Activities, Canyonlands National Park, Cycling, Dead Horse Point State Park, National Parks & Monuments, State Parks, United States, Utah

Desert Escape Part 4: Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky District, Dead Horse Point State Park, and Dino Tracks at North Klondike Bluffs

Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

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).

Canyonlands National Park entrance for Island in the Sky! 6:45am was perfect timing for some solitude!

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!

The direct sunlight was great for showing me how dirty my filter and sensor are on my camera and lens, ha! The view from the parking lot of Shafer Canyon Viewpoint.
Gorgeous red formations!
Look at that road!
Shafer Canyon
I’m a sucker for layers!

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.

Mesa Arch

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.

Mesa Arch from the other side
And more Mesa Arch
And… even more Mesa Arch
Mesa Arch isn’t the only thing to marvel at this spot! Just a few feet to the right is this nice overlook spot, surprisingly free of the crowds.

Time to keep heading south! (I found the roads really fun to drive, and was happy there wasn’t traffic.)

We stopped at another viewpoint and brought Mini-G out so he could see the views!

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.”

Behold, scenery! This is right on the cliff edge, so clumsy people beware!
White Rim Road and all the geologies!
Look at these colors!

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.

I don’t remember the name of this pullout, but it was worth the stop! (It might have been Orange Cliffs Overlook)

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.

A photo of the sign at Upheaval Dome will have to do for this trip.

Next up the Green River Overlook.

Green River Overlook
Closer view of the Green River
Not your typical sighting at a national park! #petallthecats Alas, please do obey national park rules regarding where pets are and are not allowed, despite how cute your adventure cat may be!

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.

Dead Horse Point State Point with the sad horse on its sign
Before riding, we enjoyed some lunch on the patio of the visitor’s center. Not a shabby place to enjoy some Dinty Moore stew!

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!)

One of the Colorado River overlooks at while mountain biking at Dead Horse Point State Park
The cacti were flowering like crazy
Big Chief Canyon Overlook and the La Sals
Shafer Canyon in the distance… yep, same Shafer Canyon that started our morning hours earlier!

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.

The final breakfast

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.

There Heidi goes, chasing all the dinosaur tracks!
The path to dino tracks is also a trailhead for the mountain biking at North Klondike Bluff, and there is plenty of dispersed camping in this area as well.
Long neck tracks!!
The Adventure Dinos admire the size of an allosaurus footprint

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!

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