Utah’s park designers like the name “Devil’s Garden“. You can find such gardens in Arches, Canyonlands, and Escalante / Grand Staircase. In the East, the word garden conjures lush scenery with the sights and smells of flowers, or perhaps a bounty of fresh vegetables. In Utah, the Devil apparently prefers his gardens with minimal vegetation, lots of rocks in fantastic shapes, great heat and little shade.
We have visited the Canyonlands “Needles” district twice, both times in August when temperatures regularly peak over 100 degrees, sometimes 110. Hiking in these conditions requires caution and preparation. Water sources are scarce, so you’d better carry your own. Following our route is more difficult than its 10 miles suggest, because of the heat and the weight of the water you must bring. I’m sure it’s easier in cooler months.
From Elephant Hill Trailhead, we followed the Chesler Park Trail to Elephant Canyon. The scenery features the spires and hoodoos that characterize the Needles area. They resemble mushrooms or giant melting cakes more than needles. Amazingly beautiful and varied.
We saw almost no other hikers, despite often being able to see a great distance. Trail intersections are pretty well marked with signs and distances. Between intersections there’s no other indication that you’re in the right place. Since the trails follow irregular canyons, climbing and descending so that they often come back to similar locations at different elevations, it can be unnerving. We ended up misinterpreting the sign that should have led us to Elephant Canyon, so we were on the wrong path for most of half an hour.
From Elephant Canyon we entered a group of needles, climbed a winding route to near their tops and suddenly, unexpectedly, we were in Chesler Park, a wide grassland surrounded by large peaks that we didn’t remember crossing. The entrance to the area is really amazing; it’s like a magic trick.
By now, we were very hot and we were looking forward to the Joint Trail, which leads through a shady slot canyon. Again, the landscape gave very little clue about how far it was to the Joint. And then we were there. Down a few steps into a slot with a main crack that goes straight and vertical for almost half a mile.
We left through the other side of the Joint, leaving Chesler Park. This put us on the way to Devil’s Garden and Devil’s Kitchen. We intended to add a few extra miles to see the Kitchen, but time and heat were against us and we opted instead to take the Chesler Park Loop Trail back towards where we began.
This was an exhausting day, but I still consider it among the most amazing places I’ve ever visited.