On our first day in Utah, my Dad and I wanted to visit both Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. It was the perfect introduction to the amazing types of natural wonders we would encounter throughout our stay in Utah, as Canyonlands is a sprawling landscape of massive canyons, cliffs, mesas, and jaw-dropping rock formations called "fins."
We drove around Canyonlands for a while, went on a short hike on one of the scrubby, desert-like mesas, took lots of photos, and then we wanted to go to Arches National Park for a bit before heading to our campsite for the night. (Don't worry, we spent the next morning an afternoon thoroughly exploring Arches, too.) Dad had spotted a Mesa called Poison Spider Mesa on our fancy topographical map of the area and wanted to see it on the way between the parks, so I studied the map and found a Jeep trail that short-cut the route and would take us right next to said mesa. We were driving my Dad's Jeep, so it would be no problem as far as 4-wheel drive and all went.
We gleefully headed out for this trail, excited to test the merits of Dad's new Jeep and see some awesome scenery along the way. Once we left the highway and the tires hit the dirt road, our route looked deceptively easy: the road was bumpy, but straight and flat, seeming to disappear into the distant La Sal Mountains:
Before long, however, the road narrowed and turned down into a narrow canyon. Suddenly, we found ourselves navigating a single-lane, very bumpy dirt track that wound down the canyon like a rattlesnake - with towering red cliffs on our right and an ever-increasing drop-off to our left. In case of an oncoming car, there were a few areas wide enough for one vehicle to pull aside and let the other pass, but there wasn't really enough space to turn around, so we nervously and slowly continued down the treacherous trail. We soon encountered what stopped us short: a gigantic boulder that looked like it had just recently fallen across the road ahead, creating a triangle of open space between the cliff, boulder, and road.
We stopped at what was thankfully a wide spot to check it out. It didn't look like there was much space in the opening, and we walked down to see if the Jeep might fit. Once under the boulder, the opening was a lot larger than it seemed, and while seeing what the road looked like beyond the bend, we heard voices up-canyon. A pickup truck full of college-aged guys and girls was rumbling down the road toward us.
"You guys okay?" the driver asked.
"Yeah, we just wanted to see if we could fit!"
"Oh, you'll fit just fine," he assured us, "We fit; we came up this way." And with that, they bumped on down the road, under the boulder, and around the corner.
Dad and I climbed back into the Jeep and looked at each other.
"Should we go for it?" Dad asked.
"Let's go for it."
And we did. And it turned out just fine. We made it all the way down the canyon, past Poison Spider Mesa, and came to a nice, paved, flat road that followed the bank of the Colorado River and led us right up to Arches National Park.
*Okay, so we didn't actually almost die, but there were definitely some particularly rough and treacherous spots on that trail that had us worried...