It was a calm, cloudless night in Canyonlands National Park.
From beneath the mesh ceiling of our tent, snuggled deep inside our sleeping bags, Matt and I looked up and saw the shimmering band of the Milky Way arcing itself across the inky black sky. Sleeping under the stars like this was like something out of a movie. Or, at very least, a Chris Burkard photograph.
But, as fate would have it, we were under a hamburger.
Now, we've been known to sleep in some pretty unconventional (read: f*&$ing weird) places (see our night in an igloo or a farm in Leopard Country), so you might all think we've finally gone off the deep end. Sure it sounds a little (okay, a LOT) ridiculous to say we pitched our tent beneath a slab of fresh (never frozen...) meat, but it wasn't a REAL burger, just a rock that LOOKED like one.
With camp sites booked in Monument Valley and in Moab, we decided to leave ourselves a little wiggle room when we planned our trip out to southern Utah; freedom that would allow us to visit any of the other number of National Parks and "must-see" spots along our more than 2,000-mile drive. With a free day at our disposal, we decided to swing by Canyonlands, specifically The Needles district, to see what it was all about.
And boy, were we glad we did.
Among the 337,598 acres Canyonlands National Park preserves, there are four districts formed by the Green and Colorado Rivers: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers themselves. One of the lesser visited National Parks in the area, Canyonlands is unique in its raw beauty and open, arid atmosphere. When we arrived, it was like a ghost town driving into The Needles: very few cars and even fewer people. If you're into backcountry hiking or want to see more stars than you could possibly imagine (without the light pollution from Moab), The Needles district is the district for you.
Since the Squaw Flat campground inside the Park was already sold out (it's first-come, first-served), a ranger recommended we check out Hamburger Rock, a short drive away from the Visitor's Center.
Picnic tables, and campfires, and tents pitched in little shaded crevices between rocks awaited us when we arrived. Three-hundred-and-sixty-five degree views of rising spires, vermillion buttes and colorful canyons surrounded us.
And we've never loved a hamburger more.
How we did it:
OK. The truth is that it's highly unlikely you'll stumble across a burger joint on your way to Hamburger Rock. But, what you will find, are some breathtaking sandstone cliffs, peace and quiet, and, just maybe, the darkest night sky you've ever seen.
Pitch your tent here and expect to get a great night's rest. This place offers the perfect balance of convenience (you can wake up and head right into the Park), relaxation (did we mention how QUIET this place is??), and raw beauty that you might find yourself having a hard time pulling yourself away. We know we did.
Follow US 191 south of Moab to The Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. Drive through the entrance gate (UT 211) and continue west approximately 20 miles until you reach Lockhart Road. There is a sign to the right indicating where the campground is located. Drive down the access road, find an open spot and claim it.
HOW TO PAY FOR AND RESERVE YOUR SPOT
When you enter the campground, first do a drive through to determine which sites are available. After choosing your pick, grab a yellow slip from the kiosk at the entrance and fill it out with your license plate number, dates you're staying, etc. Clip this slip onto the clipboard at the site you've chosen to stay at.
On the day of your departure, remove the slip from your camp site and grab a folder from the entrance of the campground. Fill out the information on the folder, insert payment (cash only), seal it up and put the whole thing into the locked box provided.
$6.00 per night, per site (honor system)