Friday, May 29, 2009

Campground of the Week: June 1-8 Lava Point, Zion National Park

My friends just left for Zion National Park to do the Subway slot canyon top-to-bottom. I'm a little envious knowing how cool of an adventure their hike will be. The Subway is a unique tunnel-like canyon that looks very much like it could have a commuter train packed full of New Yorkers about to come around the next bend. Except that its tucked away into the wilderness of a national park. Hiking the Subway top-to-bottom requires a rappel and swimming through clear, cold, deep, pools of water. Brrrrr! The long climb back out of the North Creek Creek drainage can be both taxing and brutally hot after a long day of hiking. But the one-of-kind beauty you'll find in the heart of the Subway makes it all worth it. In my opinion the best campground to stay at before (or after) hiking the Subway is Lava Point in the Kolob Terrace region of Zion National Park.

Lava Point Campground

Free camping in a national park? Here's a rare gem. Located in the Kolob Terrace above Zion Canyon, this is a wonderful alternative experience to the other campgrounds in Zion National Park. Small, quiet, free, and cool, this campground is as different from the canyon floor as you'll find. Aspen and oak groves dot the pleasantly small loop. The park service is currently engaged in a fuel-reduction and aspen-restoration project around the campground. You'll notice some downded trees and burn piles, but they're far enough from the camping area to not have a negative impact on your experience. This by far the most natural, wild campground anywhere in Zion, if not in all of southern Utah's national parks. A short trail leads from the campground to the Lava Point Overlook, a great spot for sunset photography. Bring a long reaching zoom lens and a tri-pod to take advantage of the sweeping vistas of the distant canyon. From the overlook you'll get a top-down view of Zion Canyon.
West Temple Mountain, the highest point in Zion, is visible, as are the tops of many of the canyon's dominant features. This campground is great place to camp if plan on hiking the Subway slot canyon. Make sure to pick up your Subway permit before driving up to the campground, because they can only be arranged at the main visitor center in Zion Canyon.

Campsites, facilities: There are six camp sites for tents, small campers, and vans. Vehicles longer than 19 feet are not allowed on the Lava Point Road. Picnic tables, fire grills, garbage service, and vault toilets are provided. There is no drinking water. Leashed pets are permitted.

Reservations, fees: Reservations are not accepted. There is no fee. Open June through October, weather permitting.

Directions: Turn Left off (State) Route 9 on Kolob Terrace Road. Continue 20.4 miles and turn right. Drive 1.8 miles on a gravel road to Lava Point Campground.
GPS Coordinates: N 37 23.024' W113 01.972
Contact: Zion National Park 435/772-3256

Friday, May 22, 2009

Campground of the Week: Memorial Day, May 23-30th

Its that time, Memorial Day weekend, the official beginning of the summer recreation season. Campers will be out in force this weekend, so I'm suggesting a little used corner of the San Rafael Swell to avoid everyone else. "The Swell" is one of Utah's lightly used treasures. It's a great place to escape the crowds and see some amazing geology. Dirt bikers, ATV riders, mountain bikers, hikers, canyoneers, rock climbers, and river runners will all love the opportunities in San Rafael Swell. There are lots of undeveloped spots to camp in the Swell, but if you're looking for something that's established, Buckhorn Wash offers a beautiful, low key campground.

Buckhorn Wash
This minimally developed campground sits in an alcove of Navajo Sandstone in the lovely Buckhorn Wash. Buckhorn Wash, like San Rafael Swell in general, is stunningly beautiful yet relatively undeveloped compared to many of Utah's parks. It offers an opportunity to see the distinctive architechture of the Navajo formation and find solitude at the same time. The campground is just a 1/2 mile from the Buckhorn Wash Pictograph Panel. The Buckhorn Wash Panel is done in the Barrier Canyon style. "A style consisting of often life-sized, dark, painted, ghostly, figures with atenuated (stetched out), tapering bodies, frequently without arms painted in alcoves or overhangs. Sometiomes they have arms holding snakes, strings (like Inca Kepu's?), giving an "angel-like" apearance, sometimes mummy-like, often with dots, rays, and crowns above their heads and accompanied by birds, snakes, insects, and dogs. Mostly pictographs but some petroglyphs. Abstract elements at sites are rare." From: The Buckhorn Wash Pictograph Panel visitor's brochure (Emory Co. Lasting Legacy Project). The campsites themselves don't offer anything other than rock fire and a natural setting to camp it. You will be able to find a flat sandy spot to pitch a tent or park a self-contained camper. This one of the best free camping options in Utah. In addition to these sites there are another handful of sites scattered along the road near the Buckhorn Pictograph Panel. The road to the camping area is unpaved and a four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended.

Campsites, facilities:
There are about a half dozen campsites off two spur roads in the campground. The left road is in better shape than the right, which is best navigated with a high clearance vehicle. An open air toilet and fire rings are provided. There are no picnic tables or drinking water. Leashed pets are permitted.

Reservations, fees:
Reservationa are not accepted. There is no fee. Open year-round.

