Canyonlands is a 337,598-acre national park in southeastern Utah. It’s like the Grand Canyon, yet more broad and not as deep. Canyonlands is divided into three districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and the largely inaccessible Maze. On this day we visited the Island in the Sky, which has 17 miles of road with one amazing overlook into the canyons after another.
We visited Canyonlands for nearly a week on our grand tour of Utah back in 1996. One of the highlights of our visit was when we rented a Jeep and drove for two days on the White Rim Road which circles the Island in the Sky. The road starts on the rim and drops down a steep series of switchbacks shown above.
Driving down the edge of this cliff was a true white-knuckle ride. Adding to the tension was a few old wrecked cars that littered the cliff, evidence of others who were not so lucky on their drive down the narrow winding road. We noticed on our visit today that the wreckages have since been cleared. By the way, can you spot the bicyclist on the road at the right edge of the photo? Click on the picture for a larger view.
It was a very cold day, in the low 40s with a strong 30+ mph gale. We couldn’t stand on the cliff edge for long before our fingers and face became numb with cold.
Buck Canyon is one of the many side canyons in Canyonlands, each canyon impressive in its own right. Notice the White Rim, which is a sandstone bench 1,200 feet below the Island in the Sky plateau on which we were standing to take this photo. The river is yet another 1,000 below the White Rim.
Canyonlands is cut by two major rivers: the Colorado River (as it heads down into Arizona to cut the Grand Canyon) and the Green River (which joins with the Colorado River in this park).
Monument Basin in the highlight of a park with many highlights. It sits below the southernmost point of the Island in the Sky.
The “fingers” of the canyons in Monument Basin are separated by spires or monuments that stand hundreds of feet tall and have little white “hats.”
The White Rim Road mentioned above hugs the edges of the cliffs in Monument Basin. I remember on our Jeep tour we’d stop every time the road approached the cliff, get out of the Jeep, and peer over the edge deep into the canyon below. To give you an idea of the immense scale of these lands, can you see the two motorcyclists on the road in the photo above?
Here’s a view of the Green River, the other major river that carved Canyonlands.
We don’t feel like we’ve truly visited a park unless we can hike at least one trail. So on this very cold day we hiked out to the Upheaval Dome, a giant crater-like gorge whose origin is still up for debate. Some scientists feel the white salt mound in the crater’s center was pushed up from below, while more recently scientists have favored the theory it was created by a meteor impact.
Canyonlands was a great way to spend a very cold day during a late winter storm.