Hiking the Moses & Zeus Trail on the White Rim Road ⚡️ | Canyonlands National Park, Utah
June 10th, 2017,
Today is the day that I’ve been waiting for
the entire trip.
We’re finally going on the White Rim Road
of Canyonlands National Park.
If you, dear reader, are not clear what the entire main purpose of this camping road trip is, it’s to go into Canyonlands National Park and drive all the way through the White Rim Road. The road requires a permit to get onto and if you look up reviews online, there’s one common theme that pops up: people say the road is life-changing.
My had dad gotten the permit for the road a few weeks before the trip and we had planned out our entire trip around driving through this road — for emergencies, we put extra gas on the roof of our car, we had extra food (but that’s a given for any camping trip), and all the typical just-in-case car equipment for, once again, more emergencies. We were SO PREPARED and had taken control of everything we could possibly take control of.
Except… there was one thing we couldn’t control, and that was nature. 🌬
My dad and I knew before starting the trip that there was a possibility we couldn’t drive through the White Rim Road — or, at least, the entirety of it — due to a wash having a flood warning between the Potato Bottom and Labryinth Campsites.
It’s kinda hard to visualize it if you don’t know the layout of Canyonlands, so I’m going to paste a picture of the map we used to explain what we planned to do once we got on the White Rim Road:
There are three main parts of Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky (where we went to), The Maze, and The Needles. The Maze district is the wildest part of the park, and it’s also one of the most remote areas of the country. There is no water available in the Maze, so I’ve gathered that people who go to the Maze are mostly those who have specifically and seriously planned out their trip for the Maze. The Needles district is a more diverse part of the park, consisting of arches, rock pinnacles, potholes, spires, and other rock formations; and lastly, there’s the Island in the Sky district, which is the most popular part of the park.
This section of the park is called Island in the Sky because, as a mesa between the Colorado and Green Rivers and it’s canyons, it literally appears to be a broad island floating in midair. If you remember from my “The Drive to Moab, Utah 🚗🏜 (Feat. Many Detours)” post, I visited Mesa Arch, the Grand View Overlook, and Upheaval Dome on the actual Island in the Sky part, all of which was easily accessible by paved roads. Because of that easy accessibility, it made sense that I saw more people at those places, and that was why I was really excited to drive down on the permit-only White Rim Road to find some solitude within the park.
ANYWAYS back to the map — do you see where the Labyrinth Campsite and the Potato Bottom Campsites are located on the top-ish left corner of the map? The potential flooded wash area was between there, and since our campsite was at the very beginning of the road, we had two options — risk it and start the road from the east end where the Shafer Trail is, and possibly have to turn back near Potato Bottom if there is indeed a flood and drive allll the way back (hence why we had extra gas), or we could camp at Labyrinth, see what condition the wash looks like it’s in, and just deal with whatever happens, even if it means the possibility that we wouldn’t be able to drive through much of the White Rim Road.
But… either way, this is camping, so I’ll be happy with whatever happens. 😊 It’s truly all part of the adventure.
I hope the map above gives you an idea of what we had planned to do, but let’s get back to the actual story because this day of the trip was filled with a lot of amazingness and a little bit of disappointment.
Seeing that I was very, very tired from yesterday’s trip to Arches National Park, I allowed myself to wake up naturally to allow my body to recover from the previous hikes I did, then, after having breakfast, my dad and I began our drive down to the White Rim Road!
I was already super excited at this point because we were finally doing what we planned this trip around and I know I keep emphasizing this but this road requires a permit and not only did we get a permit for this trip, but we also GOT THE LAST CAMPSITE AVAILABLE!!! 😆😆😆
It was actually kind of insane how close to the water the road was. At this especially narrow part of the road, it felt like if we drove off of the trail the slightest bit we would fall into the river next to us.
Eventually we saw our campsite and walked around it for a bit — there was a pit toilet a short walk from where our campsite was, which was definitely a convenient plus because that meant we didn’t have to set up our portable bathroom every time we needed to go pee/poop (and it was also kinda windy at this point so that would have been a nightmare), and the campsite also overlooked the river! We didn’t stay at our campsite for long, though, because we were less concerned with the campsite and more with the wash — and whether it would be flooded or not.
