out of it. It was a miserable experience.
I took this shot of the All American Man while we were stopped below so I could rest. I stopped to rest a lot along the way, which is pretty uncommon for me.
Although climbing into the cave has been against park regulations for a couple of years now, this was the first time I have seen an actual sign here.
Since the Four Faces are right off the main trail, we took the short detour for a quick visit.
I really struggled to make it to our first campsite at SC3. It took us six and a half hours to reach SC3, because of me, which is a really slow pace for me. I ended up stopping quite a few times along the way and falling asleep a couple of times while we were stopped. I was super tired and had no energy when we arrived at camp, but my stomach was feeling better! I hadn’t eaten or drank much all day and then ended up skipping dinner, too.
After arriving at camp I got my tent set up and went right to bed while Jerry and Jared went out exploring until after sunset.
I slept for over twelve hours on Thursday night and woke up on Friday morning feeling much much better! It was a brand new day!
The first thing I did was head over to the Upper Jump so I could get some water and start drinking as much as I could to make up for the lack of water I drank the day before. Although there was water, the Upper Jump and the rest of Salt Creek was the driest I have ever seen it in the spring!
A beautiful morning view from the Upper Jump.
I’m really glad that I didn’t bail on the trip even though the first day way pretty rough for me! I ended up feeling much better for the remainder of the long weekend and we were able to carry on exploring like I had hoped and I’m pretty sure we all had a great time. I’d also like to thank Jared and Jerry for putting up with me on that first day! I’ve spent a lot of time exploring Salt Creek Canyon over the years, and it seems that no matter how many times I visit I always find some new things, and this trip was no exception, so below are some highlights from the remainder of the trip. Enjoy!
Hoodoo & Clouds
The claret cups were blooming all over the canyon.
Kilt Man Faces
This is probably one of the most interesting handprints I have ever seen.
This was a large beautiful and colorful alcove that we explored.
This small arch was located high up in the alcove.
Big Kilt Man
These are the faded pictographs you can see beyond the Big Kilt Man in the previous photo.
Jerry checking out the Big Kilt Man. This was one of my favorite finds of the trip.
Inaccessible Ledge Ruins
High Alcove Circles
This pendant half was pretty cool!
Jared taking in the view from the high ledge.
Three large white targets painted on this wall.
Red Bird Panel
Nice light on the sandstone below moody skies.
Little Ledge Ruins
This is the right side of the same ledge in the photo above.
Exploring Up High
This ruin seemed to have some interesting front steps built below the doorway.
I haven’t come across too many petroglyph panels in upper Salt Creek, so it was nice to find this one.
Yellow Triangles Banner
Last light in the canyon.
I liked the design on this large potsherd.
Blue & Red Panel
Jared taking a photo of some rock art.
Back Alcove Rooms
Hole In The Hoodoo
Designs on the back wall of a shallow overhang.
I really liked the alternating colors of the circles and triangles in this part of the design.
Ruin with a View
Sandstone & Clouds
A small ruin below a faded design.
Here’s Jared next to the pictograph in the previous photo for a little scale.
We almost missed this one since it was painted on the ceiling of a low overhang.
End of the Alcove
One of our last views before we started the climb back up to Cathedral Butte on Sunday morning.
The Striped Faces (Eight Faces)
Such beautiful country. Of course I loved seeing all the unusual rock art too. Your posts are a treasure. Thank you.
Randy, I’ve previously seen your descriptions and beautiful photos on BackcountryPost. I just found this, as I’m searching for info on Salt Creek and other parts of the Needles which we’re hoping to hike & backpack in April. Your photos are stunning, and I love your descriptions as well. I just spent lots of time checking out many of your other reports as well. You have been to so many wonderful places and share such gorgeous images. Thank you!