Thursday, December 1, 2011

Canyonlands - Island In The Sky

Two of our nation’s greatest National Parks are very close together just a little south of I-70 in eastern Utah - Canyonlands and Arches.  This whole area is one of my favorite places on earth.

Less than 30 miles south of I-70 on Utah 191 is the great little town of Moab. There are so many amazing rides in this part of the country that by basing out of Moab you could easily accomplish a week’s worth of memorable touring.  I’d also recommend renting a four-wheel vehicle or ATV and getting into the depths of Canyonlands, like White Rim Trail. 

Moab Area
White Rim Trail

It seems Moab’s name has biblical roots.  In the Bible, the name Moab refers to a dry, mountainous area east of the Dead Sea and southeast of Jerusalem. This seems to fit in both Moab’s geographical relationship to Salt Lake City (and the Great Salt lake) and the geologic characteristics of the area. While LDS leaders settled in the area in 1855, this area was home to prehistoric Indian cultures, the Fremont and the Anasazi from about 1 AD until 1300 AD.  Check out Newspaper Rock.

Petroglyph along Potash Rd.
Detail at Newspaper Rock

On our way over to Island in the Sky, we’ll pass through Seven Mile Canyon.  This seems to have been a place where these two cultures mixed as many remains, petroglyphs and dwellings have been found in this immediate area. 
The entrance to the famous Arches National Park just north of Moab by less than three miles.  Arches, as you probably know, is an almost magical place and a must see!  I’ll leave Arches for another blog and video.

Just a bit further north on 191 you’ll see the turn-off to Highway 313 that leads to the Visitors Center for Island in the Sky, the northern most section of Canyonlands. 

UT-313 Turn-Off
Island In The Sky Map

Near the Turn-Off
Visitors Center

Today we are going to ride that section of road and take a look over the edge at Grand View Point.   This road passes the turn-off to Dead Horse Point, which is a Utah State Park, and definitely worth a couple of hours for spectacular views.  That turn-off is easy to see and I’d recommend you take it, unless your time is limited to only Grand View Point.  

My wife's favorite spot
Resting on a rock at Dead Horse Point
When you ride Highway 313 on your way to Grand View Overlook, there is so much to see and the road itself is a joy.  Sweeping twisties and many pull-outs that overlook some of the most beautiful vistas you will encounter. 

Schaefer Canyon overlook is shortly after the visitor’s center on the left.  Next is the parking area for one of the most iconic photographic spots in the world - Mesa Arch.  It is just a very short hike off the road on the left.

Entering Canyonlands
Schaefer Canyon

The stunning Mesa Arch
Mesa Arch

Just a bit further down is a right turn to Green River Overlook and Upheaval Dome.  The hike to upheaval dome is moderate but there is an interesting geological mystery that awaits you up there.  Take the short climb to find out.  

Satellite view of Upheaval Dome
View from trail view point
It’s time to continue on UT-313 that takes you over the top of this giant plateau (Island in the Sky) and on to Grand View Point. All along the way it overlooks some of the most majestic views of Canyonlands National Park. 

Once at the end of this road you will find a good parking area and a short walk to  one of the most spectacular views imaginable.  I think it rivals the view of The Grand Canyon from the south rim and has its own imposing grandeur. 

That is a Grand Vista
I love this place!
From this vista you can see the Needles District to your south east, and The Maze to the south west.  You could spend weeks or months exploring each.  In fact, it is in the Maze District where Aron Ralston was trapped in 2003 and had to amputate his own right arm with a dull pocketknife to free himself from a dislodged boulder. 

As you look 180 degrees around you, you’ll see views of incomprehensible dimensions of over 100 miles into the intricate canyons.  From this viewpoint you can see the White Rim, a continuous sandstone bench, 1200 feet below you.  Then another 1000 feet below that are the two rivers ( the Colorado and the Green) that some call the forth part of Canyonlands National Park.  You can just imagine John Wesley Powell and his men floating down these rivers on their way to discover the Grand Canyon in 1869. 

The View from the Overlook
Take some time to explore the nice trails that lead west of the main viewpoint.  It is a great place to bring your lunch and you’ll never have a better view.  It is impossible to take in the vast beauty from this majestic viewpoint.  I predict you will visit this place time and time again.  It is truly the “Grandest of View Points", and you will find it at the southern tip of Island in The Sky at Canyonlands National Park. 

Shiny Side Up 

"Road Dog"
Here's The Video


  1. Beautifull photos. Thanks for sharing your trip with others.

  2. Thank you Torch, I enjoy doing this and hope to have more soon. be safe.

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