Weekend Adventure: The Needles

This was our fourth consecutive weekend adventure — we traveled every single weekend in June — and it was not quite the weekend we pictured. We have discovered that there is a mix of good and not-so-great moments on all these trips. When you are camping in a tent at the mercy of the elements, nothing is going to be perfect — such is life — and this weekend was a perfect example of a perfect storm.

It started out great! I had to go in to work (usually I work from home on Fridays so I can get everything packed and ready to go) for a company meeting so Kevin got home before me and packed everything into the truck. He only forgot like 3 (nonessential) items, and we still left before 4:00. We would have left earlier but Kevin had a hankering for Sodalicious so I waited in the long Friday afternoon line for our favorite Summer Lovin’ drink on my way home.

We stopped in Moab to eat at Wendy’s (trying to be frugal) and found ourselves at one of the most ratchet Wendy’s I’ve ever seen. Bathroom in complete disarray, no ice available at the fancy soda machines, and a handful of really strange people sitting in the dining room. But, we had an $8 dinner so it was a success and we forged ahead. We’ve never been to The Needles so we’ve never had a reason to drive all the way through the town of Moab — it’s a lot bigger than it seems!

The drive from Moab to The Needles was absolutely beautiful. Kevin especially liked it because there’s much more green in the scenery — the red rock is too desert-y for him. The road from the highway to The Needles was equally beautiful — and we gathered that it’s a frequent site for scenic drives as we passed several people driving solo in their nice cars with no camping equipment visible. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, but if scenic drives are your thing I highly recommend checking out that area.

We weren’t sure if there’d be a campsite available at The Needles since we couldn’t reserve one ahead of time (by the way, The Needles is part of Canyonlands National Park — there are 3 separate sections of the park), so we decided to check out Hamburger Rock campground which was a few miles before the park entrance. Hamburger Rock turned out to be this big rock with about 8 campsites around it — and the ground was pretty sloped and uneven, not great for a tent — so we kept going and crossed our fingers that a campsite would be available in the park.

Luckily (or so we thought) there were several campsites available! We picked on and started unloading our stuff. We had to stop and immediately cover ourselves in bug spray because there were mosquitos out, but they didn’t seem too bad. As soon as we got our tent out and started trying to set it up, the wind picked up. I don’t know exactly how windy it was because neither of us had cell service to check the weather, but it was huge gusts of wind. It was really frustrating at the time, but kind of comical now because the tent would not stay and it took us twice as long to get it set up.

Ironically, we had noticed these rocks sitting around the tent area (they had these little sandboxes for you to put your tent in) and we were like, what are these rocks for?

Well, they’re for securing the tent in the event of crazy wind — because as it turns out, you can’t stake the tent down in the sandbox. So, we finally got the tent up and I crawled inside it with all of our stuff to try and secure it so I could set up the sleeping pad. Meanwhile, Kevin was trying to get the vestibule set up by himself and I could hear him cursing to himself and laughing (or crying) as the wind worked against him every step of the way.

Kevin’s tent engineering skills!

Eventually, I got all the stuff set up inside the tent and Kevin had rigged up the vestibule using the rocks and it seemed to be secure. At this point, it was probably around 9:30 so we got in the tent and settled in for the night. Kevin wanted to finish his book so we read for about an hour and a half before going to bed. It was hot and the wind was still doing its thing, but at least it was quiet and there were no noisy people around.

Well, the wind — as it turns out — was the opposite of quiet. If there had been rain accompanying the wind, our tent would have been finished. We tossed and turned for about two hours, trying to sleep in the hot as balls tent with these crazy loud and unpredictable gusts of wind threatening to blow our tent over. I tried putting tissues in my ears as makeshift earplugs — didn’t work. I tried wrapping my pillow around my head — didn’t work, too hot. Eventually, Kevin sat up and said, “I can’t do this, I’m going to the truck.”

