When the land it sits on became managed by a nonprofit this past spring, the remote Needles Outpost near Canyonlands National Park received a big helping hand from volunteers and hikers.
Once a tiny general store with an adjacent airstrip, the Needles Outpost and store has grown to accommodate 26 camping sites, two teepees, a large- and a small-group area and a shower house.
The 640-acre site is located 60 miles south of Moab at the entrance of the national park’s Needles District, on State Route 211.
The land was bought at auction in 2017 by local philanthropist Jennifer Speers, who in turn donated it to The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy is leasing the concessions for camping and the general store to Amber and Caleb Dorsey.
The Dorsey’s general store offers travelers an array of non-perishable food items, camping amenities, including some clothing items. Rental boardgames and books are available too, like a signed copy of “Living Color” by Natalie Goldberg.
The general store is the source of the area’s only gasoline, and store employees — usually the Dorseys — still carry on the tradition of going outside to pump the gas out of two old-fashioned pumps. It’s not cheap to refuel in the remote area: gas is more than $5 a gallon.
The Dorseys have been cleaning the land surrounding the general store. A group of 15 volunteers visited the Needles Outpost in April and helped to remove an accumulation of trash.
Leo Anders, from Anchorage, Alaska, Laura Bates, from San Diego, California, and Prester Felmlee, from Alamosa, Colorado, are three volunteers who spent time working at the Needles Outpost.
They each described their experiences as working at the Needles Outpost as a way to “connect with the land” and “give back” to the community of visitors at the Needles District.
Bates, 27, hiked the Hayduke Trail from Arches to Canyonlands National Park. The Needles Outpost is a stop along the trail, and once she was there, the Dorseys offered her the opportunity to work as a cashier and caretaker at the campground.
She said the experience, though unexpected, taught her to “surrender to the flow,” and “come in to the new life and help be more of a service to others.”
“Since you’re here in the moment … you see more that we’re all connected … you can just be in nature, especially out here,” Bates said. “It’s no one (person’s) job to keep it clean, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to preserve this land and keep it sacred and keep it beautiful, so our grandkids can come, or people in the future can come, and experience this, because it’s not going to clean and take care of itself,” she said.
Caleb Dorsey said the Needles Outpost is seeing an increase in visitation. Nearby, the Needles District has reported a 20 percent increase in visitors in the past couple of years. The National Park Service says the increase in visitors is for all sorts of recreational reasons.
“I think the Bears Ears controversy and a general shift in recreation portrayed in social media are the larger factors, but that’s just my speculation,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey said their goal of managing the Needles Outpost is to provide support to the park’s visitors. It’s also a family-oriented campground; quiet-time begins at 9 p.m. until morning.
“We offer the things people need to be able to extend their visits and explore this vast and fascinating terrain,” Dorsey said.
“There’s just Amber and Caleb out here, and to keep it nice out here, we need help,” Bates said.
“This is a great spot,” Bates said. “But a long time ago there was a lot of trash that was buried out there. For some reason they would bury it over there and it has accumulated,” Bates said. “There are a lot of projects to do, things (Amber and Caleb) want to do, so it’s a lot, but with a lot of people, they’re able to do so much more.”
Dorsey said they have remodeled the shower house and restrooms for the men’s side and are expanding the renovation into the women’s area. With the volunteers, they removed several tons of trash that had been buried on the land, including an airplane’s fuselage.
The Dorseys welcome the increase in visitors, but The Nature Conservancy wants to remind people that they are having an impact on the land when they visit. Nearby, rock climbers frequent walls at Indian Creek on State Route 211.
“Indian Creek has experienced a double-digit increase in visitation since the monument designation. The impact to the canyon has been significant in many ways. The most worrisome is the compounding effect that drought and visitation is having on this landscape. Without good rain and soil moisture we are very worried that the area will not be able to recuperate,” said Kristen Redd an employee of The Nature Conservancy who lives in the area.
But for the Dorseys, and the volunteers who find themselves working at the Needles Outpost, conserving the land is just as important as serving the visitors who come to the remote area.
“It’s rustic, rugged, and you can feel how removed you are from society,” Dorsey said. “Living in this often harsh, remote landscape is like living with a pet tiger … you know you can’t tame it, and it could kill you with relative ease, but it’s so beautiful that you love it and care for it and feel a gratitude like nothing else.”
Nature Conservancy and volunteers help chart course that respects the land, while serving increasing tourism
Where: State Route 211, Monticello
Information: Visit needlesoutpost.com