a few of the Needles

I live near the mountains, yet I prefer the desert. There’s a feeling that the desert gives. What would the Chinese say about my chi, my energy, the energy to which I’m drawn?

Canyonlands covers over 500 square miles of desert. Since trees grow there – mostly pinion and juniper – it’s not technically desert, but semi-desert. Some geographers would call it arid, others semi-arid, yet others high desert. But why quibble over beauty, over the name we attach to the rose?

One of my favorite hikes in Canyonlands is in the Needles District of the NP, from the Elephant Hill trailhead to Chesler Park. From here, you get up close to the Needles, which seem diminutive game pieces when you first spy them, maybe from the Island in the Sky District farther north, or from the highway as you’re heading into the Park. But up close, the spires, formed by the ancient but perennial freeze-thaw cycle, by rain and the effects of erosion, tower over you.

formed by columnar jointing

You’ll pass through crevices stories high, climb over sandstone domes the size of spaceships, and traipse through sandy parks walled in by hoodoos and spires. Throughout it all, it’s the light that intoxicates, naked and stainless. You begin to see that life is a study in light, that there are two kinds of light: the light by which we see and navigate, that fills our day world as wine fills a glass. And then there’s the light which seems, if you look long enough on a stone painted by the sun, to come from within the rock itself.

It’s here that even the flamelike limbs of a dead juniper seem alive in their austere, silver paint as they pierce the liquid, blue sky. As you approach the cupolas and steeples of the Needles, the vast paddocks they enclose give off the feeling of a necropolis, the emptiness of a graveyard with gigantic headstones, where winds scour away the silence, and empty everything. No need for God. No need for not God. The desert reminds one of death that ever approaches. It reminds that death is not abnegation or the null of life, but merely its continuation on other terms.

In bands of earthen rust and dirty ivory, the same strata broadcasts itself throughout the stone from many miles away into this amphitheater. All left by the same seas and deserts that competed for dominion on the fractured face of the world. Mushrooms, windowed fins with walls in every state of decay. Rows of capstone stand in sculpted megaliths, with vague affinities to the moai of Easter Island. And if you say that I anthropomorphize, I confess to it. I say that landscape is a personification, that its beauty is first inwardly felt, and thrown upon the world, cast from some interior recess of soul out onto these cities of stone. Their hooded shapes, their statuesque poses.

I pass by keeps of stone sentried by battlements, revetments, parapets. The rock dunes heaving outside the castle walls are dotted with the strange flotsam of living things, dirty green, dark limbed, with needles that scrape or silvering leaves that glitter lambency into the sapphire sky.

After crossing such phantom regions, I arrive at Chesler. There, I can see farther into the distance, unblocked by castellated walls. Kopis stand in giant dolmens in the center of the burial ground. The light, the sky stretches on forever.

To get there: Take highway 191 to the Needles District, which can be access by turning onto Highway 211. Follow 211 to the Elephant Hill Trailhead.

© 2024 by Michael C. Just

Mike’s novel, The Dirt: The Journey of a Mystic Cowboy, is available in softcover or eBook formats through Amazon.

You can purchase the book through this website. Or go straight to amazon at

Mike’s other titles, including The Crippy, The Mind Altar, and Canyon Calls, are available through this website or through Amazon at

Five of his short stories have recently been published online:

Lies, Ltd. has been published by The Mystery Tribune @ Lies, Ltd.: Literary Short Fiction by Michael C. Just (

The Obligate Carnivore has been published by the Scarlet Leaf Review @ Category: MICHAEL JUST – SCARLET LEAF REVIEW

I See You, Too has been published by the 96th of October @ I See You, Too – 96th of October

Offload, a short story about a man who can heal any disease, is now live and can be read at The Worlds Within at Offload – The Worlds Within

You Get the Two has been published by Hellbound Books and is available in print, ebook, Kindle or audio format at