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Canyonlands National Park in Utah: Pictures of a Scenic Day Tour

Visiting national, state, and local parks rates high on my wish list when it comes to vacations. Every park is distinct and memorable!

Scenic Canyonlands National Park near Pyramid Point

Scenic Canyonlands National Park near Pyramid Point

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.


Tour Experiences

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.

Walking Rocks

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.


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:

Hi gerogescifo,

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:

Hi Au fait,

I know what you mean about Utah being an incredible state to visit. We only had 2 weeks and just had time to catch some of the highlights of the 5 national parks; some of the state parks, etc. I would happily spend much more time there if given the choice. Appreciate the votes and shares.

Yes...I hope our freezing weather has ended. About time! :))

georgescifo from India on March 10, 2015:

The photos and the writing in this hub has provided me with a much more clear picture and idea about teh National park in Utah. Really enjoyed reading it.

C E Clark from North Texas on March 10, 2015:

As always you have packed this article with information and amazing photos! Utah is indeed an incredible state and I think not necessarily what people are expecting. It is well worth seeing and it will take some time because there is so much there to see and do. It should be on everyone's bucket list and with summer vacation coming before you know it, people really should consider a visit to Utah.

Voted up and BAUI, shared with followers and pinned to AH.

Hopefully we're done with freezing temperatures and especially freezing rain. 3 ice storms in a row and the walking was treacherous. Hope you are seeing spring . . . ;)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 13, 2012:

Hi Prasetio,

So nice to know that you enjoyed reading and seeing photos of Canyonlands National Park. It is truly an amazing place. Thanks for your comment.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on May 13, 2012:

Amazing....wow...I can't say anything, Peggy. I love to see Canyonlands National Park one day. Nice report and I really enjoy all pictures here. Good job, my friend. Rated up and take care!


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 12, 2012:

Hi again JSParker,

I know many people do not have the time to watch 9 minute videos...but thought that this one was so fantastic of Canyonlands, & nice to know that you thought so also. Thanks for your added awesome vote! :)

JSParker from Detroit, Michigan on May 12, 2012:

I just watched the 9+ minute video at the end of your hub, and it really IS fantastic! Just gorgeous. I turned off the light in my room and just settled in for a meditation of scenery and beautiful music. Great choice of video. Added an "awesome" vote.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 12, 2012:

Hi JSParker,

Moab is a great central location for those wishing to see Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. We spent one day in each place...just enough time to get an overview. One could spend weeks in each park! Sounds like you had a great time. Thanks for your comment and beautiful vote.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 12, 2012:

Hi bdeguilio,

Oh yes...Eric, our tour guide & driver in Canyonlands was quite the character! If he is still working there, he is probably giving people the same hair curling rides! He was well informed about the site and made it an interesting day. It would take quite some time to see all of Canyonlands...even the more accessible areas...as it is so large a national park. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 12, 2012:

Hi Don,

Glad that you found this hub about Canyonlands NP informative. The stone bridge is wider than it looks from a distance but obviously someday it will fall. Wouldn't want to be crossing it on that particular day because it is a long way to the bottom! Thanks for your comment and the share.

JSParker from Detroit, Michigan on May 12, 2012:

Voted beautiful on this hub! I enjoyed it and learned more than I knew from my own visit 2-1/2 years ago. I was very interested to read about the petroglyphs, the only place I've seen them is at Mesa Verde in Colorado.

My sister and I did a "Canyonlands Tour" that also included the north rim of the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion Canyons. Moab was our first stop. We stayed at a great bed and breakfast in town and spent a couple of days, more of the time in Arches. But we did hike up to one of the great overlook sites not too far inside Canyonlands and what a vista! On the way out of the park, the view of Dead Horse Point (a state park) is a sight not to be missed.

Happy trails!

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on May 12, 2012:

What a harsh yet beautiful place. Went to Arches NP many years ago but never made it to Canyonlands NP. Love the pictures, they really capture the remoteness of the area. Sounds like Eric was quite the character? Thanks for sharing.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on May 12, 2012:

Hi Peggy, Wonderful pictures of an interesting place. what you said about "tamarisk" being imported and planted there for a conservation purpose is an example of good intentions going wrong. When I was young I might have gone across the "stone bridge" but probably would find it daunting now. Voted up, beautiful and interesting. Will share.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 04, 2011:

Hi Audrey,

Sorry for the late response. For some reason this went into the spam category and I did not notice it until today.

To answer your question, the motels in Moab are quite reasonable as to a place to stay...at least we found them that way. We even found one with a little kitchenette. As to driving, I suppose you could risk it, but it is definitely recommended that one has a 4 wheel drive vehicle. A tour or a rental car for the day would accomplish that.