So we got up, grabbed our pillows and blankets and climbed in the truck. We tried several sleeping arrangements. Me in the backseat, Kevin in the passenger seat — no dice, not enough room for my legs and Kevin couldn’t recline the seat all the way. Me in the driver’s seat, Kevin in the passenger seat — not comfortable and we realized we’d need to open the windows because it was still too hot. In the midst of all this shuffling, we also set off the car alarm — but if anyone nearby could hear it, they were probably still awake anyway.

Finally, Kevin gave up and resigned himself to the fact that he was too tall to fit anywhere in the truck. Our late-night frustrated conversation went like this:

Kevin: “This is the only time I wish we would have bought a Tundra.”

Me: “This is the only time I wish we would have bought an Airstream.”

Me: “Do you think we’ll look back at this in 50 years and laugh?”

Kevin: “No, I think we’ll still be pretty bitter about it.”

Kevin grabbed the sleeping pad out of the tent and set it up in the bed of the truck. I climbed back into the backseat and rolled down the windows. I found a way to set up my pillow so it wrapped around my head a little bit and blocked out the wind noise, and I had rolled down the windows just enough to have a nice breeze blowing on my face, but I could hear Kevin angrily tossing and turning in the bed of the truck and I thought, “Any minute now he’s going to come in here and just start driving.”

Thankfully, I fell asleep and Kevin did not do that. I woke up in the morning — a little stiff and sore from the awkward sleeping position — and found that Kevin was gone. After a brief five seconds of panicking that he’d gone crazy and run off into the desert, I deduced that he must have gone back into the tent. I crawled back in with him and immediately regretted that decision because the wind had completely stopped and it was still hot as balls in the tent — now with no airflow.

I retreated from the tent back to the outdoors to make myself a coffee — where I was assaulted by swarms of bugs that didn’t appear to be biting me but were definitely not pleasant. I grabbed my coffee and my book and got back in the truck. Kevin got up as I was finishing my book and I told him to climb in the truck with me to avoid the bugs, which were already irritating him.

Kevin is not a morning person. He does not function until he has been awake for at least one hour, and this morning it was even worse because he confessed to me that he had maybe gotten two hours of sleep. It was too windy, then it was too cold, then the wind stopped and the bugs descended on him and he had to retreat to the tent where it was too hot. Needless to say, he was on the struggle bus. Trying to be positive, I said we should go to the visitor’s center and get a map and do our hikes, and then figure out what to do about the sleeping situation.

We took the scenic drive road out to the end of the park, stopping at a few short “hikes” along the way. The bugs were absolutely ridiculous. I don’t think any of them were biting us except the occasional mosquito, but we were having to swat them away from our faces every five seconds. We did see a guy wearing a full on netted hat to keep the bugs out, so we wondered if this was some sort of a known thing that the bugs are just terrible here.

We drove over to the visitor’s center and checked in, showed them our national parks pass and got a map — and of course, Kevin had to watch the video. We decided we would drive up the one road that you don’t need a permit for — I think it was called the Colorado River Overlook Road — and then do the Cowboy Camp hike and be done for the day. The offroad drive was fun — not too technical, but we didn’t make it all the way to the end — and had some beautiful views. We stopped the truck at a bit of a rough spot and decided to just walk out the road a ways and take some photos.

We ate our lunch — a delicious and refreshing cold peanut noodle salad — and headed back toward the Cowboy Camp hike. It’s not really a hike — maybe half a mile — but you get to see the remnants of an old cowboy camp and some petroglyphs and it’s pretty freakin’ cool. Obviously, it would have been cooler if not for the heat and the bugs — and we probably would have done other hikes but Kevin was running on fumes at this point.

We would have tolerated the heat, but the heat + wind at night + bugs was too much, especially after barely sleeping the night before. We didn’t want to stay another night, but we didn’t want to drive all the way home and throw in the towel — so we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel in Moab. We booked a nice hotel with a pool and started driving back. On our way back into town, we drove down the road to the Needles Overlook. If you’re driving out this way, I highly recommend taking this detour. It’s about 22 miles but the road is totally fine and you can drive pretty fast — and the view is so worth it. You can see The Needles as well as a bunch of other landmarks from this amazing viewpoint. I’m so glad we did this (although there were bugs here too, damn it!) because it made the whole trip worth it.

