Solitary Canyonlands Camping

Solitary confinement, loosely speaking, isn't such a bad thing — when it's on your terms.

I recently spent a week in the high desert of Utah on my annual fall vacation. I was with a couple of different buddies at different times for four days, and solo for three. It was all good, as the saying goes.

For my solo excursion, I drove to a secluded area south of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. My destination was near the remains of an old cabin a rancher built as a summer camp around the turn of the 20th century. After driving south of Moab for about an hour, then plodding along on washboard of a dirt roads for 33 miles, I turned a corner and caught a glimpse of Mel Turner's cabin and ancient corral through the pinion and juniper. And just as a dependable guide book promised, there was a decent camping spot a respectable distance from the old cabin.

I scrambled to set up my tent, collect firewood and pop a beer before sunset. I noted on the drive in that the closest campers were 15 miles to the east. Given my panoramic view from the south to the northwest as well as the limited number of roads, I was certain no one else was camping within several miles of those directions. Solitude achieved — with all the comforts of car camping.

I tend to stand around the fire when I camp alone.

Better to keep changing positions and keep an eye on your back. I'm no more paranoid than the next guy, but I had noted a seep in the cliff behind the cabin. Water pooled on the floor of an alcove. If I was a cougar in that country, I'd certainly be aware of all the water sources. Who knows what lurks at night? My concern was unfounded. I slept soundly without becoming kitty litter.

I spent the next day exploring Anasazi ruins, springs, tight canyon entrances and a modern but currently unoccupied cowboy camp while on a four-hour bicycle tour. My only challenge of the day was “double flatting” about an hour out of my camp. Goathead thorns penetrated both my front and rear tires, puncturing the tubes. I used my only replacement tube on the rear and my last patch on the front, cursing myself for not checking my supply of patches before the trip. I spent the rest of the ride bug eyed, closely examining the trail ahead of me and avoiding sharp objects.

Back around the fire that night, with a few beers and a homemade chicken and black bean burrito in my belly, I capitulated to a desire to hear something other than my own thoughts in my head. At least I did it in style — Led Zeppelin at full throttle.

Courtesy of the Aspen Times

Here are the un-solitary campsites to stay:

  • Calf Creek, Grand Staircase-Escalante: Cool off in nearby 126-foot-high Calf Creek Falls, Amenities: water and restrooms.
  • Squaw Flat, Needles District, Canyonlands: Walking distance from the best trails in the Needles District. Amenities: water, restrooms, fire pits.
  • Oowah Lake, Manti-La Sal National Forest: At 8,800 feet under the shadow of Mount Tukuhnikivatz, be prepared for chilly nights and cool sunny days. Amenities: water and restrooms.
  • The Wildman Alternative: OK, not so un-solitary. Pitch your tent pretty much anywhere on property owned by BLM. Ask around as you travel. If it's BLM, it's campable, but primitive.

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