You know the only 8 inches of precip I mentioned in that previous warning? On our 2011 trip, I think they got about half of that in just 4 days. Felt like it, anyway. A downpour that's no big deal anywhere else can be a very big deal in Southern Utah; all that rock leaves water nowhere to go but DOWN. In a hurry. Into any and every space it can fill.
Heavy rains and thundershowers had us hightailing it off pinnacles and up out of canyon floors. They washed out trails and roads, flooded slots, made slickrock even slicker, and turned dry washes into raging torrents.
Rain is no more than an annoyance on the shorter trails and overlooks but can be a real pain in the fanny for those involving dirt roads, longer primitive trails or low, tight spaces. And high, open spaces are no place to be when it's lightning. Roads and trails that cross washes can quickly become impassable in a sudden storm and strand hikers, bikers and vehicles in less than optimal places. Slots or fractures can be positively deadly traps of rising water, fast-moving debris with no quick means of escape. Check with the rangers on weather conditions before setting off on long hikes, and make other plans if a cats-and-dogs downpour is possible anywhere in the area: flooding is possible from storms miles away.
As always, you should obey all warning signs. They are there for your safety and to protect the park, its wildlife, and its plants. It is easy to get dehydrated at this park, so drink lots of water. Also keep in mind that some of these trails are narrow and have steep drop-offs. There are little to no facilities in the park so bring your own and gas up before coming into the park.
No doubt about it, Canyonlands is one beautiful but dangerous place and even very experienced hikers can get into big trouble here. It was near the Horseshoe unit that one now-famous individual had to hack off an arm with a pocktknife after 6 days under a rock, and another broke a leg and crawled for 4 days until being spotted: not my idea of a good day on vacation.
Most of the trails are solid and relatively safe but many run along rims that are not protected and, as are many at the Grand Canyon, it's a long, long way down so watch for loose rock and soil and where your feet are at all times. This not a great place to bring wee folk who tend to run, headlong, in every direction: kiddies will require a tight rein.
You are also largely on your own: we saw very few people on some of our hikes and no one at all on one 8-miler. A debilitating injury could mean a long wait until rescue so scrambling and canyoneering should be done with appropriate caution. If you are backcountry hiking, get a permit, take a friend (please), go well-equipped, let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be out, and have a safe trip!!!
Dogs and other pets are not allowed on any of the trails, in the backcountry or in the visitor center, and can only be walked on the roads and parking lots. They have to be leashed at all times and can't be left in vehicles unattended. This park is a real scorcher in the summer so please, please leave Rover at home - or in a nice, cool kennel in Moab - and not in the car!!!!! Call:
Karen's Canine Campground at (435) 259-7922
Desert Doggie Daycare at (435) 259-4841
Moab Veterinary Clinic at (435) 259-8710.
Cairns, those little pyramids of stones along the trail, are there for two reasons:
A. To keep you from getting lost and/or away from dangerous or unstable places
B. To keep you off cryptobiotic crust
"Cryptobiotic" means "hidden life" and these lumpy, living colonies of microorganisms, algae, lichen and whatnot help keep the desert surface from washing or blowing away, and give plant life a fertile, friendly place to germinate and grow. It's very fragile and some types take many, many years to form. Step on it and you've just wiped out 10 - 100 years of growth. It usually looks like a bumpy black fungus covering large or small areas of ground but some kinds are difficult to recognize, unless you know what you're looking for, or are just starting to form.
So please, please help keep the desert healthy and beautiful and don't hike, bike or 4-wheel off clearly indicated trails, paths or roads.
Southern Utah averages only about 8 inches of rain a year and temperatures can easily top 100 degrees (+37 F) during the summer and early fall. You'll see reminders everywhere to drink plenty of water, pack at least a quart (short hikes) to a gallon (longer treks) along for the day, and cover your head: dehydration/sunstroke is no joke and many trails have little shade.
As drinking water is available very few places inside the parks, fill your bottles at your hotel or at the visitor center before making for the trailhead. We carried a collapsible, 2-gallon water bag in the car for quick refills, and camelbacks are great if you have one.
