Canyonlands National Park

3 05 2014
Caynonlands National Park

Caynonlands National Park

Today we’re headed to Canyonlands National Park, one of 5 national parks in Utah including neighboring Arches, Capitol Reef directly west and Bryce and Zion in the south west corner of the state. From Dead Horse Point State Park it’s a short 10 mile drive to the Island in the Sky Visitor Center at Canyonlands.

The park is essentially a huge “Y” shaped area, bounded by the Green River, the top-left of the “Y”, and Colorado River, the top-right of the “Y” and their confluence at the lower half of the “Y”.  At the top, or northern most area, bounded by the two rivers is the Islands in the Sky section. After the rivers join, the western area is knows as The Maze, and the eastern area is The Needles.

We’ll be visiting only Islands in the Sky since The Needles is nearly 100 miles south of Moab and The Maze is only accessible by 4WD jeep trails, floating the Colorado River or back country explorations starting in Glen Canyon NRA to the far west.

Grand View Point Overlook, La Sal Mountains

Grand View Point Overlook, La Sal Mountains

The main road past the Islands of the Sky visitor center runs almost directly south to Grand View Point Overlook, our first stop on our explorations of Canyonlands. The hike from the parking area  is 1 mile each way and wanders along the south rim for much of the way before crossing over to the north rim for spectacular views of the Green River valley to the northwest.  Working our way back toward the park entrance, our next stop is at the drive through Buck Canyon Overlook that looks to the east toward the Dead Horse Point mesa.  Detouring off the main road toward Upheaval Dome, we first stopped at Green River Overlook where the views across the Green River valley and into Glen Canyon NRA were almost limitless.

Upheaval Dome from Google Earth

Upheaval Dome from Google Earth

The only campground in Island in the Sky, Willow Flat Campground, is just before the Green River Overlook.  With only 12 sites, all on a first-come first-served basis, we thought it a bit too risky to try and camp here.  Continuing to the end of Upheaval Dome Road is a parking area with trails leading up to , around on the rim and even into Upheaval Dome, a huge 3 mile wide round depression.  Unique at the Dome are the center rocks thrust upward into the dome shape, surrounded by outer rocks that have warped downward. Two hotly debated theories are described – one of a deeply eroded salt dome structure, and one of an impact crater.  All of our group most enjoyed the impact crater view, of course complete with accompanying aliens.

WP_20140503_052Leaving Upheaval Dome back to the main road, our last stop is at Mesa Arch.  From the parking area it’s only about a half mile round-trip to the arch. This relatively small arch is most photographed at sunrise, but even at mid-afternoon the scenery through the arch is spectacular including the snow covered peaks in Utah’s La Sal Mountains to the east.  To see beautiful sunrise pictures of Mesa Arch, google “Mesa Arch” – you can even find free desktop wallpapers of the arch.  I think this is one of the nicest: Backcountry Gallery.

My overall impression of Canyonlands is that the vastness makes the scale of what you are seeing almost impossible to grasp.  When standing at the far south end of Island in the Sky at Grand View Point you’re looking well beyond the confluence of the two rivers, nearly back to Colorado to the east, and into Glen Canyon NRA to the west in an area covered with sprawling canyons and towering mesas.   From 2000 feet up on a huge 10 mile long mesa, the largest river in the western US looks like a small, lazy stream winding it way through the valleys below.

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