This Utah state park is tucked in between Moab and the much larger Canyonlands National Park, but it has wonderful views of the wild canyon territory to the south, mostly the work of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Not quite as spectacular as the Grand Canyon much farther downriver, but impressively vast nonetheless. The dominant color is a dark red sandstone that looked slightly forbidding. We were there in the middle of the day, and canyons generally look best when the sun is just coming up or going down; these are no exception. But the nearby rock formations and the vegetation (from fresh wildflowers to gnarly, ancient juniper and pine trees) were thoroughly photogenic.
The map at the left shows the three parks we visited and the town of Moab, where we stayed. It takes in a wide area so that you can see how the Green River comes down from the north and joins the Colorado inside Canyonlands, which the rivers divide into three sections.
If you click the map, you’ll see just a part of it expanded—the part that shows the routes we took from Moab to get to each of the parks. It shows where we entered each park, but not where we went once we were inside. The expanded version doesn’t give you the full overview, but at least the labels on the map are big enough to read.
The name of Dead Horse State Park is said to have come about as follows: in the old days, cowboys used to round up wild horses by driving them onto the point, which has a narrow neck and then opens out a bit—a spoon-shaped peninsula, like Boston in its early days. When the cowboys fenced off the neck, it became a natural corral, encircled by steep cliffs than horses couldn’t negotiate.
At some point, it’s said, a herd of mustangs was abandoned there, and died of starvation and thirst within sight of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below. Apparently no one has succeeded in finding reliable evidence that this actually happened, because the story is generally described as a legend.
Dead Horse Point State Park isn’t far from Moab, at least by air, although the terrain makes the roundabout drive to get there a little longish. You can see the route if you expand the map above. (It shows how we got to the park, but doesn’t trace our route inside it.)
In photo # 1 and others, a couple of bright blue ponds in the near distance provide a rather startling point of contrast. These are not natural features. On the south side of the Colorado, between Dead Horse Point and Moab (a much shorter distance as the crow flies than as the SUV drives) are the works of a company that mines potash, a.k.a. potassium. Rather than dig out the potassium, they pump in salt (a.k.a. sodium) brine to dissolve it under the ground. This produces a heavier brine, containing both sodium and potassium, that they pump out of the ground into these solar evaporation ponds, which the company created. Thee ponds are lined with plastic to deter seepage, and divided into sections—the Google Earth view in the picture shows 17 sections in the bigger pond and 5 in the smaller one—in which you can the evaporation process is at various stages.
It takes 300 days of sunshine to get the water out of a full section. To aid this process, the company adds blue dye, which darkens the brine to make it absorb the sun’s light and heat more efficiently. (I don't know why it looks dark and almost purple in the Google Earth picture above, but this probably has something to do with the picture being taken from outside the Earth's atmosphere. To my naked and earthbound eye, the ponds were the same bright azure you can see in the photos we took.)
When evaporation is complete, a section contains a mixture of sodium and potassium crystals that the company hauls to its nearby plant and separates through a flotation process. (In case you’re wondering, most of the potassium goes into fertilizer, though it has other chemical uses as well, and can take the place of table salt for people who are allergic to sodium.)
Photos #21 and 22 include a couple of youngsters who were (rather daringly) making use of the landscape as a portrait backdrop. I waited for them to move on so I could take my usual unpopulated shot. But it was clear that they were in no hurry, and it soon dawned on me that the pictures would probly be better with those kids in them than without.