When friends knew we were embarking on a tour of Utah’s national parks, several told us, “Each park is different!” And we remember thinking that red rocks are red rocks, so surely that’s not true. But one mile into Canyonlands assured us it was. Our first stop, Arches, wowed us with carved-by-the-wind openings and unimaginable vistas. But Canyonlands offered above- and below-ground splendors entirely different.
The Colorado and Green rivers take credit for much of the creation of Canyonlands‘ formations. But wind and natural erosion of layered sandstone have above-ground and below-ground beauty that is remarkably different from any other national park. Because we’re not as hale and hearty as we once were, we mostly see national parks from our car windows and the well-marked designated trails, like those offered in the Islands in the Sky area of Canyonlands, a park that boasts over 20 miles of paved road leading to scenic vistas.
Looking up, we could see buttes from miles away: towering, sometimes lone formations that reach to the sky, forming “monuments” of enormous size and scope.
We found more “up top” beauty by taking a short hike to one of the most photographed spots in Canyonlands: Mesa Arch. And it was there that we found we were not alone! (The word is out, by the way, that this is the spot to see, if you only see one.)
But just as we found to be true at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, if you wait your turn, you can either pose for the folks back home or you can hold on to the spot so your partner can snag an “unpeopled” shot. It took us about half an hour, but we did both!
You can even move in closely to see what’s on the other side. Worth it!
To continue our tour along the route suggested in the Canyonlands brochure you can pick up at the Visitor Center, we hiked the Shafer Canyon area, along with families, lovers, and thrill seekers, anxious to climb the structures.
And some who braved it more than others, edging outward on any jut-out available. It’s a thrill you can’t find just anywhere, of course.
For a “look down” view of Canyonlands, we drove to the area known as Grand View Point where standing in awe at our own smallness and focusing on distant landscapes meant that we needed to stay a while. It was a view, for us at least, reminiscent of our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon — a stare-down, if you will, into the interior of the earth. And a spot where you naturally think of your own place in the universe, albeit a small one.
It’s here at Grand View Point that sandstone monuments rise from finger-like chasms knows as Monument Basin, and old trails wind their way around the openings. It’s a “look down” we won’t forget!
Canyonlands supports all that our friends told us and more: It really isn’t like any other national park. And just maybe, it has the most to offer with its highs and lows. It’s definitely worth a visit, so take advantage of its can’t-beat hours: open year-round, 24 hours a day.
We’re hoping for a return trip. And if we go back, we’ll be staying ’til dark. After all, we’ve heard the view of the night sky from Canyonlands is the best anywhere in North America. We gotta see that!
For more information:
Canyonlands National Park official website: https://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm
Visit Moab/Canyonlands website: http://www.discovermoab.com/canyonlandsnationalpark.htm
- No lodging is available in Canyonlands. We recommend a stay in Moab, about 32 miles from the entrance to the park.
- For boomer travelers: Islands in the Sky region is easily navigable by car. Hiking to scenic spots is quite “doable,” but some trails may have slippery sand or elevated stairs. A walking still makes a great companion.
- For photographers: Sunrise and sunset are the best times for photographing the red rocks at any of the Utah national parks. And you’ll love a telephoto lens to catch the distant vistas.
For more posts on Utah’s national parks, visit our Travel Series: We Saw Utah!