There are 3 parts to this massive park that are accessible to visitors. As to hiking in further, I have no idea if people have been lost. Probably some at some point in time. Not sure about legends but since Indians have left their marks there, people have inhabited it or at least roamed through these areas in times long past.

Hope you get to see Canyonlands in person someday. Am sure that you will be impressed as we were. It would take a long time to see it all! Thanks for leaving a comment.

AUDREY on July 05, 2011:

I sold my 4X4, but my husband has chevy silverado 4X2. Could we drive in close to the great gallery petroglyph area? I must see those demonic looking pics up close. I read of shadow people seen in canyonlands. Any legends? Is there a cheap motel closest to the great gallery side of the park? It's confusing on how to get there. Have many people died attempting to hike canyonlands?


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 10, 2010:

Hi Billy,

Utah is an amazing State and has 5 National Parks and a great number of State Parks in it...Canyonlands being just one. We only saw a portion of Canyonlands on our full day tour. As you say...a great place for photography. Need to go back and color correct these when I have the time! Even better looking in person than these photos portray.

billyaustindillon on August 10, 2010:

I have never been to Utah and the desert images are amazing - a photographers dream. The reds and blues are always amazing in deserts and these canyons have so many natural lines. Looks like the hiking will get you fit!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 03, 2010:

Greetings vballkel,

Oh yes! Canyonlands National Park is definitely worth the effort to go and see and explore. For that matter each of the National Parks in Utah are spectacular and are different from one another and worth the time to enjoy. The couple of State Parks that we also worked in to our vacation were also spectacular. Thanks for the comment.

vballkel from Michigan on June 02, 2010:

You have some great pictures. I need to go there the next time I am down there instead of just going to Arches.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 16, 2009:

Hello Sansu,

You should have no problem doing exactly that. Just make your reservations for the Canyonlands National Park tours ahead of time since your time is limited. We explored Arches National Park on our own. Enjoy your Thanksgiving weekend and thanks for the comment. Drop me a line after the fact and let me know how you enjoyed it. Thanks!

Sansu on November 16, 2009:

Hi Peggy,

Thank you for sharing your photos and your experiences. We are planning to visit Thanksgiving weekend and we wonder if we can do our own tour of Arches Ntional Park then have a guided of the Canyonlands?


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 15, 2009:

Greetings agusfanani,

Visiting Canyonlands National Park was amazing. Hope you can visit it somday as you desire. Thanks for the comment.

agusfanani from Indonesia on September 14, 2009:

This is an amazing hub. I wish I would be there too !

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 26, 2009:

Hello Dennis,

I have written your son's blog address down and will definitely send him a message. His photography is beautiful. I can see why he got a job using that skill for the army. Hope he comes home safe from Afghanistan.

Taking students to Canyonlands National Park as well as Zion and Bryce must have been fun for you as well as them. I know when I took a German girlfriend of mine to 10 national parks some years ago...including the Grand Canyon, she also felt overwhelmed and in awe of these natural beauties. We are fortunate to have so many set aside lands in the U.S. for everyone to enjoy.

Thanks for your comment.

Dennis Freire on July 25, 2009:

Peggy, your photos bring back a lot of memories for me. I took a group of Japanese university students to Canyon Land and Bryce Canyon and Zion. I wish you could have seen their faces. They were stunned. In overload. Awed. Inspired. It was a wonderful experience.

My son, Matt,is a photographer for the Army. He's in Afghanistan. Please check out mattfreire.blogspots.com to see one of his published photos and a recent poem he wrote after an air-assault mission he was on. Please leave a comment for him... the communications encourage him. It's tough there.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 21, 2009:

Hi loveroflife,

Canyonlands National Park is indeed rugged. In fact one needs a four wheel drive vehicle to get in to see parts of the park...or of course on foot, boating and rafting, etc. Hope you get to see this very scenic part of our country someday.

loveroflife on July 21, 2009:

Canyonlands National Park looks rugged and beautiful. Hope to visit it someday.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 09, 2009:

Hello Adventuress, You must love the Southwest as do we. Hope you are able to get back there soon. Thanks for your comment.

Adventuress on May 09, 2009:

I love your photos--they remind me of my trip to the Grand Canyon in 2001. Thanks for reminding me that I need to get back to the Southwest.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 07, 2009:

Thanks Jerilee,

I am enjoying them as well as I am getting to re-live the trips in my mind over again.

Jerilee Wei from United States on January 06, 2009:

I just love your travelogues! I haven't seen many of these places in years.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 06, 2009:

The entire state is almost a continuous series of set aside public lands! I would heartily suggest visiting there. Even more to see but we squeezed in all that we could in the two weeks that we had.

Wanderlust from New York City on January 06, 2009:

I like your Utah series of hubs. Great pictures! Make me want to visit these parks one day.

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