Sometimes things sound like a really good idea until they’re not. When initially planning the trip I decided I wanted to photograph Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park at sunrise, which involves a crazy early morning and waiting in the dark. Then I finally got smart, realizing I did not want to fight the tripod masses for a spot in a really tiny area. Alas, instead of a 3:30am wakeup, an alarm was set for 5:30am. Still a very early day for Sarah and I, but with hearing of hour-plus long waits to enter the park, we knew our early morning would be worth it.
This would be my very first time visiting Canyonlands National Park, the place Edward Abbey called “the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth—there is nothing else like it anywhere.” The park is divided into three districts which are pretty separate from each other travel wise – we would be visiting Island in the Sky, the northern district. Island in the Sky is a broad mesa in between the Colorado and Green Rivers, and receives about three-quarters of all the park’s visitors (probably because its very easy to get to from Moab).
Our early morning was well worth it as we cruised through the entrance without any lines. Mesa Arch was the biggest attraction I wanted to see, and otherwise we stopped when we fancied.
Schafer Canyon Overlook was our first stop and we spent lots of time taking photos and chatting with fellow travelers about camping and things to do and see. The light was challenging somewhat for photos, but the haze and sun was also creating lovely layers. The views of White Rim Road weren’t half bad, either!
Next up was the main destination for the day. Our early arrival meant plenty of parking left at the Mesa Arch trailhead, and we took off on the short hike as I shoved my wide angle lens in my pocket. Though I missed my chance to photograph the sun rising under the arch, in the morning hours the arch is lit by the sun and is still gorgeous to see.
Indeed, well worth it!
But don’t expect solitude. This arch is actually really small, and I could not imagine being here with the sunrise crowds, fighting for tripod space! But don’t worry, you can walk twenty feet to the right of the arch and get some solitude as you look over the canyons.
Time to keep heading south! (I found the roads really fun to drive, and was happy there wasn’t traffic.)
Next up was Grand View Point, which offers panoramic views of the landscape. There is a paved path to the main view point, and then a path continues for about a mile to offer different views along the rim of the “island.”
Next we headed towards Upheaval Dome, the Green River Overlook, and a few other view points along the way when I saw something I wanted to photograph.
Upheaval Dome is interesting from a geology nerd aspect. According to the NPS website, “In the area of Upheaval Dome, approximately three miles (5 km) across, rock layers are dramatically deformed. In the center, the rocks are pushed up into a circular structure called a dome, or an anticline. Surrounding this dome is a downwarp in the rock layers called a syncline. What caused these folds at Upheaval Dome? Geologists do not know for sure, but there are two main theories which are hotly debated.” A 1-mile trail leads you to a viewpoint. Sarah and I opted not to take the trail as our legs were tired and it was uphill.
Next up the Green River Overlook.
We made a final stop at the Island in the Sky Visitor Center for passport stamps, and then headed out of the park, noting an entrance line of over a mile long!!!! WOW! Yep, if Mesa Arch didn’t make the early morning a good idea, seeing that entrance line did! Wowza, this was crazy!
Sarah and I brought our mountain bikes along so we could hit up the trail system in Dead Horse Point State Park on the way back to Moab. Established in 1959, this Utah state park has amazing views of the Colorado River and beyond. The Intrepid trail system is comprised of 17 miles of singletrack, ranging from smooth and flowy to technical ledge sections. I’d say a good trail system for beginners or those less technically inclined, or for those like me with tired legs.
We did a ride just short of 14 miles that skirted one of the canyon rims before heading inland a bit. No lie, my body was dead by now from all racing and riding, so this ride was a bit of a bumpy sufferfest, but once again, the views were gorgeous and made it worth it! (After all, there were way worse places I could’ve been suffering through a bike ride!)
Dead Horse Point State Park has a nice visitor center and gift shop (with a passport stamp!). We grabbed some ice cream treats to help cool off after a hot ride. Sarah was smart and got a Coke, which I was instantly jealous of, as for some reason I grabbed elk jerky instead and was left with warm water from my bottle.
After getting back to the cabin we cleaned up and explored downtown Moab a bit, something I’ve never done despite all my trips there! Then it was time for dinner and cake and the last night in the cabin.
All good things must come to an end, and alas so did this little desert adventure. I got an early start thanks to my seven or so hour drive back to Laramie. But if there’s one thing I never do, it’s leave the Moab area without visiting my favorite dinosaur tracks at Copper Ridge at North Klondike Bluff!! It is just a short jaunt off of the highway north of Moab, with a quick walk up a hill.
Another desert adventure wrapped up, and it was time to begin the long drive home and work on getting all the red dust out of my interior. Until next time, Moab!