Friday, August 1, 2014

Mesa Arch and Neck Spring Trail at Canyonlands National Park

Hike: Mesa Arch (see Neck Spring Trail details below)
Hike Difficulty: Easy
Hike Distance (Round Trip): .5 miles
Time (Round Trip): 30 minutes - 1 hour (with plenty of time for enjoying the view)

We woke up at 4:30am on our second morning in Moab. (We were camping at Up A Creek campground in town because we were worried we wouldn't find first come, first serve camping when we arrived. Pros - only tents allowed at campground, good shower/bathroom facilities, ice to purchase, easy walk to restaurants and grocery store. Cons - we were in town, really windy and dusty so our stuff got covered in dirt even with the rainfly on.) It is about 50 minutes drive to Mesa Arch in the Island in the Sky District, and we wanted to be there for sunrise. We made it right as the sun was rising, and we definitely were not the first ones there. Lots of folks with tripods waiting to get the same shot as everyone else. However, we just walked a little bit away from the swarm of 20 people or so, and it was fine and peaceful and definitely worth being there for sunrise. 

The "Honey Moon" at dawn on our way to Mesa Arch.

People waiting to take a picture at Mesa Arch.

On Eagle's Wings (no?)

The shot everyone was dying to get. 

The most beautiful "potted plant arrangement" done by Mother Nature herself.

After spending some time at Mesa Arch, we drove over to Green River Overlook to see the sun rising over the canyons there. Pretty spectacular view!

Green River Overlook

At 7:30ish, we were already at the Shafer Canyon Overlook Parking Area to eat some breakfast before heading out on the Neck Spring Trail. 

Hike: Neck Spring Trail
Hike Difficulty: Moderate (some scrambling up slick rock)
Hike Distance (Round Trip): 5.8 miles
Time (Round Trip): 3-4 hours
Elevation Change: 300 ft

First off, I highly recommend this hike! We had been reading a lot of different descriptions of hikes in Canyonlands. A lot of the longer hikes sounded a bit sketchy because they were super steep and had slippery rocks and a lot of elevation change. We could have done them, but we only had our running shoes with us and we felt like we didn't need to push it. The description for Neck Spring did NOT do it justice. The Canyonlands National Park Service website describes it as "a loop trail that passes historic ranching features as well as two springs and diverse plant life." While all of this is true, it also had it's own canyon and great views. I was really impressed with this trail. It changed a lot so it didn't get boring. And we saw NO ONE on the whole hike. Literally, zero people. If you have been to Arches or Canyonlands, you know how rare this is.

The hike starts out at Shafer Canyon Overlook Parking Lot on the south side of the parking lot (away from the big views). The trail immediately begins going down hill and quickly crosses the road. This trail does a lot of moderate descending and climbing, but nothing that is too challenging. The trail crosses no other trails, so it's pretty easy to follow. Just make sure you keep an eye on the cairns and it's easy. 

Historic Ranching Remnants

Utah's State Flower - Sego Lily

Lizard tracks everywhere!

I believe this is Taylor Canyon. Great spot to stop and have a snack. 

The only moderate part of this hike is the 250 vertical foot climb up slick rock to get back up to the top of the Island of the Sky Mesa. There was nothing sketchy about it. The cairns were easy to spot and none of the climbing was challenging. We then walked awhile along big expanses of slick rock before reaching the main road again. We crossed the road and then the trail hugged close to the road for the last 1/2 mile to a mile (because this section is basically "the neck" and there isn't that much land between the two canyons). The views of Shafer Canyon heading back to the parking lot were incredible.  

The rest of the afternoon, we checked out some other parts of the park, including Upheaval Dome. It was really crowded here, which proves once again that it just takes hiking on the longer trails to completely escape the crowds at national parks. 

Pretty meadows along the road in Canyonland National Park "Island in the Sky" District.

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