Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Salt Creek

An overnight backpacking trip in the far southern corner of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park with Still Waters.
Looking down into Salt Creek Canyon from Cathedral Butte Trailhead.
After descending a thousand feet, it's smooth walking on the Salt Creek Trail
Kirk’s Cabin build by a rancher in the 1890’s
Clear flowing water near Kirk's Cabin
While Still Waters hangs out in camp, I go on a ramble. Seeing Kirk Arch on the map, it seems a worthy destination. Just a mile from the trail up a side canyon. How long could it take? Probably just gone an hour, right? (This is what happens when I don’t read the reports ahead of time that this arch is “inaccessible.”)
Our campsite, SC1, had sprawling shade trees perfect for an afternoon nap
Scouting up and down the main trail showed no evidence of a social trail to the arch. The sheer, steep banks along Salt Creek prevented a direct route. Backtracking up and around the spring and through a jungle of sagebrush, meandering around sidewashes, and finally pulling on rainpants to provide protection from thick brush. Scrambling down the bank, bellycrawling up the other side, fingers clawing the dirt to gain a purchase. Wondering what the heck am I doing this for? Tiptoeing through the cryptobiotic soil and backtracking along slickrock and washes some more to avoid large patches of the fragile desert soils.
Finally reaching a wash below the arch, which provides some easy walking.
Two hours later, I am not even close to the arch. But I get to a high spot where I can convince myself I can’t go any further with my rock climbing/ scrambling skillset. If I had a decent camera with telefoto lens, I could have gotten a better photo from the trail and lounged around camp this whole time. Instead I am scratched up, hungry, and on my way to becoming one with the sand and dirt. Happy, in other words.
Turn around spot.
 But with only an hour to get back to camp before sunset and the time I’d told Still Waters I’d return, its a bit of a push. One of the problems with leaving as few footprints as possible is that it makes following my tracks back more difficult. I race to get back to camp feeling engaged with the landscape. With senses fully awake, the duskywings crusing up and down the wash come into focus and I spot a packrat scurring along a ledge at dusk (first time I’ve ever seen that!).
Also spot a lizard with bright blue markings. Might be a plateau fence lizard. 
I return to camp 5 minutes after the agreed upon time. Exhausted but completely satisfied. There is enough time to climb above camp for sunset watching and dinner. Still Waters gives me half of an avocado she packed in and I spread it on my tortilla and it is the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted in my entire life.
Sunset watching spot above Kirk's Cabin.
This is Still Water’s first time cowboy camping, which is sleeping out under the stars instead of in a tent. I remember being scared about critters crawling on me the first time I cowboy camped. The next morning when I ask her how it was she says “It was like we are kids sleeping out in the backyard, pretending we are camping out in the wilderness.”

Which I think captures the essence of what I love most about sleeping out under the stars, and rambling bushwhacks— it feels like playing. Like being connected with the joy of the outdoors without the barriers of the tent, without fiddling with Fancy Gear, without having to follow some predefined path to get to somewhere in particular. Without having to be anything but ourselves.

More Information
Backcountry permits are required in Canyonlands National Park. Follow all backcountry regulations required to protect this fragile and very beautiful environment. We carried our food in a bear canister and packed out our poop.
Packing out my poop in a wag-bag.


  1. Those wag bags are the worse design. I used mine from Canyonlands while snow camping. I made a huge mess. The poop shooter experiment was much much better.

    1. Agreed! Our DIY wag-bags were much better design and more packable. Still think we gotta do the PVC pipe experiments.

  2. Your turn around spot was gorgeous! Ahh, canyonlands, what memories just came up....happy sigh

    1. There is no place like canyonlands and my memories of the place will always be tied to our first trip there. To this day, I'm glad we went back the same way that last day instead of bailing out at Salt Creek... and I will never forget you carrying my pack over that traverse... I think I gained a lot of confidence by confronting my fear of heights and learning to trust my balance and using our awesome teamwork skills. Life lessons for sure.

  3. Hey kids, I found this bag of crackerjacks. Mmmm. Here you go!