Canyonlands National Park

Photo above: Spires rising above the canyon floors at Canyonlands National Park. Right: Grass and water pools formed by the runoff into the Green and Colorado Rivers. Source: National Park Service.

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Odd in a way as part of the double whammy national parks not far from the doorsteps of Moab, Utah, but Canyonlands, at nearly five times the size, is the poor sister, gathering less than 40% of the attendance of Arches National Park. But don't let that fool you into thinking there's nothing special about all that land west of the Moab. In two distinct areas, the Island of the Sky and Needles, you'll get to witness beauty with the panache reserved for few places on earth, camp under the stars, poke around the two visitors centers, and return refreshed to regular life anxious to return to the large sister who just does not get enough attention. Guess people are waiting for her to lose weight. Oh, no, microagression toward a national park. Forget we said that. Just visit her and judge for yourself.

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Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands Then

Hunter gatherers wandered these canyons eight thousand years ago, leaving traces of their past in Puebloan Granaries in the Roadside Ruin and rock art in Horseshoe Canyon. The Ute and Paiute people arrived near 800 A.D. and the Navajo five hundred years later. Yes, that's five hundred years. And all three cultures still live in the area today. European explorers came, staying for good after use of the Old Spanish Trail, but it wasn't until 1869 that an offical exploration of the area occurred with the Major John Wesley Powell Expedition.

An odd confluence of outcomes occurred in the 1950s when miners looking for uranium for the U.S. nuclear arms program began creating roads through the Canyonlands area to their mines. The area actually produced very little uranium, but did leave the remnants of those roads for tourists to slowly discover the area. Today those roads lead to backcountry adventure as well as overlook wonder and trails for the national park visitors that traverse the area. The park itself was created on September 12, 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson.

Photo above: Some of the historic petroglyphs within Canyonlands National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service. Below: Green River meandering through the park from the from the Green River Overlook, Island in the Sky District. Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons.


Canyonlands Now

One of the difference you'll note right away between Arches and Canyonlands is that there's more water here with the opportunity to white water raft through it. The Colorado River goes by Arches, but it meanders through Canyonlands, along with the Green River on the western side. Now, neither of these are close to the main Visitor Center areas and require backcountry visitation and access points outside the park, but they're there. At the main Visitor Centers in the Island in the Sky District or Needles District, you'll the opportunities for scenic overviews and hiking are almost endless, as is the sky.

The main road past the Island in the Sky Visitor Center will take you to Shafer Canyon Overlook, Mesa Arch, Holman Spring Canyon Overlook, Whale Rock, Upheaval Dome, Green River Overlook, Buck Canyon Overlook, Orange Cliffs Overlook, and Grand View Point. From the Needles Visitor Center, your car or foot caravan can take you to the Roadside Ruin, Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook, Squaw Flat, Pothole Point, and the Big Spring Canyon Overlook. Many of these overlooks site 1,000 feet above the canyon floor. Whew! That's a lot to see. Be careful not to get dizzy.

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Canyonlands National Park


Things You Should Not Miss

1. Stop at the Island in the Sky Visitor Center and watch the orientation film, then head out on the auto tour. Remember, you'll be one thousand feet above the canyon floor and see magnificent spots for photos.

2. Take in one of the guided ranger tours during the March to October high season. There are two regular tours daily from Island in the Sky and a night program at the Squaw Flat Campground at Needles.

3. If you're adventurous, at least in a modest way, drive the upaved three mile Elephant Hill and gander at a long distant view of the Needles.

Photo above: Sunlight streaming into the underbelly of an arch at Canyonlands National Park. Source: National Park Service.

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