At Canyonlands National Park I again ran into the problem of a full camp Site. Fortunately I have gotten better at finding the off the grid free camping, with a little help from my all-terrain vehicle, Toyota Camry. National Forests offer the best places to camp for free or for a cheap parking fee. They are unmaintained campsites offering no potable water and RVs can’t generally get to them. I don’t like spending the night by RVs with generators running. I had to drive 2 hours down a rutted out road till I found one to set up camp. You have the best chance of not running into people at these sites. However in the morning light when the fog had lifted I saw a truck parked a hundred feet away. I wasn’t sure if they were there the night before or if they were a hunter that drove in early that morning. I build a fire and cook some breakfast on the chilled mountain. There a small patches of ice and left over winter snow and there is a bounty of green trees and foliage. To top it off there is a nice creek running by the campsite, so I top off my water supply. I break camp early and descend the mountain on my two hour drive to Canyonlands N.P. bellow me. From a freezing night to a blistering hot day I find myself in two vastly different climes.
I reach the trailhead around 8am and the sun is already baking me. I load up my gear and about 2 gallons of water. Then I soak my clothes in the water spout, and I set out on a journey into the sun and canyons. The sun started draining energy and water out of my body before I even lost sight of the car. I tend to take a heavier backpack with me than I need on these day hikes. I carry my camera and equipment as well as anything that might help me survive should I get lost or hurt. Usually enough food to spend two to three nights in the bush. As well as a sleeping bag and maybe a tent, depending on the climate and weather. I often find myself in remote places alone, with no one knowing I am out there other than a note I leave in my car, should someone notice it has been there for a while. Not to mention I usually stray off the beaten path. It is just best to be prepared and carrying the extra weight just keeps you in backpacking shape. Canyonlands, as well as other desert areas, don’t offer this option because it is covered with by a Cryptobiotic Crust. Cryptobiotic crusts are formed from cyanobacteria, lichens, and mosses. The soil is living, and with limited rain it can take up to one-hundred years for the crust to grow to maturity. The crust serves several purposes including protection from erosions and providing much needed nutrients to the otherwise poor soil. In the desert National Parks visitors are prohibited from wandering off the path. With mere footsteps an individual can kill something that is older than them and the damage will not be repaired till well after they have ceased to live. I spend the day hiking the red canyons, I set out across the open desert, unsheltered from the sun. I hike up steep the canyon walls to the top and along narrow ledges. Then the descent down the canyon walls which seemed more treacherous than the ascents. Up and down through the winding canyons and across the narrow ledges with one shoulder against the wall and firmly planted feet next to the edge of a dangerous drop. I hunger and push on for a couple hours searching for the perfect lunch spot, one that offers comfort and shade. My hunger finally gets me and I settle for just an uncomfortable sliver of shade to rest, refuel, and cool down. I mistake a dry wash out for the trail and take a mile long detour before crossing the actual trail again, fortunately I didn’t destroy any cryptobiotic crusts. By now I am exhausted and still have five of the fifteen miles left to go. I do my best to still enjoy where I am at and take it all in. My ankles are blistered and my body is over-heated. There remains a couple of strenuous hours through the open desert till I reach my car. I cool myself with the waterspout once again and refill my water containers. The water is the desert is not the best tasting. I hit the road and stop by a coffee shop where I strike up a conversation with an older backpacker about to hit the trail with a group of old friends. It is nice to see people still enjoying an active lifestyle into their fifties and sixties. Onward I drive to Capitol Reef National Park.
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