From Huntington, follow the BLM signs for San Rafael Recreation Area. Turn left on Center Street toward Lawrence. Turn left again after 2.8 miles, continue for 0.5 mile, and take the right fork to Buckhorn Draw. After 11.7 miles, you'll see a small campground with a toilet. The campground isn't labeled but is in a huge natural rock amphitheatre on the east (left) side of the road. Look for the cave to the left.
GPS coodinates: N 39 08.023' W 110 41.726'

BLM Price Field Office, 435/636-3600

Friday, May 15, 2009

Campground of the Week: May 16-23 - Sand Flats Recreation Area

This is the view up to the La Sal Mountains from the Sand Flats Recreation Area Campground. I just checked the weather report for Moab this week: clear skies, highs in the mid to upper 80's. Still great temperatures for mountain biking, off-roading, hiking, climbing, you name it. This time of year is ideal in the southeastern corner of Utah. This week's featured campground is Sand Flats Recreation Area, home to quite possibly the most famous mountain bike trail in the world, the Slickrock Trail.

Sand Flats Recreation Area
Combine expansive views toward the snow covered La Sal Mountains with front-door access to some of the most unusual and picturesque off-road terrain in the southwest and you'll have Sand Flats, one of the best campgrounds in the Bureau of Land Management system. Sand Flats is a lively crossroads of recreation and camping and helps make Moab the outdoor adventure epicenter it is. It is the trailhead for two legendary mountain bike trails, Slickrock and Porcupine Rim. Equally popular are the off-road jeep trails that leave from Sand flats and the many side roads around Moab.

Sand Flats is actually a complex of many small campground loops each with a dozen or so campsites. The layout finds a nice balance between campground amenities and preserving the natural setting. Well-distributed sites work in and out of the alcoves and fins of small, protruding red rock outcrops. The sites facing east enjoy gorgeous views of the red rock landscape and snowcapped La Sal Mountains.

Campsites, facilities: Campgrounds are broken down into nine seperate loops (A through H and Juniper) with a total of 124 campsites. There are two group sites: Radio Tower for up to 20 people and E-1 for up to 16 people. Picnic tables and fire grills are provided. Loops A-H have open-air vault pit toilets. There is no drinking water. Garbage disposal is available at the Slickrock Trailhead parking lot. Leashed pets are permitted.

Reservations, fees:
Reservations are not accepted for individual sites. Group sites can be reserved by calling 435/259-2100. There is a $10 reservation fee for group sites with a minimum charge of $50 per night. The fee is $10 per individual site for up to 5 people (includes day use fee), and a $2 fee for additional people or vehicles. There is day-use fee for Sand Flats of $5 per vehicle or $2 when entering on bicycle, good for three days. Pay camping fees at the entrance station. The campground is open year round.

Directions: From the intersection of Main and Center Street in Moab, drive east on Center Street to 400 East and turn right. Drive four blocks east on 400 East and turn left onto Mill Creek Drive. Continue straight on Mill Creek Drive as it becomes Sand Flats Road. The entrance to Sand Flats Recreation Area is 3.7 miles from downtown Moab.
GPS Coordinates:
N 38 34.567' W 109 31.184

Contact: BLM Moab Field Office, 435/259-2100,

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Campground of the Week: Devils Garden, Arches National Park

Its prime time in Moab right now, and for good reason. The weather is ideal, not too hot in the day, nor too cold at night. There are wildflowers blooming in the desert, and there's still snow left in the La Sal Mountains. College spring breaks have finished, leaving the parks, the trails, and the rocks less crowded and more enjoyable. There couldn't be a better time to check out Arches or Canyonlands National Parks. So, this week's featured campground is a classic: Devils Garden, the only campground in Arches National Park.

Arches National Park contains over 2,000 natural sandstone bridges and arches. The whole park has a teetering feel to it, like if the wind blew any harder huge sculptures of soft red rock might crumble down all around. It doesn't however, and makes for some of the most fascinating geology in the world. Devils Garden is the only campground within the park and is conveniently located near some of the best, most popular hiking. Be sure to check out Delicate Arch, the relatively short hike is worth the effort to reach this great scene to photograph. You'll recognize it from Utah license plates and landscape calendars. Rock climbers should plan on scaling owl rock, one of the shortest, least demanding desert towers in the area. The 100 foot crack climb up Owl Rock is rated 5.8 and is the most popular climb in the park. More info about the climb here. Kids will love playing on and around the red rock landscape at the campground, making this one of the best in the state for families. Scrub juniper and pinyon pine trees grow out of the red dirt in the well-designed and spacious campground. The sites are well spaced and provide a decent amount of privacy for being in a relatively open desert environment. Check with the rangers at the entrance station to see if there is space available before driving the 18 miles into the campground.

Campsites and Facilities: There are 52 individual tent and RV sites(up to 30 feet) for up to 10 people. Two group sites are available for up 35 or 55 people, depending on the site. Flush and pit toilets, picnic tables, fire grills, and potable water are provided. Bring your own wood or charcoal for fires and grills. Leashed pets are permitted.

Reservations and fees: Up to 28 individual sites may be reserved March 1-October 31, anywhere from 240 to four days in advance. The fee is $15 per night. There is a $9 reservation fee. The 24 unreserved sites are first come, first served and can be booked starting at 7:30 AM at the park entrance or visitor center. Group sites may be reserved between 360 and four days in advance and cost $3 per person, $33 minimum; no RVs are allowed in the group sites. For reservations call 877/444-6777 or 518/885-3689 or visit Open year round.

Directions: From Moab drive north on Hwy. 191 for five miles. Turn right into Arches National Park and continue 18 miles to Devils Garden Campground on the right side of the road.

Contact: Arches National Park Visitor Center, 435/719-2299,