Cave Spring Trail and Ruin, Needles, Canyonlands

Cave Spring Trail is a real gem in the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. It’s a .6 mile loop that gives you a variety of both terrain and history.


You hike an easy flat trail along the canyon floor. It’s surprisingly lush with grasses, shrubs, small trees.


sandy trail through greenery

The “cave” is actually an overhang of the mesa above, giving shelter from the sun, and making a great temporary bunkhouse for cowboys driving cattle across the territory. Cowboys bunked here from the 1800s until 1975, when the Park was closed to ranching. You can see the remains of the cowboy camp, including tackle, a cabinet, and an old rusty can of Maxwell House. The site is fenced off to protect it. Doubleclick any photo to enlarge.

Cowboys camped here because of the rare source of fresh spring water in the next cave. Water seeps through the rocks, and forms a small pool. This cave served as shelter and water source for the ancient Puebloan people, over 1,000 years ago. Informational panels give more details.


The natives left their marks inside the cave, with pictographs and handprints:


and with the smoke-stained roof of the cave from their cooking fires. The cowboy cave roof was also sooty.


The water seeping down the rock walls is enough to support a little hanging garden of maidenhair fern on the cave walls.

Outside the cave, we pass prickly pear cactus and blazing autumn leaves:

The trail continues alongside more overhangs:


… until it’s time to climb up to the mesa above the overhangs. The first ladder, for someone scared of heights, is pretty tall and steep. It is well-bolted to the rocks and very sturdy, but scary for me nonetheless.

The second ladder is shorter, less steep and easy to scamper up:


Now you’re on the top of the mesa, with – what else? great views of distant monuments and funny formations right below.

six shooter monument

six shooter monument

mushroom forms

mushroom forms

Here, you can see how the mesa top hangs over the trail and greenery below, with the vertical black “varnish” staining the overhanging rock, and red rock landscape in the distance:

img_9126 img_9128

Up here on the slickrock, the trail is marked with cairns:


We’re soon hiking down much more gradually – no ladders needed – back to the canyon floor at cave level.

img_9132 img_9133

Our next stop on the way out of the Needles was the Roadside Ruin trail, just .3 mile loop to see an ancient Puebloan Granary. It’s a man-made red-rock “brick” silo, protected by an overhang for storing grain centuries ago. The short hike includes a well-notated guide to the local herbs and plants and the various ways the native peoples used them.



granary and overhang

granary and overhang

And if we hadn’t messed up the morning hike, we wouldn’t have had time for Cave Spring Trail or the Granary – and what a couple of treats we would have missed.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: