Canyonlands National Park in Utah: Pictures of a Scenic Day Tour
National Park in Utah
Canyonlands National Park is a scenic adventure land of which we took a day tour and had many pictures that can be shared with fellow Internet travelers. My niece and I enjoyed the one-day four-wheel-drive guided tour into beautiful Canyonlands National Park in July of 1991.
Canyonlands and Arches National Parks are both near Moab, Utah, where most of the visitors to this area stay 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 it's present size of 527 square acres in 1971. The elevation ranges from 3,700 to 7,100 feet. It is 38 miles in length and 24 miles wide.
Island in the Sky
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 can be seen by passenger car.
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 here 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 it's 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 is a rugged land full of surprising vistas around every bend of the road or trail. Although not huge in the sense of set aside park land distances can be deceiving. Foot travel is inhibited by geologic features such as the 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 an interesting 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 area. He kept up a running commentary as we were driven 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 like in Arches National Park, this area was once covered by an inland sea many 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 is reserved as 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 can be 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, the Anasazi Indians were called the "Ancient Enemies" by the Navajo's. 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 and 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 sand 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 the rock. This is an important source of water for animals within the park even providing an entire life cycle for some like the tadpole shrimp when filled with rainwater.
The following pictures show some of what we were seeing on our tour. Some of the photos I took while on this day trip were snapped 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 in the world, Canyonlands has a good share of them as well.
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 almost every direction one looks.
In a photo 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 definitely 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 type of 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 types of birds including golden eagles, turkey vultures, white-throated swifts, and swallows live here as well as many types of lizards who all happen to be carnivores. This is not an inclusive list but 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 peregrin falcon. These rather rare birds seem to like the remoteness of the area and this may be their salvation as far as their surviving as a species.
On one of the scheduled stops, Eric pointed out a beehive that had somehow been built into a rock. It was an amazing experience to smell the fragrance of sweet honey coming out of a rock. These and similar experiences would never be experienced 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 curving 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 floor of the canyon.
After viewing Pyramid Point our guide and driver 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 luncheon supplies and we were offered a variety of things that would satisfy almost anyone traversing these Canyonlands. Water and soft drinks were happily embraced and consumed.
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, but imported here from western Asia to the Southwest in the mid-1800's to control erosion are now an invasive species that is 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 Tour
The name of this particular one day tour was the "Walking Rocks" which was actually 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 were invited to walk 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 as well as a few other photos. This was a truly enjoyable and informative day.
As indicated earlier this 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.
Would you like to spend some time in Canyonlands National Park?
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