Canyonlands National Park

June 2, 2014

Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands, to quote its own NPS brochure, “preserves a wilderness of rock at the heart of the Colorado plateau. Water and gravity, this land’s prime architects, cut flat layers of sedentary rock into hundreds of canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires. At center stage are two canyons carved by the Green and Colorado rivers.” These rivers and their canyons split the park into three segments. The roughly triangular one at the top, consisting of the high ground between the river canyons, is called Island in the Sky. This is the only part of the park with roads that standard automobiles can negotiate, and it’s the only part we visited. The others (called Needles and the Maze) are accessible only by those who can travel on foot or trail bike or even motor vehicles with high suspensions and four-wheel drive. There are also providers of river trips. People skilled in such matters can even camp there if they get a permit.

Moab and nearby parks
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 outline of Island in the Sky, the part of Canyonlands that we visited, is easy to see on the full-scale, unexpanded map. It doesn’t fit in the expanded one.)

The roads of Island in the Sky lead to various viewpoints. They don’t come anywhere near the actual rivers you can see on the map at the left, because a lot of the ground on both sides of both rivers has been carved into canyons. Grand View Point overlook, for example, is the closest the road comes to the confluence of the two rivers, and it’s at least ten miles north of that junction. (Needless to say, you can’t see the confluence from there, though at some points you can see either one of the rivers in the distance.) On the map, I think it would be close to where you see some text printed directly below where my purple line ends—that's the name of the park, but you'd need better eyes than mine to read it.)

As at Dead Horse Point, it was easy to get the impression that all those canyonlands we could see in the distance were desolate. But I’m sure that the hikers, bikers, ATV drivers, rafters, kayakers, and campers experience that landscape as a friendlier environment than it may look to camping-impaired urban or suburban tourists who gaze out on a huge expanse that, from a great height and distance, appears empty of living things. Also as at Dead Horse Point, we found many beautiful things to take pictures of in the places where we could go. It’s a bigger park and we had more driving to do, but at least we were up to that.

Photo Notes

#1 in the series was taken near Rte 313 on the way to Canyonlands, not inside the park. I saw a sign indicating that the two unequally sized buttes were named the Monitor and the Merrimac, and—although the smaller one resembles a miniature Merrimac more than it does the actual Monitor—I included the picture to amuse Civil War buffs.
Jeep picture
Photos #21–28, beginning with the couple in the Jeep, were taken not in the National Park, but on Rte 279, also called the Potash Road because it leads to (and dead-ends at) the potassium mining company whose evaporation ponds we saw from Dead Horse Point.

Rte 297 runs along the Colorado south of Moab. (It doesn’t show on the map above, but you can see where river runs below Rte 191, and 297 runs right beside it all the way. It ends at the potash plant not far from the two blue ponds you can see on the map. (Further information on potash matters in the Photo Notes on Dead Horse Point State Park.)

It looked to us as though Rte 297 would be scenically attractive, and the National Geographic map we were using suggested that we might use it as an alternate route back to Moab from Canyonlands. This route involved a long, unnumbered east-west road named Long Canyon Road, which our map showed as a solid yellow line, explained by the key as signifying a “select paved road.” When we found Long Canyon Road, however, it turned out not to be paved. Still, it was straight, broad, and smooth, so we took it. After several miles, however, the road began to narrow, and we soon found ourselves descending a steep, rocky slope between high canyon walls. It became obvious that neither we nor our rented car had any business there, so we stopped, and with some difficulty I got the car turned around.

While that was going on, a Jeep appeared at the top of the hill behind us, but the driver, seeing us in the process of turning, backed up to a wide place where we could get past each other when we made it back up the hill. Both of us rolled down our windows and we exchanged greetings with a young Swiss couple who had rented the Jeep expressly for the purpose of driving on off-road trails. They told us that this one had been described as “easy” by the people who rented them the Jeep (and we later found the same rating in a book that listed off-road excursions around Moab). Easy for some, maybe.

We reversed our course back to Rte 313, and took the long road toward Moab, but when Rte 191 brought us to the north end of Rte 297, we decided to go down it and take a look. We saw a sign indicating that there were Indian paintings (petroglyphs, though that wasn’t the word on the sign) at the roadside, so we stopped—and at the same moment, so did the Swiss couple in their Jeep, coming toward us after their exit from Long Canyon. That’s when Dorothea took the picture. (She also took one at the end of Long Canyon Road when we passed it later. That’s #30.)
Petroglyphs
The petroglyphs (from Greek words that mean ‘rock’ and ‘graphic character or symbol’ were made by scratching the black “desert varnish” off the lighter rock surface underneath. There are lots of them in the southwest, and we saw more when we got to Canyon de Chelly. Desert varnish is a compound of several minerals, mainly iron and manganese, but microbes played a part in its makeup as well. Apparently the microbes were living on the rock surface, and the minerals got stuck there in the form of windborne dust. They were acted upon by the microbes in a way that altered their makeup so that they adhered permanently (except when scraped off by early American artists). The varnish is found in shades varying from dark red to the bluish black you see in the picture.
Site Map
Home
    Navigation and Display
    Where We Went

Colorado National Monument
    Gallery       Notes

Colorado River Valley
    Gallery       Notes

Arches National Park
    Gallery       Notes

Dead Horse Point State Park
    Gallery       Notes

Canyonlands National Park
    Gallery       Notes

Lake Powell Boat Trip
    Gallery       Notes

Canyon de Chelly, Inside
    Gallery       Notes

Canyon de Chelly, North Rim
    Gallery       Notes

Canyon de Chelly, South Rim
    Gallery       Notes

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
    Gallery       Notes

Garden of the Gods
    Gallery       Notes

Faces
Site Map
Home
    Navigation and Display
    Where We Went

Colorado National Monument
    Gallery       Notes

Colorado River Valley
    Gallery       Notes

Arches National Park
    Gallery       Notes

Dead Horse Point State Park
    Gallery       Notes

Canyonlands National Park
    Gallery       Notes

Lake Powell Boat Trip
    Gallery       Notes

Canyon de Chelly, Inside
    Gallery       Notes

Canyon de Chelly, North Rim
    Gallery       Notes

Canyon de Chelly, South Rim
    Gallery       Notes

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
    Gallery       Notes

Garden of the Gods
    Gallery       Notes

Faces