Canyonlands Pothole Point

Overview: A short hike to learn about life in desert potholes. Great for families with small children.

Start: Pothole Point Parking Area

Distance: 0.6 mile; lollipop loop

Difficulty: Easy

Maps: Trails Illustrated Needles and USGS The Loop

Finding the trailhead: From the Needles entrance station, drive 5.1 miles and park on the left (west) side of the road in the Pothole Point Parking Area.

Trailhead GPS: 38.170381, -109.806384

If you need a little exercise or want to take small children for an easy, safe hike where they might learn something about desert ecology, Pothole Point is an excellent choice.

Most of this hike follows a string of cairns over slickrock. The name Pothole Point comes from the numerous “potholes” that have formed in the slickrock along the trail. The potholes trap water after a desert rain. The rainwater is mildly acidic and ever so slowly enlarges the pothole. An intricate, symbiotic animal community featuring shrimp, worms, snails, and perhaps even a Great Basin spadefoot toad gradually develops in some potholes. If you’re lucky enough to visit Pothole Point shortly after a rain, you can observe these tiny ecosystems.

Over time the wind continuously blows dirt, sand, and small bits of organic material into the potholes. Eventually plants take root in the thin layer of soil. The first sign of life in a pothole is often the cryptobiotic soil, which provides the foundation for growth of larger plants. The end result is a “pothole garden,” a pocket of miniature, bonsai-like vegetation in a bowl of solid rock.

You can hike this short loop in either direction. Watch for a spur trail going to the top of some big boulders where you can get a great view of the surrounding terrain in either direction, including the area’s namesake, the Needles.