Canyonlands National Park, Utah – A true story of river bed and quicksand

We are heading into Needles District of Canyonlands National Park via Hwy # 191 und # 212. You’ll find Newspaper Rock 20 km behind the turn-off, a rock covered blackish eroded sandstone wall with uncountable petroglyphs. This spot shall be the best pre-Columbian stone art accessible by road. The around 2000 years old rock paintings of symbols, animals, men, and parts of the body (remarkable are the numerous feet with six toes) are creative and very clear. Still today there are only speculations about their purpose; a pretty object for a photo in any case.

Needles district mainly offers two things: long hikes and the most challenging off-road trails in Utah. The rangers in the visitor centre discourage us from doing the long hikes. Too much snow and ice left shady spots slippery, and difficult climbs that are already demanding and not very suitable for hikers suffering from vertigo dangerous. Even with spikes under the shoes we would miss support in unsecured spots. Some of the jeep trails are closed due to ice and snow, but after serious inspection of our expedition vehicle the knowledgeable ranger comes to the conclusion that the trail to Colorado River Outlook, today categorized as “not recommended”, shall not cause any problems to our truck.

It would really not have caused any problems if we had kept our eyes open, if we hadn’t fail to see the signpost, and if we didn’t drive into the river bed. But we did so, stupidly following the tracks of the other inattentive drivers. We do not think too much about the missing tracks after a while. But a big question mark hangs over our heads as the river that we follow now lengthways gets deeper and deeper. For a jeep the water level would be already much too high. On the other hand, the ranger had said that we somewhere have to cross frozen water. The weight of our truck would just break through the sheet of ice, what would make the spot harmless for us. All right, keep going. We crash through the ice of the river that narrows now. I clear some bushes from several superfluous branches, others I pull aside so that we can go through. On the right side of the riverbed is now a small steep face, on the left side are large up to one and a half feet high stones over which we partially have to go over since the passage is getting too narrow. Then it gets even more restricted, and there are no more tyre tracks. Where is the way out? There is none. A short scouting of the terrain on foot tells us so. We have to go back. Going through the narrow passage and driving backwards over the thrilling stones is somewhere between no good idea and dangerous. So turning back. Right before there is no way to go on the river describes a curve where the bed is washed out a bit more and the water has retreated into one corner. Joerg hauls off to turning back when the left front wheel starts to sink into the quicksand. The cabin leans to the side in an unhealthy angle, it threatens to tip over. My heart stops for an itty-bitty moment before it pumps the adrenalin into my veins.

One of the terrific qualities of a Unimog is that with a quick clutch depressing and a simple lever pulling you can shift into reverse gear very quickly. Joerg tugged at the lever with great presence of mind and starts to creep backwards. If the rear tyre would have dug as well, Arminius would have been lost. Sometimes you need some fortune. The rear tyre grips and Arminius slowly moves away from the danger zone. But the difficult part just starts: going backwards through the problematic riverbed. It already feels extremely disturbing in the cabin when the vehicle leans to the side. From outside is looks simply awful when Joerg climbs over the huge stones only on one side. A couple of times it becomes hairy again when the right rear tyre threatens to climb up the precipice. With joint efforts we manoeuvre Arminius back to a safe tough turning area in the river. Except a bent daylight holder (it can be bent back later) and one rear mud flap that’s ripped off (we’ll not find it again) we don’t have to list any damages. The tyre track in the quicksand fills up as soon as we drew it in. Shortly after the water surface is frozen over as if we have never been here.

Escaping the river bed we find the correct turn-off and the before overlooked signpost and proceed to the correct path. But this section is temperamental as well. Easy sandy passages alternate with demanding rock climbing of increasing degree of difficulty. Many drivers fail in front of the considerable rock ledges, the ranger warned us, but our workhorse masters everything with a serene drone. The Colorado River Outlook – very welcome after 12 strenuous kilometres – is exciting as well. We have to climb on the natural rock projection, but the view is breathtaking.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.