We got back in the car and continued driving down the road, passing the other Labyrinth Campsite (there’s a Campsite A and B for Labyrinth) towards the location of the wash.
And this is really disappointing, but I never ended up getting a picture of the wash. I think it’s because — well, I was just a teensy bit disappointed — just a little bit.
I looked at the flooding of the wash and deep, deep down knew that there was a high chance that it just wouldn’t be passable for our vehicle. There were tire tracks at the edge of the sandy entrance to the wash, but the portion of the sandy trail before the wash itself was dry and had no tire tracks, which meant that no one has successfully passed this trail at all today.
Why would I think that we could possibly drive past the flood and continue on with the road?
Positivity, that’s why! 😇
Oh, before I continue, I nearly forgot about a very vital part of this story — there was a stranded motorcyclist at the wash. 😶😱
Now, no, the motorcyclist wasn’t stranded in the actual wash itself. There was no shade in this area except for this lone little bush, where the motorcyclist was seeking shelter underneath. If I haven’t made it clear already, it was quite windy down on the White Rim Road, and this was a sandy portion of the road, too. The motorcyclist had a bandanna wrapped around his face to keep the sand out, and after my dad conversed with this man to see if he needed help, we found out that this man was actually with his family, and they were supposedly stranded on the other side of the wash. The other motorcyclists couldn’t turn back because they didn’t bring gas, and at that point, a park ranger had already came to help the other family members of the stranded motorcyclists we saw.
My dad and I had wanted to wade through the river, but we decided to do that later in the day when it wasn’t so hot. We also decided that if, by the time we came back, the motorcyclist and his family were still stranded and the park ranger still hadn’t found a solution to help them yet, we would just give them the extra gas we had brought.
For now, though, we drove into Taylor Canyon, which was a five mile drive from our campsite, to explore and possibly do the short one-mile Moses & Zeus trail at the very tip of the canyon road.
My dad and I were very tired by this point in the day — we had done some pretty intense hikes the past few days, and though we had no problem doing all those hikes and drank plenty of water throughout as well, the days were still consistently in the nineties and sometimes hundreds of degrees in temperature. However, we weren’t exhausted, and we decided that since the trail was only one mile, we could do it quickly and easily and return back to our campsite to relax before exploring the river.
NEVER HAVE I EVER BEEN
SO SO WRONG. 😅
We weren’t sure how much climbing we would have to do, but we figured we could handle one mile of climbing. I mean, come on. We’ve done some intense hiking through snow on the Tokopah Falls Trail and even more intense climbing up Moro Rock in Sequoia & Kings Canyon. One mile of this is nothing.
Or so we thought.
*ominous dramatic music begins*
Two things: I was greeted with this lovely sight at the very beginning of the trail —
— and I also wore my new hiking pants with knee pads for this hike because I hadn’t been able to try them out in my previous hikes. I also wanted to kneel down and take awesome pictures without tearing the skin off my knees, so I was looking forward to be able to put those knee pads to use this time.
The thing is, though, those pants were thick. And dark navy blue. And it was insanely hot — searing, suffocation, intensely hot. I was sweating so much it felt like I had peed in my pants throughout the hike. I also had to wear the only T-shirt I brought because the previous days of wearing tank tops had made my shoulders feel really tender to the touch — not sunburnt, but it did feel like they were on the verge of getting sunburnt. Lesson learned — always bring more T-shirts, especially when you’re camping.
My dad and I were in no way intimidated by the steep climb at the beginning of the hike, though. We are strong and determined hikers. We put three to four water water bottles in our backpack and lathered on more sunscreen on ourselves and set off with the intention of finishing that hike, dude. We were so ready.
So, so ready.
You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen seen so many rock-stairs in one trail. And why does it seem like it’s already been a mile when we’ve probably only hiked for less than ten minutes?
Oh, also — it does seem like this trail is going to be all uphill.
Part of my mind is so happy I’m here and part of my soul is sobbing. 😂 Am I actually crying though? Oh, no — that’s sweat pouring down my face. I should probably start on my third water bottle of the hike.
There was this really beautiful shaded — emphasis on shaded — part of the hike where there were layers of colored rock on the wall. The colors were really vibrant, too, and it was such a relief to see something of a color other than the red and orange that dominates much of the scenery in this part of Utah.
