Canyonlands National Park UT / Island in the Sky

Park Map

Canyonlands is one of those places that I've heard of many times but never figured I'd get there...it's way in the middle of nowhere, and both times we were nearby (2004 and 2014) we opted to do other things instead. So I thought I'd go and see what it looked like. I camped at Dead Horse Point State Park, which is about 5 miles away, the night before, and I was glad I had done that...when I reached Island in the Sky (the most accessible of the four sections of Canyonlands), there was a big sign at the entrance saying, No gas, no water, no food or stores, no amenities of any kind...in big letters. I talked to the rangers in the visitor's center and they said that the one campground at Island in the Sky has ELEVEN SPACES and is always full by noon...so I made the right decision staying at Dead Horse Point, mosquitoes notwithstanding.

Canyonlands is actually four sections, all reached in different ways by different roads. Island in the Sky, where I went, is the biggest, best known and most accessible, being about 30 miles from a relatively major road (the 191 through Moab) and having paved roads to all the major stuff. The Needles is the section to the south, also accessible by paved road. The Maze has 4 wheel drive roads that connect to it from The Needles, and Horseshoe Canyon is off to the west of all these other sections, and is SERIOUSLY a 4 wheel drive only place.

I got here around 9 am, and figured I'd drive out to all the viewpoints, do some hiking, and then go to Arches before calling it a day.

Like Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands offers amazing views of the upper Colorado River canyons, as well as beautiful landforms. It's basically a big mesa, with one road leading into the interior. Pale Evening Primrose
This was my first hike of the day, Mesa Arch, which was beautiful in the morning light. Getting up on it was easy, and I had handed my camera to a nice man who was kind enough to take my picture on top...but between handing him my camera and getting onto the top of the arch, the tourist hordes arrived, so he couldn't get a picture of the whole arch with me on top without it having a dozen other people in it! I like this one of me in the clouds, though.
Finished the Mesa Arch trail, back in the car to the next thing...which was the Aztec Butte trail.
This was a really pretty hike. The trail goes by one butte, that had some ovens built by the Native American tribe who had lived here, and other human-made things like that...these pictures are of this first butte as I went by it, it was very pretty.
Still going around the first butte, the trail to where I'm headed is about half a mile...and there it is in the third picture! the trail goes to the top.
but first, a vegetation break! Some kind of conifer with really cool cones, and a flower against the sky, but I can't tell what it is.
So...Aztec Butte. The trail was not so much a trail as a scramble up the rock face and then along a crack and then up the face again...not so hard going up. The leftmost picture is looking back the way I came. The middle picture is looking up at the part I couldn't get up, about 2/3 of the way to the top, just a little too 'center of gravity off center' for me...and the third picture is where I tried to kill myself, inadvertantly.

On my way down, when I realized that I couldn't go any farther up, I lost the trail, which was only marked with small piles of stones... I couldn't find the damn things. I knew I had come straight up a rock face, and I thought this was it...and I started down, slowly and carefully, crabbing my way with my heels and the heels of my hands and my butt, and my hiking stick strap looped around my wrist.

And I got about a third of the way down, and realized that A) I was not on the trail, B) it was getting steeper and C) I was going to end up falling about 60 feet. And at that point, I stopped, took a pic (of course) and slowly worked my way back up to where it was possible (and safe) to stand again, pretty relieved that I had made it safely...and IMMEDIATELY saw the correct trail, off to the right side. Duh.

I took these on the way down.
Next was Whale Rock, which you can see from the parking lot...the trail went WAAAAY over to the right, then around and up several humps of rock, so it wasn't very hard to get to the top.
The little hummock here is the very top of the whale, which was a bit of a scramble, although they kindly marked the best route to the top with white paint.
And even with the omnipresent dark clouds, the view is amazing. I can only imagine (literally) what this park is like in the bright sunshine...
And here I'm taking selfies by balancing my camera with rocks.

The second picture is part of a series, Josie Looking Sexy On Rock.

Next was Upheaval Dome, which was pretty cool looking.
Then I went to an overlook without a hiking trail- Green River and Grand View overlooks, and the sun came out a bit. They were beautiful!


These three pictures are from a turnout on the way back over the Neck, the road that connects to the giant mesa that is Island in the Sky. The third one shows the hiking trail that goes down into and across the canyon...it was tempting...
And of course the sun came out big time as I was leaving...it was really beautiful.