Monday, September 16, 2013

The Third Sunday Drive, Day Two,a: Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park covers 527 square miles, most of which lie in San Juan County, Utah, the southeastern corner of the state.  It is divided into four main "units," none of which are readily accessible from any of the other units.  As I mentioned in my main Day Two post, I had set my Navigation System to get me to the northern unit, by which I meant Island in the Sky.  The Nav system thought I wanted to go to the Horseshoe Canyon Unit, which is why it directed me off I-70 at Green River.  The four main units are the Horseshoe Canyon Unit, northwest of the main part of the park and separated from it by the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and, indeed, by the canyon of the Green River.  The Island in the Sky Unit is easily accessible by Utah Highway 313 which takes off from US 191 north of Moab, Utah.  This was the only park unit I visited.  The Maze Unit is the southwestern section of the park, west of the Green River and, after their confluence, the Colorado River, and the Needles Unit is the southeastern section of the park.  Only Island in the Sky and The Needles are accessible by paved roads.  Every other part of the park requires you to hike or take a sturdy four-wheel drive vehicle over miles of dirt road.

Clouds above the Shafer Canyon Overlook

The Green and Colorado Rivers have carved deep canyons through the park, most notably The Meander Canyon carved by the Colorado, and the Stillwater Canyon carved by the Green.  After the confluence of the two rivers, the Cataract Canyon separates the Maze from the Needles Unit.  There is an overlook in the Needles Unit where hikers can look down on the confluence of these two great rivers.  I didn't make it to that part of the park.  Rather I entered via Utah 313 and stopped at the Island in the Sky Visitor's Center, then at the overlook for Shafer Canyon.  I drove on past several more overlooks with the intent of reaching the Grand View Point Overlook, before turning around.  You have to turn around there.  There is no way to drive further south in this section of the Park.

Four Views of the Shafer Canyon Overlook

At the Grand View Point Overlook, I hiked down the trail a ways to get as much of that grand view as I could.  Along the way, I heard many different languages spoken, and saw a variety of skin tones and racial features.  It was, after all, Labor Day Weekend, and lots of folk were out for a last bit of summer travel and adventure.

Heading back north, I stopped at a couple of the overlooks I had passed on my way south, most notably Orange Cliffs and Buck Canyon, but the clouds were moving in and their shadows obscured much of what I was trying to photograph.  I definitely see a return to southeastern Utah in my future, with much more time spent admiring the various views of this amazing topography.

 Buck Canyon from the Overlook

Candlestick Tower from the Overlook

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