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Winding Our Way Around White Rim | Canyonlands #2

Having gotten to bed early, the only thing that made getting up difficult was the cold. I quickly fumbled to silence my alarm - which was blaring some obnoxious ringtone that I was sure must have awoken all of my camping companions - before pulling on every layer of clothing I'd brought into the tent. Only then did I climb down the ladder - to clear skies and an orange glow on the horizon.

Desert sunrise.

With not a cloud in the sky, I knew I wasn't going to get the most spectacular of sunrises - but a butte behind camp seemed like a good place to get a different perspective in the morning light. I headed that direction - unsure if it was even possible to reach the top of the ridge - eventually finding my way up a slightly-more eroded section, where the layers of sandstone were as interesting as the climb.

Confused layers.

I'd beaten the sun to the summit - though I could tell it wasn't far behind. It was at Alstrom Point, on our F.U. Rain trip that Mike @Digiratus first told me about the special time - with the sun just below the horizon - when the lack of shadow makes for great lighting. Boy, that was never more true that on this morning, the orange sandstone radiating into the sky, lending a tinge as it transitioned to its daytime blue.

Camped under the tower at Airport A.

And then, as I turned around, the sun crested the horizon in the distance. I still couldn't see the great ball of fire - I was just a little too low - but its rays on the canyon walls were a sure sign of its imminent arrival.

This, apparently, is why it's called White Rim.

And then, my camera battery died. I couldn't believe it - just as the sun was going to start painting the tower behind our camp! With no other choice, I envisioned myself sprinting down the side of the butte, though in reality it was probably a fast walk. A couple minutes later I reached camp - as quietly as I could given that everyone else was still in bed - and settled for a much nearer photo than I'd been expecting. Still, nothing to complain about.

Having enjoyed my time up on the ridge, but now in no rush at all, I headed back to the top to soak in a few more minutes before everyone else was up and about in camp, the sun now fully spilling across the landscape - it was going to be a beautiful day!

Camp perimeter.

With only one thing on the agenda for the day - to continue our adventure along the White Rim Trail - there was no huge rush to get out of camp early, and it was 9:30am by the time we had everything packed away and ready to roll. With Ben @m3bassman and Kirsten leading the way, Will @willhaman21 and Angie, and I fell in behind as we pulled out of camp.

We are - apparently - a travelling CVT commercial.

Having camped at Airport Tower butte, it didn't take long for us to pass Washer Woman Arch. The only catch - for me at least, having done no research at all for this trip - was that I had no idea the arch was even a thing, and so we - or at least I - drove by, completely oblivious.

That pinnacle formation that I thought looked like a cool background is in fact, Washer Woman arch.

I even happened to capture the arch in a photo, without realizing it!

Most of the White Rim Road travels along a middle-tier of the canyon, with steep cliffs to the bottom, and a second set of canyon walls and buttes rising up to the top layer. Winding its way over the rocky and dusty terrain, the road flirts with the edge of the canyon time after time, allowing plenty of opportunities to get out and enjoy the undercut cliff edges and geology of the lower tier.

A trail where being comfortable with heights is beneficial.

Hey look, there's Washer Woman arch again.

Though I missed Washer Woman arch,  we all stopped for a few moments at our closest point to Mesa arch, high on the upper canyon wall, to watch ant-size people walk around and under the magnificent structure.

Mesa arch.

Then, it was back on the trail, the view in my side mirrors just as splendid as the one though the windshield. Maybe better even, as I stopped again, and pulled out the camera.

Oh hey, Washer Woman arch. Again. From the wrong angle.

With that, the trail wound itself away from the edge and we all enjoyed the views from one turn to the next - sometimes surrounded by tall cliffs, other times seemingly looking out over the top of the world.

I'll never tire of the La Sals.

Some of the overlooks - when the trail worked its way back to the canyon edge - were more dramatic than others. For me, the places with thicker white-rock layers on top of the softer red rock were especially beautiful. We'd stop at each one for ten minutes or so, all of us getting closer to the edge than Kirsten was comfortable with.

Note the tree growing at the top of the crack, for scale.

