Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Elephant Hill

This week was our first trip to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. We have visited and camped in the Island in the Sky district and wanted to try something new. We trusted our Charles A. Wells book, Moab, Utah Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails, regarding the Elephant Hill 4 x 4 trail when he said that this was one of the most enjoyable trails he has ever driven. The Needles district is actually about a 75 mile drive from Moab. The National Park's description of the trail is: "One of the most technical four-wheel drive roads in Utah, Elephant Hill presents drivers with steep grades, loose rock, stair-step drops, tight turns and backing. Over the hill, equally challenging roads lead to various campsites and trailheads, as well as to BLM lands south of the park. Challenging mountain biking." I took a ton of photos and so I am putting a lot of them on here. Every time we drive a new trail, I can't get enough of photos and descriptions while searching on line. If any detail I show helps someone out in the future (or us if we drive the trail again) that makes me happy!
The beginning of the trail is immediately difficult. This was a shot out my window.
A look back down at the first section.
Climbing over Elephant Hill.
Jay got out and checked out the first big obstacle. I have a video of the Jeep climbing this at the end of this blog post.
You know you are headed for something steep when you see a Jeep sign with an arrow pointing down.
Looking back up the steep hill we just came down.
There is one stretch of road about 100 feet long that you have to back down (and up when returning) to be able to make the sharp turns. Jay thinks he could have made the turns, but we did what the park ranger had instructed us to do. The sharp turns were no worse than Black Bear Pass.
More details of the road.
On the other side of Elephant Hill there are several long stretches of easy dirt road, relaxing and giving you time to catch your breath.
I got out to see if Jay would need my help through this part, but it isn't as bad as it looks.
I'm not really a great spotter, so sometimes if I was spotting I would still ask Jay to get out and look at the road and tell me exactly where he wanted the tires to be. Honestly, Jay is so good at driving roads like this that he barely even needs a spotter.
The narrow slot is a famous area of the trail, though not really an obstacle.
This is as narrow as it gets. I can't imagine driving anything wider than our Jeep through this!
Looking back at the narrow slot.
We actually went to the Devils Kitchen and camped for one night, but I'll post that in a separate blog post. This post is dedicated to just the Elephant Hill trail and not the extra spurs.
The famous Silver Stairs kind of reminded us of the steps on Black Bear Pass, although the Jeep has much better traction on the Silver Stairs and there are no loose rocks (or steep dropoffs where you could fall to your death).
You have to go back over Elephant Hill the way you came in the first time. The stretch of road on the right is where you have to back down/up for 100 feet or so.
Looking back in the canyon.
Jay driving back down the first big rock obstacle. The Rubicon handles it like a piece of cake, plus no worries about the approach and departure angles.
Almost finished! You can see the parking lot on the lower left side. We were really glad to see the trail end since we had been deep in the Needles for over 24 hours. The 95 degree heat wasn't really that bad, but it's always nice to get back to civilization. We honestly didn't have even a scratch on the Jeep, but as we came over the last big rock at the end of the trail we did ding the tailpipe, but on a trail like this if that is the only damage, that is quite an accomplishment!
This is the only video I took on the trail, and though it isn't terribly exciting, it shows just how easy it handles the trails here.


Tony said...

Great pictures! We love Elephant Hill, it's too bad it's so far out there. Did you make it out to the confluence overlook?

Lisa Wilson said...

Well, we like remote so it was okay with us that it was a long drive. We did go to the Confluence overlook. I'll post pictures of that in a different blog post. I took over 400 pictures so I'm breaking them up into separate posts! :)

Lois said...

I love it when you do posts like this Lisa. Your pictures are always fantastic and your narrative makes it feel like I am right there with you!

Tony said...

True, we like remote too. I guess the day we went out there it was cold and a little rainy and the hour drive on the highway in a topless rig was a lot..then we got lost for a bit on the trail. I think our son was just six months old at the time. Next time we'll trailer the rig out there. ;)

Juan said...

Thanks for the photos, they are good and informative. And they are very helpful for someone like me considering driving there. I have a 97 Ford Ranger and I hope it will make it.
I love backcountry camping in the Colorado mountains and Utah deserts.