Drink and then drink some more. Having been to the dizzy, stomachache stage of dehydration, I have some firsthand experience with how fast it can slap you upside the head. Yup, that bottle of (eventually) lukewarm water is going to taste like crap so bringing along some of those zero-calorie flavoring packets to make it go down a little easier is one fine idea.
This is a tip I give to all my friends before we head to the desert. It is one they comment on as the tip they felt helped them to enjoy their trip. When people would come to visit us in Utah the first thing we would do is hand them a large bottle for water and tell them to fill and drink it every day
About 4 days before you leave home for the desert start hydrating your person. Make an effort to push water. Drink at least a couple of quarts a day more is better.
You will find that this will make your transition to the dryer environment much more pleasant. It will help you to adjust to the heat and dry air.
Your time is limited it is a shame to waste the first day or so suffering from dehydration.
Hydrate or die as they say
Not to be too dramatic but without water here you will die in very short order. You must carry and maintain access to water at ALL TIMES.
I have personally been involved the recovery of two bodies that were the result of too little water. Be sure to have access to at least 1 gallon of water per person per day.
I know that this seems drastic if you are from a more temperate area. You must trust me the air is very dry here and the prospect of finding water at natural sources is much more difficult than in many other places.
Stay hydrated as much as you can. The best canteen is your stomach. Fill water bottles at every opportunity. Keep a 5 gallon water jug in your vehicle and keep it full. The distances here are VAST. If you have a mechanical failure you may be in for a LONG walk.
Be hyper water conscious and enjoy a safe trip here.
This regional area and a lot of others in the desert of the Utah dry country has this type soil. It is good for the ecosystem, and needs to be preserved at all costs, or much is lost to future vegetation, slim as it is. The facts are is this is a soil cover crust to provide protection from the erosion of the weather impact and mitigates runoff so the vegetation can grow more readily. It absorbs 10 time the normal runoff in desert climates. That rough surface catches the rain and traps it so it goes into the soil. The soil contains bacteria, algae, fungi, moss and lichens that all provide nutrients to the vegetation to be able to grow.
The mature crust looks like the below picture; dark and with humps. If someone/something steps on or runs over this crust, it is a disaster. The crushed soil takes 20 years to recover in good areas and 250 years in less rainfall sections.
While engaging in outdoor activities in the warm months be sure to carry plenty of drinking water with you. The park recommends at least one gallon of water per person per day.
Be aware that flash floods can occur without warning, so never camp in a dry wash or drive across a flooded area.
During the rainy season lightning can be of danger, so it is recommended that you avoid overlooks during thunderstorms.
Park trails are primitive, often marked by piles of rocks called cairns, and not maintained. For this reason always use caution when hiking and backpacking.
Canyonlands has a desert like climate with very hot summers, quite pleasant falls and springs, and cool winters that can bring light snow. Most of the precipitation is in the late summer and early fall with possible thunderstorms. In the summers expect daytime temperatures to range from 80 to 100 degrees F. Spring and fall are more pleasant for hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities with temperatures usually ranging from 60 to 80 degrees F. When we were there in January we found daytime temperatures in the mid 40s and low 50s. Although this sounds like it was unpleasant, the beautiful dry sunny, cloudless, windless days allowed the sun to feel even warmer than the temperatures actually were. I started out hiking with a system jacket setup for winter weather, and soon had the lining removed reducing it to a lighter weight coat. We were told, however that you can expect a range from 30 to 50 degrees during the winter season.
Services are limited in the park, and drinking water is not available at the Maze. Food, stores, lodging except for campgrounds, or gasoline are not available in any of the districts. Although the Canyonlands Needles Outpost, which is 1.5 miles from the Needles Visitor Center has gasoline, some food, and limited supplies, they are not always open and can be expensive. The week we spent in the area in the winter they were never open. For full services you will have to travel to Moab, Green River, Hanksville, Monticello or other nearby towns. Weather can make some areas of the park impassable, so be sure to check at the visitor’s center to see what the trail and park road conditions are.