We also stopped at the Hole in the Rock, which is a tourist attraction right outside of Moab. It’s a house that was built inside the rock, and you can actually pay to take a tour of the house. The tour prices are a little steep but they’re worth it, and I’m happy that the little souvenir shop is making some money off this place so they keep it open. It’s a very cool house and I highly recommend taking the tour if you stop by. There are lots of cool facts about the family who built the house and lived in it. The only sad thing is that they used to have a diner open there and ended up closing it, which is such a bummer because I feel like that would be the coolest thing and they’d get a lot of business if they reopened the diner — but it’s still pretty awesome and Kevin wants to build us a house in a cave now. We also saw Wilson Arch, which you can pull over and see from the road — or walk all the way up to it!

Back in Moab, we stopped at The Spoke to grab our favorite ice cream, went on a search for swimsuits (we didn’t pack any), gave up on our swimsuit search and checked into our hotel. We decided it was too late for an afternoon nap so we went swimming in shorts (and a sports bra for me). It was the perfect way to spend our afternoon — cooling off in the pool and laying out to dry in the hot sun. We spent at least an hour out there before going to dinner. Since we were already having a “treat yo’self” moment, we decided to treat ourselves to Mexican food and share a margarita. 100% worth it.

When we returned to the hotel, Kevin tragically (and hilariously) rolled his ankle while taking off his shoes and almost took out an entire dresser and tv. He collapsed onto the bed and said, “We’re not hiking tomorrow.” I tried to wait an appropriate amount of time before laughing but failed and we laughed about how silly it was for at least half an hour before falling asleep (before 10pm).

I’m not big on hotels — I prefer my own bed — but after a night of sleeping in the backseat of a truck, that hotel bed was heaven and it felt like the best night’s sleep I’d ever gotten. We set an alarm for 8:15am so we’d have time to pack up and eat the free hotel breakfast — and we slept right up until the alarm went off.

I will say this about the hotel. The Big Horn Lodge is still my go-to because it’s so affordable and clean, but we stayed at the Aarchway Inn and they had just about the best continental breakfast I ever had. They had the whole spread, including biscuits and gravy (Kevin’s fav). I was able to get a really good price online and would definitely stay here again (not sponsored in any way, just shouting out some good hotel recommendations).

Since hiking was out due to Kevin’s ankle, we decided to go on a scenic drive. I found a cave on AllTrails that looked like it could be really fun to explore, and the directions were unclear but it seemed like you could drive right to it. So we decided to go on an adventure to find this cave. We ended up on a gravel road that is very popular for 4-wheelers and side-by-sides. We saw a car attempting to tackle this road and were amazed at how far they made it before they turned around. We had no issues in the truck but it was an incredibly bumpy experience.

The “trail” ended up just being the road continuing down the hill, so we followed the slightly more technical road down to the bottom of the canyon and eventually found the cave. Although it was mostly just dead ends, it was still a really fun cave to explore. There were parts of it where we had to use our lantern because it was completely pitch black, and at one point Kevin had to crawl through a really tiny space and he made it without freaking out. Unfortunately — because it was so nice and cool — there were mosquitos in there and we had to run back to the truck and grab our bug spray.

The drive back to Moab took way less time since we knew where we were going, and we had some fun with the 4WD and crawl settings in the truck — and of course we drove up a really steep hill just to see if we could do it. I definitely prefer hiking over driving, but it is still really fun to do and I know that Kevin has a lot of fun doing it. We found a few camping spots on our drive that we might try out the next time we’re in Moab, as well as a few hiking trails that I’ve put on my list.

Despite the fact that the weekend did not go as planned, we still had a lot of fun and enjoyed pampering ourselves with a little hotel stay. And now, we leave tomorrow for our long weekend trip to Mesa Verde National Park!

Published by Sami Hertel

Oregon native, current Utah resident, blogging about my adventures on lifeafteroregon.com!

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