The Last of Utah (for Now): Canyonlands National Park

Damn. What a year! I’m a bit sad that I haven’t progressed on my goal to finish writing about our awesome National Parks Road Trip from the summer of 2013. Since then I’ve been completely side-tracked by grad school, summer jobs, and other adult life-related activities. Note to all the young people out there: Don’t grow up, it’s horrible (I’m only partially kidding).

Anyway, back to the story:

After finishing a pleasant half-day at Arches National Park, we made our way out of Moab and went back west towards our last stop in Utah: Canyonlands. Of course, most people these days know about Canyonlands due to that whole story about a guy that got his arm caught between some rocks…but we definitely aren’t that hardcore.

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Canyonlands can’t be fully appreciated in just a day’s time, although you can certainly experience some great short hikes and amazing vistas (ABOVE). To truly enjoy Canyonlands, you need a 4WD vehicle, a GPS device, plenty of food and water, and a personal guide who really knows how to navigate the land – that’s how you get to see all the really sketchy and amazing stuff. But we weren’t there to visit the Maze section of the park. Nor the Needles for that matter, since we didn’t have much time. Most causal visitors like us take a day trip through the Island in the Sky.

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But before we could begin our trip to Canyonlands, we first had to find a new place to stay for the night. We tried to find a site at the famous Dead Horse Point State Park — however, we soon found that EVERY site had been taken (the place is quite popular by both families and photographers alike). The ranger at the visitor’s booth was really nice however, and gave us directions to a great little campground down the road.

Little did we know that we’d be staying at one of the most gorgeous (and obscure) little campsites in Utah…

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The campground must be a part of Utah’s State Forest or a Bureau of Land Management campgrounds – it’s one of those places where you just drop off $10 in an envelope by the campground’s wooden bulletin board that has warning signs about health risks and park rules. A total of about 10 sites were laid out fairly far apart from one another along a dirt road. After touring the grounds in our car, we found the perfect little campsite that looked out onto the wide Utah plains that seemed to go on forever. It was one of the best vistas I’ve ever seen from a campground!

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Our incredible campsite vista at dusk.

The sunsets weren’t too bad either:

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Rainbow pony also found her own rainbows:

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By the time we has set up camp it was already dark. We quickly made dinner and went to bed. Well, I went to bed. Joy stayed up for a few hours and took a ton of night sky and star photos. I need to bug her about her photos so I can also share them on this blog!

* * * *

The next day we got up early to experience Dead Horse Point State Park’s famous vista. It did not disappoint:

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The winding green Colorado River cuts through the land, forming the land as it passes through:

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An incredible geologic history has contributed to the stunning and colorful layers in the canyon:

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Rainbow pony also made sure to pay tribute to her fallen ancestors at Dead Horse Point.

(If you’d like to follow along with Windy pony’s adventures on our road trip, go HERE.)

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The surrounding park and campground was covered in RV’s and trailers:

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After taking hundreds of photos, we drove off and began our short adventures at Canyonlands National Park, where we saw our FIRST ASIAN RANGER at the visitor center. Go Asian people in National Parks!!!

Anyway. Joy’s foot blisters still hadn’t healed and continued to prevent her from going on any strenuous hikes, so we decided to take it easy and just do a half-day trip. Plus, we had already spent a week (or a quarter of our road trip) in Utah! It’s hard when there’s just too much to do out here.

Fortunately, there’s a handful of short and stunning hikes around Island in the Sky, including the short hike around Upheaval Dome — a trail marked only by rock cairns in most parts:

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Don’t get lost, it’s hot a f*ck out there!!!! I mean yes, it’s DUMB ASS HOT everywhere in Utah in the summer, this place being no exception (there also just aren’t many water sources in the area). But you know, it’s a recipe for disaster. I even saw a small sign on the circumventing Syncline Trail that warned visitors due to the number of hikers that have gotten lost and have required rescue over the years. Who knew that a little trail would require so much emergency response?

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Scientists aren’t quite sure what created the Upheaval Dome rock formation. You can’t tell from the photo, but it looks like a giant canyon/crater with a mini dome rock formation in the middle of it (the light colored rock).

There’s also the lovely 0.3 mile hike to Mesa Arch (just don’t be an a**hole and stand or walk on the arch, however)…

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…and the short hikes around and up Aztec Butte that give you incredible 360 degree views of the canyons – plus a trip to see Pueblo Indian grain storage structures that still remain today from 700 AD.

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The hike up at to the very top of Aztec Butte is a bit steep. But it also lets you pass over some incredible rock formations…

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After making our way down the butte, we found the other short trail that took us to the Pueblo grain storages. Pretty rad.

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Here’s us hiding from Utah’s intense summer heat:

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Besides the short hikes, there’s also a handful of amazing view points along the main roads. We also visited the only car campground, Willow Flat, in the middle of Island in the Sky. It was just AIITE. I don’t know how much I’d enjoy staying there, it’s pretty open and exposed to the hot Utah sun (plus the sites offer very little privacy). Nonetheless, it does allow you to stay in the middle of a gorgeous National Park. If my memory serves me correctly it’s a dry camp, so make sure to bring plenty of water with you if you decide to camp there.

While the park contains miles and miles of stunning landforms for as far as the eyes can see, I can’t emphasize enough how crazy f*cking HOT Utah is in July. This was Day 7 of our road trip – by this time, we had visited five National Parks, one National Monument, and a couple of Utah State Parks – yet had only had about two real showers the entire time (not counting the times I gave myself a bath with a jug of water or jumped in a river). By now, I was absolutely and completely disgusted by how hot, sweaty and dirty I was.

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Joy had also just about reached her limit. By the time we drove to the Grand View Point Overlook around 3 pm, she didn’t even want to get out of the car. “You go ahead, I’m just going to sit here in the shade” she told me. We hopped out of the Highlander and got some snacks to cool us off: water, grapes, and some other fruit. I distinctly remember another tourist look at us and say, “Wow, you guys sure are healthy with your snacks!”. Um, I guess so. I just love fruit.

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But still. SO GORGEOUS.

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After our final Canyonlands National Park vista of the day, we hopped in the car, turned on the air conditioning, and drove back towards the entrance of the park. We were back on the road once again.

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But before we left Utah, we had to see one last arch along the side of the highway. Helllllllloooooo Colorado!

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2 thoughts on “The Last of Utah (for Now): Canyonlands National Park

  1. Janet says:

    Even though you are “growing up” I hope that you will always keep your sense of adventure. 🙂 Your photos of this area beautiful.

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