Cleopatras Chair is an impressive sandstone monolith lying in the northeastern-most reaches of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (in which Powell Reservoir also lies), approximately 5 miles outside of the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. The summit views, filled with canyons, buttes, mesas, pinnacles, miles of mouth-watering wingate cliffs, the distant Henry & La Sal Mountains, and even glimpses of the Green River miles away & thousands of feet below, are arguably some of the best in Utah. The easiest way up Cleopatras Chair is 5th class, and the rock quality varies from questionable to fair. Not only is the way UP a non-trivial affair, just GETTING to the base is an ordeal, and requires a high-clearance 4WD vehicle; it’s basically out in the middle of nowhere, making it a siren’s call for some.
Just getting to Cleopatras Chair is easily one of
the cruxes. As one of the information boards en route reminds the visitor:
Four-wheel-drive roads in the Maze are
extremely difficult, present considerable risk of vehicle damage, and should
not be attempted by inexperienced drivers. A high-clearance, four-wheel-drive
vehicle is required for all Maze backcountry roads. ATVs are not permitted.
Vehicle and mountain bike groups stay in designated sites and must provide
their own toilet systems. Four-wheel drivers should be prepared to make basic
road or vehicle repairs and should carry the following items:
· One full-size spare tire (at least)
· Extra water
· High-lift jack
· Extra gas
· Chains for all four tires
Initial access is gained via Utah Highway 24, from
either Hanksville to the south (unsure of the mileage, but I don’t think it’s
more than 35 miles away from the turnoff from the highway), or from I-70 to the
north (exit 149). From the turnoff at I-70, take Utah 24 south approximately 25
miles towards Hanksville. One-half mile south of the obvious Goblin Valley
State Park turnoff is a dirt road going east. There is a good sign showing
mileages, but it is oriented perpendicular to the road. At any rate, set your odometer here & go east. Follow signs from here to Hans Flat Ranger
Station; there are 2 well-signed forks along the way (the first, after ~25 mi., goes R; the second turn-off goes L at around 33 miles from the 24 turn-off). Watch out for cows on the roadway, especially at night! Within a few miles of the ranger station, there are a number of forest service roads, along which there are a number of established campsites. From the turn-off to Hans Flat, a 2WD low-clearance vehicle is fine. At 46 miles, you’ll get to Hans Flat Ranger Station. That’s the easy part. I’d recommend popping into the ranger station to inform yourself of the various rules, regulations, & so-forth. Also, you can get up-to-date road conditions (variable) from the ranger station as well.
From Hans Flat, take the road SE (AWAY from Horseshoe Canyon); it’s initially signed for ‘North Point’ &/or ‘Flint Trail,’ or something like that. The road at first is quite good; don’t get your hopes up. Shortly after embarking (before turning), you’ll see signs for French’s Cabin (now just ruins) & Spring, as mentioned in the Maze chapter of Edward Abbey’s classic Desert Solitaire. At around 2.5 miles from Hans Flat, take a left- at this point the signage should indicate Cleopatras Chair. Now get ready for some 4-wheelin’! While I didn’t use 4WD on the way in (it’s mostly downhill), it’s a good idea to have your contents buckled down & your teeth fillings firmly cemented- it’s B-B-B-BUUUUUUMMMMMPPPPYYYYY. At ~7.5 miles from the last turn-off (i.e. ~10 miles from Hans Flat), take another left at the well-signed intersection. If you have time/gas on the return, it is highly recommended to check out the aptly-named Panorama Point on the way out. From this last turn-off, proceed another ~2.5 miles (about as bad as the 7.5 mile stretch leading to the last intersection) to the base of the formation. Bear in mind that the driving crux is on the return, as you’ll be going uphill versus downhill- just because you didn’t need 4WD on the way in doesn’t mean it
won’t be necessary on the way out. Also, if the crux sections of road get wet, don’t plan on going anywhere until they dry out.
While there is MUCH less red tape than in other more
popular, populated areas, there are numerous considerations that should be made
while planning a trip to the area… As Cleopatras Chair lies in the Glen Canyon
National Recreation Area, the rules and regulations thereof must be heeded. The
abundant signage along the drive in along the dirt road describes the
applicable rules and regulations well; much of it pertains to vehicular travel
being limited to “designated routes only.” The Hans Flat ranger station can
fill you in on the particular rules applicable to Canyonlands N.P./Glen Canyon
Perhaps the most obvious rule that should be abided
by is that campers at the Cleopatras Chair campsite (at the base of the rock)
should not be disturbed; this means that you should either a) reserve the
campsite in advance to assure that said campers are your party, or b) do a
day-trip to the area when there are no campers present. Permits are required
for all overnight trips in Canyonlands’ Maze District ($15 for backpacking or
$30 for “vehicular camping”). Both reservations and determination of campsite
availability can be made by contacting the Hans Flat Ranger Station.
It being protected national land, it is expected
that we, as users, leave it more or less as we found it. Besides just using
common sense, this also includes the requirement of bringing a portable toilet
if camping, and as in other areas of the Colorado Plateau, not destroying (i.e.
stepping on) the cryptobiotic soil crust. If you’re unaware of what
cryptobiotic soil is, check out this primer.
As previously mentioned, this place is seriously out there (just getting to the ranger station is a 46-mile drive over a dirt road). Among other things, this demands a degree of self-sufficiency not as necessary in other areas. Make sure to bring enough water (figure on AT LEAST 1 gallon/person/day) during the warm/hot months, a functional spare tire, and enough gas to get you back to civilization (the closest places to tank up are Hanksville (in the south) or Green River (northern access)- I’d highly recommend filling up at whichever place you’re closest to before making the drive in).
Some Canyonlands National Park/Glen Canyon National Recreation Area regulations to keep in mind:
o Wood fires are prohibited.
o Disturbing, entering, or camping within
300 feet of an archeological or historical site is prohibited.
o Collecting artifacts is prohibited.
o Hunting, feeding, or disturbing wildlife
o Because the 3 are related (and this is verbatim), “Pets, weapons,
and littering are prohibited. Pack out all garbage.”
Despite the fact that Cleo’s Needle lies within a
Recreation Area (not even a national park), & even that the adjacent Maze
District is by & large the least visited area of Canyonlands National Park,
there are numerous camping restrictions to be aware of. For starters, the 2
campsites within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area near Cleopatra’s Chair
are a) reservable, & b) $30/party/stay (as of this writing; the $30 covers
the entire party for the entire stay, up to 2 weeks, I believe). Not to mention
that if someone else is staying at the Cleopatras Chair campsite, you are
expected to not disturb them (i.e. you shouldn’t be climbing the formation if
others are at the campsite). The campsites are reservable through Hans Flat,
& if they haven’t been reserved previously, you can do it last-minute.
These official campsites require portable toilet systems.
The other camping option is to camp on the BLM land
outside of the National Recreation Area boundary. Camp in existing sites- DO
NOT create new campsites. While the ranger station provides a well drawn-out
map/diagram depicting the pre-existing campsites’ locations, they are fairly
obvious; there are typically a few sites along each of the various signed 4WD
roads that diverge from the main dirt access road within a few miles of Hans
Make sure to bring enough water with you from the
get-go (figure on AT LEAST 1 gal/person/day)-neither the BLM nor the National
Recreation Site campsites have water or toilets!
Hans Flat ranger station (open
year-round from 8.00 – 16.30)
· Canyonlands Reservation Office: 435.259.4351
· Henry Mountain Field Station in