The Lost Hiker, Big Spring Canyon Loop

The Needles District of Canyonlands trails range from red and orange and vanilla slickrock to thick riparian with sand and hidden springs. Many of the more popular hikes are long out and backs, ten miles or more. The Lost Hiker Trail is so named because a lot of people expecting to return to the Elephant Hill trailhead, miss a turn and find themselves at the campground instead. This usually ends in a three mile additional walk, or hitch-hiking.

We’ve hiked most of the trails in Needles during our five week volunteer stint, but still hadn’t been able to replicate the hike we did a decade ago with Northwest friends, Jack and Mary Lange. We remembered that we had started and ended in Loop A of the campground, but most of the many loop options start from the campground trailhead and we couldn’t remember any trail names. We decided we’d have one more go at it on our last hiking day.

We picked a route with missing links from earlier hikes, hoping that our visual memory would kick in when (if) we found the Jack and Mary loop. We did find at least find a couple of legs with unmistakable vistas, and a memorable double ladder saddle, but we’re still not sure we replicated our hike with Jack and Mary.

The 11 miles took longer than we thought because of some challenging route finding, and my unreliable left knee. The last few miles were particularly slow because the sunset light here is sharp and intense and I kept stopping. I can’t imagine putting my head down and hiking fast without stopping to photograph, or at least appreciate, the awesome (I don’t use that word often) red rock vistas and anthropomorphic details.

Today we check out at the visitors center, handing in government property and getting debriefed. We’re pretty sure we could come back again if we want. The three month stint National Parks want is a bit too long in one place with no cell signal and limited internet. Claire often has to be able to interview people by telephone and email and submit to magazines. It’s also a 105 mile round-trip drive to the nearest town for food (we need our veggies) and propane. We enjoy the isolation, and the beauty is unsurpassed. The employees are all good to work with, and interesting visitors arrive at the campground almost daily. It might be possible to split that time with someone else. We’ll see.

More about volunteering on public lands in a future post.


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