1 May 2012
The drive from Moab to Canyonlands was cramped. Four people, three bikes, food, water, and camping equipment for the three nights on the road — all in a 2-door jeep. But with a stuffed roof box, bikes strapped on any available exterior space, and laps full, the 45 minute trip from Moab was over before anything popped out or dropped off of the jeep.
The overcast morning sky did little to dampen our excitement. We offloaded the bikes and repacked the jeep at the visitors center. After getting the paperwork for our reserved campsites, we headed north to the Shafer Trail turnoff. This was the last pavement for the the next three days, and I don’t think we cherished the smoothness as much as we should have.
After a short ride, we again walked out to the edge of the canyon to the Walking Rocks. Here the White Rim Sandstone has eroded so that it’s just a large capstone over a thin hoodoo of underlying rock. From here the high cliffs of Dead Horse Point loom over the river and smaller cliffs.
Musselman Arch concluded our off-bike excursions for the day, and the remainder was just biking. The wind had kicked up from the south which made for some hard pedaling as that’s the direction the road took us. And you know it’s blustery when you have to pedal while doing downhill.
We made it into Gooseberry Campground 8 hours and 29 miles after setting off from the visitors center. In plenty of time to view the sun’s final light on the La Sal mountains. We stayed at campsite A, the first one you get to on the left (traveling the White Rim Road clockwise). B is on the right and is up-canyon. I think A is the preferred site here because it has good access to the canyon rim and decent views of the La Sal mountains. We had weather moving through, so the wind was unrelenting.
2 May 2012
The dawn brought us another cloudy morning. We said goodbye to the items the wind blew away during the night, packed up camp, and set off. The morning was easy-going — the road today was mostly smooth dirt. And by now the extraordinariness of the landscape had settled into the expected. You still saw as many towers, hoodoos, and vistas, but after a night in their company they became more ordinary. To gawk at them would be unseemly — they belong here.
Much like yesterday’s Walking Rocks, the tall brown hoodoos in Monument Basin wear their White Rim sandstone hats as they seem to line up down the canyon.
For lunch, we took a left from the main road and went down the sandy road to White Crack, the southernmost point you can easily get to. It’s here that the Colorado and the Green rivers narrow the Island in the Sky to a point. And though you can’t see their confluence from here, you can feel it. And it really is a special place. The La Sals, the Henries, and the Abajo Mountains all beckon in the far distance. But in all directions, except the thin trail you just walked, the layered & gouged landscape offers no hope of a journey to meet them.
View from White Crack
The Murphy Hogback provided the challenge of the second day, one that we weren’t particularly up for. As we approached the steep ascent to the top of the 300′ ridge, we saw Rich drive the jeep up the road. Sticking to the easy-going theme of the day, we skipped the peddling and walked our bikes up to the campsite.
The Murphy Campground gave us the best views of the whole trip. Only a bit removed from the White Crack, it retained the wildness and impenetrability of the landscape. Facing south, we could see the slanting sun on both the Needles and the Maze District. The day’s clouds had cleared and we watched the canyons slowly fade to night.
First and foremost, there’s the view – the southern part of the park is laid at your feet. Next, it has a beautiful rock formation that serves as the focal point of the camp, with seating and wind-break features built right in. And it’s after the hard ascent of the Murphy Hogback — believe me, you’ll need to take a break. This campsite was both literally and figuratively the high point of our White Rim Road trip.