I also found a lovely zigzag part of the trail that looked like a “Z” when viewed from down below!
I, Zoie the Magnificent
shall name this portion of the Moses & Zeus Trail
the Zoie Zig Zag Portion.
*fancily signs document with quill pen*
CLAP CLAP CLAP 👏👏👏
As we headed upwards we arrived at this crazy-looking portion of the trail that consisted of pretty steep slopes on both sides of the trail. I was surprised at how varied this one-mile trail was in terms of climbing, terrain, and rock formations.
As we got nearer to the of this hill (mini mountain?), my dad and I got surer that the two massive rock figures jutting out of the top of the hill were supposed to represent Moses & Zeus, but the thing is, the trail kept winding upwards, and we figured that since we already climbed all the way up here, we might as well keep going to see where the end of the trail would take us. There were a few random forks in the trail that confused us, but we kept looking out for cairns to guide us through and eventually successfully made our way up top. Cairns really did save us on the upper portion of the trail.
Standing at the very base of those two rock figures created this feeling in me that I can’t quite describe in its entirety. I mean, it had to be the combination of absolute pride I had gathered within myself after that strenuous hike up to Moses & Zeus, but also standing up next to the rock… I realized that my dad and I just hiked up more than half of the side of a canyon. If you look at the picture below and compare the place where I’m standing to the canyon walls in the background, you can see the the base of solid rock and where it meets gravel tumbling down is where my dad and I hiked up to. I just couldn’t believe it. We… hiked that.
The skin under my eyes was tender and burning from staring at such bright objects all throughout the day, and also because of how much sweat had collected there throughout this hike and the days before; my entire backside was soaking wet from my sweat; my feet were throbbing and pulsing in my hiking boots; and I just hadn’t felt so uncomfortable in the heat in a very, very long time.
At the same time, though, I also felt like I was the happiest person in the world. I’d been feeling like that the entire length of this camping trip, but at this moment, because of all that effort and hurt and sweat it took me to finally get to the top and be able to look at the valley sprawling underneath my feet in Taylor Canyon… it made every tinge of pain and discomfort I felt enhance the feelings of pride and happiness to a point where it just got overwhelming.
We daringly climbed further up to reach the actual base of the rock, and it was at that moment, at the very height of the trail, that I realized how insanely lucky I am to have experienced all of this.
I also realized how insane we going up on top of that rock. It got windier and windier and crazily windy the higher we hiked up, and there were more than a few moments in which I felt like the wind would throw me off the edge of the canyon. My dad found out that the part where we were standing on this part of the trail actually had nothing supporting it underneath. I peeked over the edge to confirm this, and YES IT WAS CONFIRMED.
We were standing on a rock formation that was caved in underneath.
There was nothing but air underneath us.
I freaked out a little and scrambled back to a safer part of the trail, and I think you can tell from how frantic my body language looks in the picture below that yes, I was indeed frantically trying to climb away from that portion of the trail — at least, as fast as I could without the wind blowing me off.
After spending some time savoring our success in reaching the top of the trail, my dad and I made our way back down the trail and back to our car. It took way less time going back, which makes sense because it was all downhill instead of uphill. One thing got worse, though, and it was the heat.
According to my dad’s GPS watch, we had climbed a total of 512 feet and spent two hours and twenty minutes for a one-mile hike (I guess two, since it’s one mile up and one mile down). We also checked the temperature and it was OVER 100 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT — it was five in the afternoon at that point and we were extremely exhausted. Not just tired — we were actually exhausted this time.
It was time, after this fantastic adventure, to go back to our campsite and check whether the wash would be passable for us tomorrow.
Day 5 of this trip
is to be continued… 😊
(Featuring more insane winds and also rocks on tarp. A lot of rocks on tarp.)
Truly, what was this wonderful, magical place?
Why have I never felt this way at home?
Is a home really a home, then,
if every ethereal happy experience I seem to have
takes place outside of the place
I once thought was “home”?
Information about Canyonlands National Park was taken from the National Park Service’s brochure for Canyonlands that I got at the Visitor’s Center.
This post is the sixth post in the
Road Trip of Summer 2017 travel series
on Whisked Away By Words!
If you want to read more about my adventures road tripping and camping throughout
California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona,
head on over to the Travel Archive to view a list of all the posts in this series.