Visiting national, state, and local parks rates high on my wish list when it comes to vacations. Every park is distinct and memorable!
National Park in Utah
Canyonlands National Park is a scenic adventure land on which we took a day tour, and I have many pictures to share with fellow Internet travelers. My niece and I enjoyed the one-day four-wheel-drive guided tour into beautiful Canyonlands National Park in July 1991.
Canyonlands and Arches National Parks are both near Moab, Utah. Most visitors to this area stay in Moab for nearby lodging.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the creation of this national park on September 12, 1964. President Richard Nixon expanded the park to its current size of 527 square acres in 1971. The elevation ranges from 3,700 to 7,100 feet, and it is 38 miles in length and 24 miles wide.
Distinct Areas of the Park
Three sections of the park are open to the public.
The Island in the Sky is the section that we saw. It is in the northeast part of the park nearest Moab. This section has some paved roads and available to view by passenger cars. Although to get beyond the merest glimpse of Canyonlands, I would heartily recommend only traversing the roads that get you a bit deeper into the park by jeep or four-wheeled vehicles.
The Needles area is in the south part of the park. It has hiking trails to many different sights; one can see Indian ruins and see where the Colorado River and the Green river merge. Perfect for some sightseeing with passenger cars, four-wheel vehicles, mountain bikes, and naturally two-legged hiking.
The Maze in the west part of the park is the most remote part of Canyonlands and the least visited by tourists except for those hearty souls who wish to explore the unimproved roads with two or four-wheel drive vehicles.
It received its name from the many maze-like canyons contained in this area. Permits are required for private passenger cars as well as commercial vehicles taking visitors into the park.
This land is rugged and full of surprising vistas around every bend of the road or trail. Although not huge, in the sense of set-aside parkland, distances can be deceiving. Foot travel is inhibited by geologic features such as rivers, canyons, and other natural barriers. Few roads take one into the interior, and because of that, it is impossible to see much of the park in one day.
Our Guided Tour
We chose to see the Walking Rocks All Day Tour which is in the Island in the Sky northern part of the park.
Our guide Eric Bjornstad was a fascinating and knowledgeable character. He was a former mountain climber and is an author. He has even been dubbed as a Robert Redford character in a movie filmed in the Moab area. Many films are shot here because of the unique beauty of the locale. He kept up a running commentary as he drove us through the park.
He undoubtedly knew every curve of the road and knew the road intimately, but some of us were wide-eyed as he drove the van seemingly a millimeter or two from the edge of a deep chasm. My niece once said to me, "I am too young to die!" I am sure that is part of the drama, and I must say it kept our hearts beating!
Just as in Arches National Park, this area was covered by an inland sea at different times, with evaporation causing the build-up of salt. Deposits of sand that solidified into rocks finally generated over one mile of sedimentary rock over the entire Moab area. Shifting plate action helped create the Moab Valley.
According to our guide, 92% of the entire State of Utah are public lands.
There is evidence of Native American settlement in these parts that goes back centuries. The Freemont and Anasazi Indians were both living here at the same time, around A.D. 1100. They left evidence behind with rock drawings called petroglyphs which are seen here with these photos. These are the few that we saw, but there are many, many more within the park confines.
According to our guide, Eric, Anasazi Indians were called the "Ancient Enemies" by the Navajo. They were a very sybaritic people. They lived on the land hunting animals and gathering plant foods. They raised turkeys, planted fields in the canyon bottoms, and used the juniper and pinon trees for firewood and building materials.
There was never a large population simply because of the harshness of the environment. By the end of the 13th century, due to a prolonged drought, Canyonlands was abandoned by the Anasazi Indians as a habitat.
Petrified Sand Dunes
Many petrified dunes exist within Canyonlands National Park. Also called Slickrock, very little vegetation grows in this type of rock.
Differential erosion causes holes in the rocks. Water washes out the softer parts of it. The rainwater-filled basins are vital for the survival of animals within the park. They even provide an entire life cycle for some, like the tadpole shrimp.
