Exploring Canyonlands and More

With a surfeit of red rock buttes, mesas, and canyons around Arches National Park and Moab, Utah, you may be tempted to skip Canyonlands National Park. Resist that urge. It’s actually the largest of the four national parks in Utah and the entrance to the Island in the Sky section of the park is just 35 miles from Moab. Four hundred thousand visitors come here each year but we didn’t fight hordes of tourists at the scenic overlooks or on the trails. The day we visited in late September, we had the place nearly to ourselves.

Utah State Route 313, Dead Horse Scenic Byway, to Canyonlands is an enjoyable drive with hairpin curves and splendid views including the Merrimac and Monitor Buttes, named for   Civil War ironclads.


Merrimac and Monitor Buttes from Hwy 313  

We stopped for photos and the rest area came in handy, too. Get used to pit toilets, however, because flush toilets were few and far between. This photo also illustrates why Jim is not often in charge of our camera.


Rest stop on Hwy 313 outside Canyonlands National Park

Our first stop inside Canyonlands was at the visitor center which is always the best place to get your bearings and a good introduction. We always make it a point to see the video program for background information and ask friendly rangers any questions we have.


Nearby Shafer Canyon Overlook provided the first of many magnificient views.


Shafer Canyon Overlook panorama, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Then we embarked on a moderately difficult hike out to Upheaval Dome. Watch out for the slickrock (smooth, polished rock that can be slippery) and some steep dropoffs along the way. Where the path is not readily apparent, you will see cairns (stacked stones) to mark the trail. I would have gotten lost several times without the cairns.



Trail to Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands NP



Cairns marking the trail to Upheaval Dome


Trail to Unheaval Dome, Canyonlands NP


Jim climbing the trail to Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands NP

When we reached the overlook, we struck up a conversation with a young woman who told us she was an aerial acrobat. Her goal was to have her picture taken doing a bridge at the edge of the abyss. I felt very brave standing further from the edge for my photo.



Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands NP




Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands NP


On the hike back from Upheaval Dome, Jim spotted this desert horned lizard, a prime example of apatetic coloration.


Desert Horned Lizard

After a light lunch at the picnic facilities when we returned from our hike, we drove on to Green River Overlook and finally to Grand View Point Overlook. The amazing, awe-inspiring views prompted me to remark that I believed Canyonlands was every bit as spectacular as the Grand Canyon, just on a smaller scale. More on that later when I post about our stop at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.


Lunch at Canyonlands NP


Green River Overlook, Canyonlands NP


Green River Overlook, Canyonlands NP



Grand View Point Overlook, Canyonlands NP




Grand View Point Overlook, Canyonlands NP

After seeing so much, we were tempted to skip Dead Horse Point State Park on our way back to Moab. This is one of those not-to-be-missed sights so stop there to avoid future regret. The entrance fee is only $10. Honestly, I hadn’t heard of this park before our visit but judging by the number of tour buses lined up, I’m in the minority. It’s definitely part of the tour circuit and you’ll understand why when you see it. The legend behind the name of the park is that wild mustangs were corraled on the point and for whatever reason, they were left without water and perished within sight of the Colorado River which they couldn’t access. The white rock in the canyon that looks like a horse is symbolic of the story.


Dead Horse Point panorama, Utah


I circled the symbolic horse on this photo. Can you see it?


The dead horse enlarged. If you still can’t see it, cock your head to the left a bit.

The other claim to fame of this canyon is the final scene in Thelma and Louise was filmed here. The car containing the dummies of Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis went much farther than anticipated, landed in the Colorado River, and required a crane to remove it. But guides will tell you all signs of the movie set were removed. “Leave no trace.”

This very full day had one more treat in store for us. The Moab area has a Rock Art Auto Tour with many examples of Indian petroglyphs and pictographs. Pictographs are painted or drawn on the rock and petroglyphs are scratched or engraved into the rock. Our tour on Utah Scenic Byway 279 included examples of petroglyphs.



Utah Scenic Byway 279 along the Colorado River




Native American Petroglyphs along Scenic Byway 279 in Utah




Petroglyph Rock Art on the rock wall along Scenic Byway 279 in Utah



Petroglyph Rock Art along Scenic Byway 279 in Utah




Wildflowers along Utah Scenic Byway 279

We found lodging in Moab that evening by calling early in the day for a reservation. Dinner consisting of BBQ and scrumptious sweet potatoes at the Blu Pig capped off another perfect day in Utah.


Based on events in September 2015.

Categories: Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Exploring Canyonlands and More

  1. enjoying reading all about your travels Laura, especially the places in Utah we didn’t have time to get to this past trip!

    • Thanks, Deb. Utah is quite a treasure, isn’t it? I’m not sure there’s another state that has as much beauty packed into it. Well, maybe Colorado…

  2. Thanks for sharing more wonderful pictures from your trip to Utah–truly a beautiful place and I loved seeing all the scenery. Even the picture that Jim took. 🙂

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