Canyonlands National Park Things to Do

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    Mesa Arch
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    View of arch through tree line
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Best Rated Things to Do in Canyonlands National Park

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    White Rim Overlook In Island In the Sky

    by KimberlyAnn Updated Jul 16, 2004

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    Located in the Island in the Sky district, this is an easy, one and a half mile hike across slickrock and sand with an elevation change of only 25 feet (8 m). What a beautiful place, arid with the average of 10 inches of precipitation a year, yet walking the trail was like walking through lovely gardens. The view at the end of the trail in my husband's words was "awesome." The LaSal mountains raise their snow peaked points high above us in the distance at a height of about 12,700ft. We stood on a broad, level mesa with the Green river hidden two levels below us. 1,200 feet below us is the nearly continuous White Rims sandstone bench, which is cut into red spires, pinnacles, and towers along with water cut canyons, which themselves are another 1,000 feet below the White Rims. These canyons stretch canyon after canyon 100 miles to the horizon giving the whole scene below us a craggy look. The tops of the red sandstone spires, pinnacles, and towers in the White Rim area have a harder white sandstone cap as though someone had frosted the tops with heavy, white cake frosting.

    White Rims
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    Upheaval Dome Trail in Island In the Sky

    by KimberlyAnn Written Jul 16, 2004

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    There are two trails here. The main overlook trail is a moderate trail, somewhat steep over loose rock. This main overlook section has a 50 ft elevation change in 1mile/1.5km of trail. The 2 mile/3 km trail to the second overlook is also over loose rock, and has an elevation of 200ft/61m, again it is rated moderate. The 200 ft. elevation gain was in the last half mile of this second overlook. Upheaval Dome was a cup shaped dome at one time that had rock within that was pushed up. The pushed up areas were then eroded into a rugged white rock terrain. There are two theories about the cause of this feature. One theory is that an old salt bed from an ancient sea had shifted causing the original crater. Another and more recent theory is that a meteor at one time struck the area. Both theories have equal supporting views within the scientific communities.

    View from Upheaval dome
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    See Sunrise at Mesa Arch

    by windsorgirl Written Dec 9, 2004

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    If you have an interest in photography, you will definitely want to photograph the sunrise from Mesa Arch. For a few moments the rising sun will illuminate the underside of the arch in an orange glow, as pictured here.

    Through the arch you have a perfect view of Washerwoman Arch in the distance and the snow capped La Sal Mountains beyond.

    It is a short 500 yard walk from the parking area to this viewpoint. The staff at the Moab Tourist Information will advise you what time sunrise will be and how long it should take you to get to the arch in time. We arrived to find a group of photographers already there, but they were more than happy to make room for one more tripod.

    sunrise at Mesa Arch
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    Mesa Arch in Island In the Sky

    by KimberlyAnn Updated Jul 16, 2004

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    Mesa Arch is an easy, short half mile hike (.8 km) along loose rock with an elevation change of 100 ft./30m. This arch is a picturesque, long, somewhat narrow arch, which framed a beautiful series of canyons, and the LaSal Mountains. As you look below you to a lower level, you will see an arch appropriately named Washerwoman Arch, as it looks like a woman doing hand laundry.

    Mesa Arch
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  • Mesa Arch

    by CoAir13 Updated Feb 24, 2004

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    Mesa Arch trail is fairly easy and has a great photo-op if you have the guts to climb on it. It is an arch that sits right on the edge!! Scary when it's windy....which is always! Trails, in general, are primitive...marked with rocks. Always carry a map and compass (or GPS).Primitive campsites, open all year. There are some sites along the 4 wheel-drive trails which require a permit. There are rafting and canoeing excursions offered through many companies in Moab.

    Mesa Arch
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    Whale Rock in Island In the Sky

    by KimberlyAnn Written Jul 16, 2004

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    The hike to the top of Whale Rock is a one mile trail with a 100 foot/30m elevation gain during half of the hike. This is rated moderate and carries you over bare slickrock. In two steep areas of the walk handholds similar to a railing are placed in the slickrock. From the top of Whale Rock we had a grand panoramic view of Candlestick Tower and the valleys around it.

    Zoom Photo of Candlestick Tower
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    Hike to Grand View Point

    by windsorgirl Written Dec 9, 2004

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    This is a fabulous hike along the cliff's edge to Grand View Point. The hike is 2 miles return and should take one hour, there is virtually no change in elevation.

    It is very dramatic to walk along the rim of the canyon looking down 1000 feet to the Colorado River and its canyons below.

    walking on the edge
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    Slickrock Foot Trail

    by KimberlyAnn Written Jul 16, 2004

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    Unfortunately I did not take many photos in the Needles section as the bright sun and lack of shadowing prevented me from being able to get anything even close to a good example of the beauty of this area. If I had been a VT member, I would have snapped some anyhow, so that I could show you some examples of what to expect. Slickrock Trail is a 2 and 4 tenths mile loop trail where cairns lead you across slickrock to four short spurs that lead to wonderful viewpoints. You will view the La Sal and Abajo Mountains, Upper Little Spring Canyon, Lower Little Spring Canyon, and Big Spring Canyon. This is a grand view where you will see buttes rising a thousand feet above the canyon area.

    Slickrock Trail Map
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    Hike to White Rim Overlook

    by windsorgirl Written Dec 9, 2004

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    I enjoyed this 1.8 mile return hike out to the White Rim Overlook. As you can see in the photo, the canyon below is rimmed with a layer of white sediment.

    The hike was completely level and took less than an hour. We passed some interesting rock formations along the way (see photo on my intro page) as well as small lizards among the desert plants. The view here is looking eastward, and there is a picnic area near the parking lot.

    White Rim Overlook
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    Cave Spring in the Needles

    by KimberlyAnn Written Jul 16, 2004

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    In Canyonlands small stacks of stone called cairns mark the trails, making it as close to a wilderness experience as you can get without a compass, GPS, or detailed map. Some of your hikes will take you over slickrock, which is a name for the bare rock surfaces that can be often found throughout the park. Cave Springs, in the Needles District, is another short loop trail of only six tenths of a mile. This is a primitive trail that will take you over slickrock, and has two pole ladders along the way so that you can climb the rocks to the next level. This area is called Cave Spring as there are alcoves carved out by seeping water which form cave like rooms with no front walls. Within one of these we found many vine like plants and moss growing on the wet back wall so that it was decorated with green hanging plants. In one of these alcoves you will see an old cowboy camp, which had been used from the late 1800?s to 1975 when cattle ranching was discontinued in the park. In another of these cave like alcoves there were soot blackened ceilings and handprints painted on the walls as well as other figures from the ancestral Puebloan Indian period. Within this alcove was a boulder with grinding marks where something had been ground with a stone by these same ancient people. Indians occupied these canyons during certain seasonal times of the year from 1000AD to 1300. They lived in the alcoves and planted crops. Please to not touch or mark the rock art, as this will damage them. Be aware it is also a federal law that pictographs must not be defaced.

    Anchestral Puebloan Rock Art
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    Aztec Butte in Island In the Sky

    by KimberlyAnn Updated Jul 16, 2004

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    This area contains two trails, the first is an easy, 1mile/1.5km trail over loose sand with a 25 ft/8m elevation change. There is also a 1mile/1.5km spur trail that comes off of the easier trail, and will take you to the summit. This summit trail is rated strenuous as it will take you up along steep slickrock with a 200 ft/61m gain in the last quarter mile. At the top of one butte along this trail you will see a pair of almost twin Ancestral Puebloan Granaries that were in excellent condition, and to which you could climb completely up to, so that you could peak in through the small openings in the fronts. We felt like we earned our mountain goat standing as we tackled the more strenuous 200 ft climb of the trail to the taller butte. It was so steep in places that I had to climb with both hands and feet to proceed forward. Slickrock is quite smooth and offers very little to no handholds, so it was quite a challenge for me. In some spots on the return trip I had to work my way down in a sitting position. Circling the top of the butte with varied views of the valleys below, we again viewed an ancestral Pueblean Granarie up close. This one was also very interesting; however not in as excellent condition as the previous ones we had seen at the lower butte. This was because the first two were built into an overhanging rock cove, therefore protected from the elements. The one on the high butte was built in the open, fully exposed. Even so, except for the missing roof it was in surprisingly good shape. This strenuous rated climb was marked with rock cairns to show you the path to take both up and down, as well as the circle route at the top of the butte.

    My Husband by a Granary at the High Butte
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    Island in the Sky: Good stuff to know

    by goodfish Updated Dec 10, 2015

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    The Island in the Sky unit of Canyonlands NP is 32 miles from Moab and the park has another 20 miles of paved scenic road. Figure on driving 40 miles within the park as the road doesn't loop; you'll double back on all branches. Park entry fees are $25 per vehicle, $15 per motorcycle, and $10 per bicycle or pedestrian. Use your annual NPS park pass if you have one. Entry fees are good for a week and cover the other Canyonlands units as well but do not cover camping, river use or other permits so see the NPS website on those.

    There is one small campground (Willow Flat) open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis. It has 12 sites with picnic tables, grills and toilets but no water, firewood or hookups. Site fees are $15.

    The Visitor Center at the park entrance is open seasonally with holiday and mid-winter closures so reference the park website. You can talk to a ranger about the best activities for your abilities, get backcountry permits and maps, and purchase bottled water (no drinking water sources within the park). There's no restaurant so pack your own food and water for the day and bring a bag to pack out your trash.

    http://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/index.htm

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    Horseshoe Canyon: the pictographs

    by goodfish Updated Nov 28, 2013

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    I'd been crazy to do this hike for years and had some tense moments when heavy rains closed the access road with no clear idea when it might be passible again. But we got lucky: the crews had 'er in shape by the time we hit Hanksville. Yay.

    As beautiful as this canyon is (see previous tip) these images are the stars of the show. They are very ancient - between 2,000 and 9,000 years old - and very rare; incised petroglyphs are much more common to this area. These particular groups of paintings are so important that the name of canyon in which they were found is used as the identifier for others of the same genre: Barrier Style. Archaic hunter/gatherers could have dabbled them on around the same time the pyramids of Egypt were being built or even earlier, and their positions under rock shelves or in the walls of alcoves clearly indicate that they were created to last a long time. No one really knows what they mean but many theories suspect that they were shamanistic in nature and symbolistic of death and rebirth or transformation into animal spirits. That newer images were not superimposed by later peoples (except modern vandals) may support this view - they were apparently respected as sacred and maybe even feared.

    I can go along with that; they are definitely unsettling to see. Eerie armless, legless anthropomorphs - some with staring eyes or horned heads - hover menacingly above your head and cluster in dark recesses. The largest and most impressive grouping - the Great Gallery - has been nicknamed the "Holy Ghost Panel" for a large figure with huge empty sockets in a skull-like head surrounded by blind and featureless "mummies".

    There are four pictograph groupings on this trail:
    High Gallery: on your left and high on a canyon wall shortly after reaching the canyon floor
    Horseshoe Gallery: on your right and just beyond High Gallery
    Alcove Gallery: on your left, about 1/2 mile from Horseshoe Gallery
    Great Gallery: about 1 and 1/4 miles from Alcove

    None of them are marked so to have some idea where to start looking for them on the trail, make a rough sketch of the map in the parking lot kiosk and bring it along. At the Great Gallery viewing site there should be two metal boxes marked "Open me" containing binoculars and some background literature. This is really not a difficult hike although some of it is through sand, and infrequent water in the wash could make for boot-soaked crossings. The most strenuous piece is the climb out so save a good amount of water for that stretch if doing it on a hot and sunny day. And please do not touch the fragile paintings - those at Alcove have been sadly abused enough.

    http://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/upload/HorseshoeCanyon.pdf

    Section of Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon Horseshoe Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon Alcove Gallery with graffiti, Horseshoe Canyon High Gallery close-up, Horseshoe Canyon
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    Green River Overlook

    by windsorgirl Written Dec 9, 2004

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    There is no hiking necessary to enjoy this viewpoint. It is located on the west side of the mesa, opposite to the White Rim Overlook. However, the canyons of the Green River are also rimmed by the same white sediment that was seen at White Rim Overlook. In fact, it is even more prominent here.

    This overlook is said to be a good spot for viewing sunset.

    Green River Overlook
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  • Upheaval Dome

    by CoAir13 Written Mar 6, 2004

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    The most outstanding geologic feature in Island in the Sky!! It's not actually a dome, but a crater measuring 1,500 feet deep. There are many theories as to how this crater was created. Was it a meteor? Or was it slow moving underground salt deposits that pushed sandstone upward? Whatever the origin....it's interesting. There is a trail around it.

    Upheaval Dome
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Canyonlands National Park Things to Do

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Canyonlands encompasses the fantastic canyon area around the confluence of the Green and Colorado River.  There are three separate areas each with their own entrance: Island in the Sky,...

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