The following pictures show some of what we got to see on our tour. I took some of the photos out of the van as it was traveling. But often, he stopped the van so that we could get out and get a closer look at things.
Jug Handle Arch seems to be aptly named. While Arches National Park has the greatest density of natural rock arches worldwide, Canyonlands also has numerous examples.
Most of the color seen in the rocks is due to iron or manganese plus being oxygen-rich or oxygen-poor. A green color would indicate the latter.
My niece is standing in front of a balancing rock in one of the photos.
As our tour guide was driving along the narrow dirt roads, one could look straight up or down and capture images. We were very close to the edge of the road in many cases! The scenery is so spectacular in almost every direction one looks.
In one of the photos below, my niece is pointing towards some petrified bone in the rock. This entire area used to be covered by a sea. Dinosaurs did not yet exist in these parts to put this in perspective.
High Desert Country
Canyonlands is high desert country and is a harsh environment for animals who try to eke out a life in this area. The ones who have adapted are experts at survival in climates like this. Most of the mammals who live here are active at night and stay in burrows or some other shelter during the day.
Coyotes live here as well as desert bighorn sheep. There are canyon mice and wood rats, chipmunks, and rock squirrels. Many birds live here, including golden eagles, turkey vultures, white-throated swifts, and swallows. There are also many types of lizards who all happen to be carnivores. This non-inclusive list gives you an idea of the type of animals and other life that survives in these environs.
Two species that seem to be doing well in the park are the spotted owl and peregrine falcon. These rare birds seem to like the area's remoteness, and it may be their salvation as far as their survival as a species.
On one of the scheduled stops, Eric pointed out a beehive built into a rock. It was a fascinating experience to smell the fragrance of sweet honey coming out of a rock. These and similar experiences would never be known if it were not for having an experienced guide who knew about the details of things like this on our tour through the park.
At Pyramid Point, one camera shot could not in any way take in the broad magnificent vista of the Colorado River cutting through the canyon with the surrounding intricately carved cliffs surrounding the valley floor. The greenery near the water starkly contrasted with the more barren rock formations that rose above the canyon.
After viewing Pyramid Point, our guide Eric drove us to a sheltered spot where he pulled over and stopped the vehicle for a mid-day repast of lunch. He had multiple coolers stuffed with a variety of luncheon supplies to satisfy almost anyone's taste. It was a nice break, and we enjoyed the company of our fellow travelers as well as our guide.
In visiting with Eric, we found out that the tamarisk trees were not native species but imported from western Asia to the Southwest in the mid-1800s to control erosion. They are now an invasive species that are destroying native plants that were much more beneficial to animal life in the area.
Not only is this prolific shrub/tree taking over and eliminating the native willows and cottonwoods along the river canyons, but, according to our guide, they consume up to 150 gallons of water per day and use one-third of the flow of the Colorado River.
After lunch, we continued our drive through Canyonlands and got to see other sights and learn more about this particular area.
The name of this particular one-day tour was the "Walking Rocks," which was named by Lin Ottinger, the owner of the tour we chose to take.
Deep crevices between the free-standing rocks exist, and one could walk from one to another but had to be aware and careful of the crevices that could certainly bring an end to a "fun" vacation. Our guide demonstrated that one never knows what is under the rocks that one might be traversing.
Our next stop took us to a natural stone bridge that spanned a portion of the canyon. We walked over it. Looking down was a daunting sight, to be sure!
And finally, I will leave you with a picture of my niece and some of the switchback roads that we traveled as we looked back upon them, plus a few other photos. This tour made for an enjoyable and informative day.
As indicated earlier, our experience was just a glimpse of one portion of Canyonlands National Park. With three distinct sections to the park and many hiking paths, one could spend much more time there discovering its beauty and hidden secrets.
- National Park Service: Canyonlands National Park
- From Visit Utah: Canyonlands
- Canyonlands Tours and Pricing
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2009 Peggy Woods
Comments are welcomed.
Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 12, 2015:
Glad you enjoyed this virtual visit to Canyonlands National Park in Utah. You would undoubtedly like visiting the other parks in Utah as well. They are all different and interesting.
Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 12, 2015: