The paved road to Island in the Sky in Canyonlands National Park leads up to the top of the mesa. From this high point, the vastness of the canyons is awe-inspiring. The mesa is wedged between two great western rivers, the Green and the Colorado. Most visitors remain high on the overlooks. Yet, a half dozen trails plunge over the edge intercepting the White Rim Road, which winds 100 miles on a shelf between mesa top and canyon bottom. Popular with jeeps much of the year, one major access point to the White Rim Road is still closed due to snow. Do other hikers read “Road Closed” signs as “Welcome Hikers in Search of Quiet”? It’s my choice as a first solo overnight backpacking trip this season.
|View from the rim.|
In contrast, only a few sets of footprints stretch out ahead of me on the Lathrop Trail.
|Snow along the mesa top amidst native grasses.|
|Lathrop Trail pours over sheer Wingate cliff.|
|Not as bad as it first appears.|
|Soon enough, it’s time to look back and marvel at the tops of the cliffs and the power of legs, and feel the joy of being alive and small in a place of towering sandstone.|
|I startle a flock of birds and they fill the air with a sudden burst of energy.|
|Air still and silent except for the echo of footfall on rocks, as I leap across cracks and crevices.|
|The cattle tank I get, but an ironing board? What use would smartly-pressed clothes have out here?|
|Looking for a camp|
Colors change as they do each evening. From this spot, feelings of awe wash over me. Pulling out topo maps, I can connect a few dots in the vast landscape of spires, mesas, and layers of canyon. The La Sals peek out behind taller cliffs, their warm pink snowy glow melting my heart. An overlook that I visited the previous evening with a new friend is just across the river. Anchors of familiarity providing comfort.
|To connect the dots.|
The Lathrop Trail in Canyonlands National Park is 6.8 miles to the White Rim Road and 10.8 miles to the Colorado River. Backcountry permits are required for all overnight camping. Carry all your own water. Even if fresh surface water is present, leave this precious resource for the caddisfly larvae and other wildlife. January provided cool temperatures with bits of snow at higher elevations and complete solitude (no other people seen on this trip).