I found myself wondering how canyon fingers like this are created, no ongoing river to erode the walls.

Several spots along this section of trail seemed to have more hoodoos than the rest, perhaps an indication of the geological make up of this part of the canyon. (Hoodoos typically consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded stone that protects each column from the elements.)

Giant hoodoos.

Hoodoo arch.

On we went, our progress quick when we were moving, but slow overall. By now, we were all starting to get a bit hungry, so Ben suggested we stop for lunch at an overlook known as White Crack. Just as soon as we could get there - of course - since it wasn't as though we were going to stop looking over the edge of the canyon when the opportunity arose!

Looking out to the aptly named Monument Basin.

We arrived at White Crack - the halfway point of the entire trail - right around 1:00pm. With views in every direction, it was clear why this was one of the more popular camp sites. However, given that it was mid-day, the place was empty so we parked the trucks, made our sandwiches, and trekked the half-mile or so to the canyon edge.

Trusty steeds waiting under Junction Butte, at White Crack.

The views are better out there.

From our spot on the point - way off in the distance - rose a series of Needles. This of course was the Needles District, another of the three districts in Canyonlands National Park, each district separate and disconnected (at least via vehicular travel) from the others.

Another great place to explore.

We poked around for a while - the views easily overcoming the sandwiches we'd prepped to fill our bellies - and then Ben and Angie got the great idea to jump over the white crack. There was no real danger here - the gap between hoodoos was no more than 16 inches, but imagine the following that could be gained on #TheGram.

Looked good till she landed.

The problem - as often seems to be the case when showboating - was that the focus was on the in-air-time, rather than the landing. As such, a misplaced foot led to a drop-and-roll, and ultimately a seriously sprained (though suspected to be broken at the time) ankle. Oops.

Resting the foot and filling the bellies.

Eventually - and with a little help from also-a-good-crutch-Will - we all headed back to the trucks to continue our journey, the track now following the Green River rather than the Colorado, along which we'd meandered for the last 24 hours. Except for that slight change however, the views and terrain were consistent, and we availed ourselves of the cliff edges, frequently.

To this point, nothing along the trail had been the least bit technical. I mean sure, I'm not sure I'd have wanted to drive the family sedan, but I think we were all starting to wonder - if even just a little bit - why does the National Park Service have requirements in place that require not just 4WD - but high-clearance, 4Lo capable vehicles?

The answer - most likely - are the few places like Murphy Hogback. Even this section doesn't really hold a candle to the more technical trails in other parts of the park, but I suppose that the requirement helps ensure preparedness all aspects of this remote road.

Up the Murphy Hogback. No problem, even in the reasonably stock Tundra.

It was here - as we crested the hogback - that the subject of Will and Angie heading to camp ahead of the two green trucks was broached. With her foot in significant pain - and temptation to get out and look around at each stop so great - we all understood. The problem was, Angie - like the rest of us - wanted to see everything. We all understood that too.

For the time being then, we stuck together, down the west side of Murphy Hogback and into Soda Springs Basin. Our next destination was the Black Crack, but before that we had a few miles of winding trail in front of us.

Descending into Soda Springs Basin.

Candlestick Tower.

Our first peek of the Green River.

It was during this segment of the trip that things got a little more unfortunate. At a rather chewed up section of the trail, my suspicion is that Ben thought the flexiness of of the terrain would make for some fancy photos, and so asked Kirsten to get out and snap a few shots. He was right, I'm sure. However, while making her way backward up the hill, Kirsten stepped into a hole - or off a rock, I'm not entirely sure - and took a significant tumble onto her side and back, mashing up her elbow in the process.

It wasn't turning into a good afternoon for the ladies.

The flexy section of trail.

After removing a sizeable chunk of apparently-looked-like-a-bloody-maggot dead skin, Kirsten got bandaged up and dusted herself off, a requirement according to Ben who, "didn't want to get the truck dirty." Let me tell you, Kirsten took that a lot better than I'd have expected her to in that situation!

And with that, we were back on the trail - a couple hundred vertical feet between us and our destination.

Going down.

