Canyonlands Solo Running Trip

Canyonlands Solo Running Trip

Starting Out

It had been almost a month since the Tahoe 200 race (which did not necessarily go as planned) and my adventure-loving gypsy soul was craving a solo running and camping trip to try and fill that need for adventure. I worked all my scheduling out, the weather was going to be nice, so I packed my Subaru and off to Canyonlands I drove. Music blasting as the sun shone through my window, I was excited to find a perfect camping spot and head out on the trails. Here’s how my days usually go: wake up early and watch the sunrise with my hot cup of coffee, explore as much as I can throughout the day, then spent the evening snuggling in my sleeping bag reading a good book. Sounds like heaven, right?

To find my camping spot I drove down a dirt road and found a location that would fit perfectly as my home base for the next 2 nights. The views from my tent looking east were Big Mesa and the La Sal Mountains. To the west was Canyonlands way off in the distance. I felt good so far, my sunrise/sunset situation was all set. Yes, I’m a nerd and my views of the horizon on both sides are a big deal to me.

By the time I set my tent up, there was maybe an hour of light left. I wanted to get in a run before it got too late, so I quickly headed to a trail nearby. The Big Mesa Trail which is widely known by bikers was my first trail of the weekend. I brought my headlamp and headed out on a short run. As I ran the sunset was a lovely bright red against the towering red mesa. This seemed to be a perfect way to start my weekend.

Lathrop Canyon

The next morning I woke early, journaled and read for a bit before I headed out to Canyonlands. My night sleep was fairly peaceful. Sometimes when I am camping alone I struggle to sleep and seem to wake up with every sound. I still have a bit of nerves that hit me when I’m camping alone. There was a handful of RV’s camping a couple of hundred yards away, so that seemed to ease my nerves a bit.

The first trail I was heading out on was Lathrop Canyon. I had never been before and I was excited to see something new. The trail starts out not looking too exciting. Just wide open fields with a bunch of small shrubs all around. After about 1.5 miles in you come to the edge of the canyon and that’s when the fun begins. When looking down into the canyon can’t help but feel awestruck by its vast beauty. There is so much to explore down there and I could feel this overwhelming desire for more time. I have to remind myself, one adventure at a time. You’ve got a lifetime of exploring, my dear.

Descending

You soon find yourself descending a steep trail as it makes its way down the canyon towards White Rim Road. I’m always amazed when I’m on a trail that seems so gnarly. I would love to be in the minds of those who made the trail. They look down this cliff and say, “Hey I’m going to build a trail going down this steep and technical cliff.” Bravo to all the trail makers out there!

As you continue down the canyon you run into a bunch of man-made caves. They’re not right off the trail, but you can see them off in the distance about 100 yards away. I’ve tried to find information on these, but there seems to be none. I was very intrigued about who and why they were made. Uranium mines, maybe? I did not go in and check them out. The idea of going into a cave on my own not know who or what may be in them, just didn’t seem like a fun idea to me.

The trail finally levels out as you make your way towards White Rim Road. It’s a mix of deep sand and singletrack trails. On one side of you, you have cliff walls and mesa’s towering over you, then off in the distance, it opens up as you head towards White Rim and the river. I finally made it to the road I thought it was a perfect turnaround point. The day was getting hot and my water was dwindling. Back up the canyon, I went to my car which I knew I had some cold water and fruit waiting for me. After drinking warm water from the bladder, cold water sounded divine to me.

After most of my day was spent in Lathrop canyon I drove down Canyonlands road to the grand overlook. I was planning on watching the sunset from this viewpoint. I got there about 10 minutes before the sun was about to set and to my surprise, there was quite a crowd there already. I was alone most of the day and enjoyed the solitude, so I thought it would be best to head to a spot I could continue that solitude. I found a perfect spot to sit, relax and enjoy the majestic view of the sun slowly left and darkness started setting in. What a beautiful way to end the day.

The Joy of the Nightime Winds

By the time I got back to my tent the desert winds had picked up and my tent was blowing wildly in the wind. The day before when I was setting up, I was not able to stake down my tent because the ground was too hard to get the stakes in. Trying to figure out a solution because I knew this area was notorious for evening winds, I decided to put large rocks at the 4 corners where the stakes should have been to hold it down. Maybe not my brightest idea, but it worked well enough that when I got back to my tent and thankfully it had not yet blown away. I tried quickly to secure the tent for the night knowing the rocks probably weren’t going to do the job, but crossing my fingers they would. I grabbed what I needed from the car for the night and headed to my windblown tent for an evening of books and snacks. I sat there for well over an hour trying to read, but the winds were so strong against my tent that it created this loud flapping sounds and made my tent shake wildly. Finally giving up and too lazy to go outside to fix the tent I decided to head to bed in hopes that I could ignore the tempest that seemed to be growing outside. After hours laying there trying to sleep, I was finally fed up with my flapping tent. I grabbed my sleeping bag and headed to my car. That’s right folks, instead of simply trying to fix my tent I headed to my car to sleep which tuned out to be a good decision. I was finally free from the sounds of the blowing winds and was able to get some sleep before my alarm went off.

Last Morning Sunrise

I had set my alarm for the early morning hours because I was planning on driving out to another trailhead about 40 minutes away. I wanted to get there before the sun came up for my early morning sunrise adventure. I was planning on running to the edge of a mesa to watch the sun come up, I didn’t have an exact location, but knew the roundabout area I wanted to go. My alarm went off, and as tired as I was I pulled myself out quickly, threw my running clothes on and headed off in the dark for my morning destination. By the time I got the trailhead, I could see a glimpse of light coming over the horizon. I hopped out of my car and started heading towards my hopeful spot to watch the sunrise. I ran along the mesa not following a trail, but blazing my own way across, bounding over rocks and bushes along the way. It was FREEZING that morning, but I still had a sense of excitement heading out in the dark. I loved watching the canyon below me slowly become more and more visible as rays of light crept in. Finally, the sun came out and I simply sat and watched. It never gets old watching beautiful sunrises and sunsets. What’s even more amazing is watching it rise over Canyonlands. It was captivating and I wanted it too last forever. I took in the beauty as it rose, then because I was completely alone had a chance to meditate and clear my mind even more. It was a beautiful way to start my morning, which was also the close of my weekend adventure. I would be heading back home in a couple of hours to return to my loves. I can only be an adventure gypsy for so long. I enjoyed every moment (minus the flapping tent) of my adventure weekend and look forward to the next one to come.

Heading to Canyonlands Yourself

Click here for a list of maps and places to explore!