How Things Have Changed

 
 
Above:  From Looking Glass Rock, I headed west and explored the Canyon Rims Recreation Area all day, stopping at the Needles Overlook and Anticline Overlook before finding the most spectacular campsite in America, where I camped that evening.

When I got up in the morning and poked my head out the back window, I was surprised to see that the car which had pulled in the previous evening was gone.  That was fine, though, because it meant I had Looking Glass Rock all to myself again. I had some breakfast, washed my hair (like I do most mornings when I go primitive camping), and put the towel on a nearby juniper bush to dry out, then walked up to the arch. 

The arch at Looking Glass Rock is deceptive because on one side it looks fairly small, only about 30 feet around.  But when you walk up to the arch and look through it, you realize that on the other side it’s part of a huge bowl, over a hundred feet high.  It’s one of the most spectacular arches in southern Utah, yet because it’s on BLM land and not in a National Park, hardly anyone knows about it.

Or so I thought.  I walked back to the truck, then heard some vehicles approaching.  “Drat – so much for my solitude,” I thought to myself. 

Sure enough, two jeeps drove up and four older “city folks” got out.  A white-haired woman, who apparently had never been primitive camping – or any type of camping – in her life, walked right through my campsite, amidst my cooler, folding chair and water bottles.  Then she spotted the towel I’d hung on the juniper bush.  “Why is this towel here?” she asked her husband, who shook his head in ignorance.  “I just can’t figure out why this towel is here?  Is it his?” she asked, referring to me, I guess.  These people were pretty clueless, but whatever.  I just shrugged my shoulders.  The Clueless Folks got back in their jeeps a few minutes later and left me in blissful solitude again. 

But not for long, because five minutes later, three more vehicles drove up and parked just a few feet from my truck.  “This is ridiculous,” I muttered to myself, with shades of Edward Abbey.  They left about 10 minutes later, but then another car drove up.  “This place is a zoo!” I thought to myself. 

Alas, my wonderful Looking Glass Rock had been discovered!  I’d camped at Looking Glass Rock so many times in the 1980s and 1990s and had never seen one other person, so I considered it “mine” in a way, and a place I could always go when I needed some quiet, desert solitude.  But no longer.  The Rock has become famous, sad to say.  I decided that I’d have to venture farther into the backcountry to find the blissful desert solitude that I desired.

I packed up my things around 10 a.m. and left Looking Glass Rock, then continued down the dirt road and onto the Needles Overlook, which offers one of the most spectacular viewpoints in America.  This would be the first of three successive spectacular overlooks that I’d enjoy that day, each one a bit more inaccessible – but also more stunning – than the previous.  I mused at the BLM’s “Needles Overlook” sign because this exact same sign has been here since at least 1983, when I first stumbled across the viewpoint. And the view hadn't changed much, either.  Here's a panorama photo of the Needles Overlook if you're curious.

Looking Glass Rock to the Needles Overlook

 

The Most Spectacular Campsite in America

After an hour at the Needles Overlook, I headed back to the T in the road.  Most folks, those not very adventurous, take the right fork, back to Moab, and for that I’m glad.  Those who are more adventurous take the left fork and are rewarded – after driving down a dusty, dirt road for 45 minutes – with the Anticline Overlook, viewpoint #2 on this day of scenic treasures. 

For many decades I’ve loved this remote overlook, which is even more spectacular than the Needles Overlook, and I spent a good 90 minutes here, mostly by myself savoring the view of the Colorado River and desert formations below, with Moab and Arches National Park off in the distance.  And yes, I also took a panorama photo.  Folks, do yourself a favor and visit the Anticline Overlook the next time you get to southern Utah.  It’s one of the most spectacular viewpoints in America.  

But not THE most spectacular viewpoint.  Nope, that would come next. 

On my way back to Moab, driving down the dusty, dirt road I'd come in on, I decided to take a mostly-unmarked 4WD road that veered off the right.  Now, I’m not going to tell you exactly where this is, mind you, because I don’t want this spot to become “Arches-ed” or “Looking Glass Rocked” (i.e., overrun with crowds).  I’ll just say that it took me about an hour on a narrow, dirt road.  The whole time as I was bumping along, I kept thinking, “This road better be worth it.”  And it was.  In spades. 

After an hour, I pulled off to the side onto some flat slickrock.  It was on the edge of a sheer cliff hundreds of feet high and was a perfect place to camp, with an astounding view of the Colorado River way, way below meandering through a myriad of red sandstone formations, with the Canyonlands “Island in the Sky” district and Deadhorse Point far to the north.  And the best part?  There wasn’t a soul within miles.

I’ve done a lot of camping and bushwacking in southern Utah over the past 35 years and each time I try to visit new places.  I have a list of about 10 beautiful, primitive campsites in my mind, ranked in order.  These aren’t campgrounds, mind you, but rather places on BLM (i.e., public) land where you can camp for free and usually by yourself.  This particular site, which I call the Canyonlands Viewpoint, puts all my other Top 10 sites to shame.  There’s no comparison.  Take a look at the pictures below and see for yourself. 

It’s hard to get to, but it’s well worth it and I could’ve spent the whole summer camping here.  The crowds (well, that’s a relative term) at Looking Glass Rock had pushed me further into the backcountry but the payoff was finding the most spectacular place I’ve ever camped anywhere in the world.  This campsite was what southern Utah was all about.

Anticline Overlook and Canyonlands Viewpoint