Before long, we'd arrived. At the time, I thought it was just another one of our normal stops - some view over the edge of the canyon to something breathtaking below - but as we walked out over the white sandstone, Ben ran ahead and then laid down and peered down between the rocks.

"This is so crazy!" he said with a big smile on his face as he looked back up. We'd arrived at the Black Crack.

A fault, surely.

Running through the sandstone for hundreds of feet, Black Crack and ranges from a several inches to a few feet in width until it reaches the edge of the canyon. There, looking over the edge, the crack extends hundreds of feet down, raising the adrenaline a bit as you jump over! Of course, it's not quite that deep along it's entire length, but I'd rather not fall the 65' of some of the shallower areas, either.

We explored the length of the crack for a while, but the thing I found most interesting here was actually a horseshoe bend in the Green River. I don't know why, but these formations are always so intriguing - the inefficiency of them adding to their allure.

Long way round.

As we enjoyed the views, Angie was finally at a point where she could take it no longer. Hobbling back to the truck, she and Will called it an afternoon and headed towards camp while Ben, Kirsten and I took a more leisurely pace with frequent stops.

Never-ending rim.

Unbeknownst to me - a trend through this trip - Ben had one more stop for us before we'd make our way, slowly, to camp for the evening. And, as he pulled over along the side of the road in the middle of a wash, I asked over the CB radio, something along the lines of, "what's going on."

We'd arrived at the Holeman slot canyon. With narrows only a few hundred feet long, it was clear from the get go that the biggest challenge with this little jaunt was the water. Several tanks in the bottom of the canyon were full, and required ~7 foot leaps to foot-sized holds in order to keep our feet dry.

It wasn't too much of a problem as we descended the canyon, and the narrow walls and tight turns were exceptional in this little gem. Even the floor of the canyon was interesting, dry, curled, mud adding interest in the shadows.

Chocolate shavings?

The problem came as we made our way back up to the trucks. Foot placement was less optimal in this direction, and a splash followed by profanity were all I needed to hear in order to know that Kirsten hadn't made one of the holds. And the water was deep - up to her thigh; no fun! Not a good afternoon for the ladies.

Always the gentleman, Ben took the opportunity to ask her to carry the camera the rest of way, wading through the puddles, so he didn't have to as he anteloped his way up the canyon. Smooth Ben, smooth.

From the slot canyon, we had only a few miles to our camp at Potato Bottom, miles we covered (relatively) quickly - enjoying the early evening light but still wanting to arrive prior to sunset.

Heading to camp in the orange glow of evening.

We'd lost a lot of elevation, bringing us much closer to the Green River at this point.

My roaming gnome.

As we pulled into camp, Will and Angie were already set up - Angie's foot raised and several anti-inflammatories ingested. They'd been there only half an hour waiting for us - not too bad given the time we'd spent along the way, and an indication of the speed we must have carried over this section of trail.

Everyone set up and ready to enjoy the evening.

Like the previous evening, dinner and conversation carried on for a few hours before the chill in the air pushed us all towards our tents. As the moon rose, I reflected on the long - but a great - day on the White Rim trail. So great that some of the sights became almost monotonous. Crazy how that happens!

Warm under the covers, there was almost no breeze as I dozed off to sleep, happy for what I thought was going to be a peaceful night sleep. And it was, until about 2:00am...



The Whole Story


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  1. Lapsley HOpe
    Lapsley HOpe April 7, 2021

    Your photos and travel blogs are really good, very enjoyable. Have you thought of some how incorporating your blog into a YT channel? You could do some videography and insert your photos throughout the video, and use a spoken narrative to relate your travel stories. I think you would have a very receptive audience.

    • turbodb
      turbodb April 7, 2021

      Hi Lapsley, I'm glad you're enjoying the stories and photos! Folks have asked about a YouTube channel in the past, but I've always shied away from it. Video really does take quite a bit longer to process, not to mention the extra setup and recording time in the field. That's all time I'd much rather spend actually exploring, so I've tried to strike a balance with the photos and writing. I do recognize that it might take a little more effort to consume, since it requires reading, but... for now, that's the way it is. Maybe in the future I'll switch it up though!

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