Canyonlands National Park – Utah

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About a 40 minute drive from Moab lies Canyonlands National Park. The park is divided into three distinct districts: Island of the Sky, the Needles and the Maze. Because the districts are bisected by the Green and Colorado Rivers, no roads connect the districts. Island of the Sky is closest to Moab and the most visited, while the Maze has no paved roads and is more remote.

Popular activities including offroading, white water rafting and rock climbing. The park ranger at the Island of the Sky visitor center recommended the scenic drive to Grandview Overlook, Green River Overlook, Mesa Arch at sunrise and Upheaval Dome.

Just like it’s name, you look down into the canyons while driving on the scenic road. At the visitor center, we realized from the relief map that we’re on top of a mesa.

Grand View Point Overlook and Green River Overlook

At the end of the scenic drive is a large parking lot. Look over and you see amazing cut outs in the canyons (see below picture). We did about a third of the 1-mile Grand View Point Trail.

Canyonlands NP

Canyonlands NP

The Green River overlook also offers spectacular views.

Green River Overlook

Green River Overlook

Mesa Arch at Sunrise

All information said that Mesa Arch is worth seeing at sunrise or sunset. We headed back early the next morning and missed sunrise by about 15 minutes. The 1/2-mile total loop is easy, especially if carrying heavy camera equipment. When we reached the arch, tons of tripods and photographers were lined up. At first it doesn’t look like that high of an arch, but when you look through and see the steep canyon walls, it’s a different story altogether.

Photographers catching the sunrise at Mesa Arch

Photographers catching the sunrise at Mesa Arch

 

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Mesa Arch

Upheaval Dome

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We did a quick 0.8-mile round trip hike to the first overlook for Upheaval Dome. The time of day wasn’t right for the best pictures, but it was still gorgeous. To this day, scientists haven’t figured what caused the dome to occur in the first place.

For more information, see the Canyonlands website here.

 

 

 


Arches National Park

Tunnel Arch on the Landscape Arch Trail

Tunnel Arch on the Landscape Arch Trail

Arches is exactly as its name implies – a park full of natural, rock arches. In my non-science brain, I understand the formation of arches as this. There was a layer of sandstone that formed porous rock. Below that was a layer of clay and sand that formed a less porous rock. Somehow salt from underneath both layers came up forming domes. With more shifts of the earth, a rock formed over the salt layer. Over time, rain eroded openings. Arches aren’t permanent and in 2008, Wall Arch eroded away. For it to be considered an arch, the opening must be at least 3 feet wide. Today Arches NP boasts over 2,000 of these formations.

The Windows

For sunrise, we started at the Windows section. An ideal hike for an overview, the 1-mile loop allows access to three arches. Driving past the visitor center, the three gossips, Wall Street and Balanced Rock, the red stones began to light up with a pink hue. Parking at the Windows section, we took the trail to the North Windows. From the other side, we saw tripods clicking away as the sun rose through the arch opening onto Turret Arch. Climbing under the arch is quite exhilarating as its more magnificent than it looks. Once past the opening, we climbed several rocks to get to the photography staging area. It was a bit challenging at first, but once over this one set of rocks, I was fine.

North Windows Arch with Turret Arch with Turret Arch in the background.

North Windows Arch with Turret Arch with Turret Arch in the background.

I loved the dedication of the photographers. Besides them, the park was a quiet hush. We spent time under Windows Arch and then walked over to Turret Arch. An hour after sunrise more people showed up. Even though it was still beautiful, I wanted to tell the people to come an hour earlier.

Landscape Arch

Next. we drove the scenic drive to the Devil’s Garden parking area to take the 1.6-mile (round-trip) hike to Landscape Arch. Considered the longest arch in the park at over 300 feet (think one football field), it didn’t impress me at first. From the angle of the trail, rocks behind the arch made it disappear into the landscape. Not until we continued past the several lookouts did we get to the best view with the blue sky appearing through the arch.

Lanscape Arch

Lanscape Arch

Double Arch

In the evening, we returned to the park. I took the 1/2-mile (round-trip) walk to Double Arch from the Windows parking lot. You truly can’t see it until you get almost up to it as it is between several large fins. Two arches start at the same point. Several people climbed underneath the arch but since I was alone, I didn’t feel comfortable. I got about halfway up, took pictures and left mainly because several kids were running around and jumping seemingly unsupervised. Two brothers thought it was fun to throw small rocks down below while the parents were completely oblivious. Only when the mother thought her son fell did she clue into the fact they were throwing rocks. Although people weren’t in the path of the falling rocks, I wanted to get away from these crazies.

Double Arch

Double Arch

Delicate Arch

Every tour book says tourists must see Delicate Arch. No wonder – it’s the emblem on the Utah license plate. Although there’s an overlook to the arch, hikers recommend taking the difficult 3-mile hike at sunset to get to the actual arch. I would consider the trail moderate – not difficult, but it does have an increase in elevation. At one point, its similar to climbing Stone Mountain. At the very top, a ledge with steep sides gets you to the final area. Once at the top, it looked like an outdoor concert. Hikers and photographers all focused on the beautiful arch. A family in front of us had a full picnic with blankets and candles.

I took one of our daughters to get a quick picture under the arch. As long as you did it quickly, photographers were nice. One man who kept making funny poses and taking a long time under the arch received boos from the crowd. Snow capped mountains stood up from the distance. A large bowl-shaped area plunged from the right of the arch. As the sun descended, the colors on the arch began changing and the temperatures lowered. In hushed silence everyone enjoyed the natural beauty, picked up their belongings and began to hike back.

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

The way back leads mostly downhill. However, careful attention to not to roll off the mountain is necessary. The looming mountains grew bigger during the descent as the sky darkened. Worth it? Absolutely.

If we’d have more time, I’d like to have hiked Skyline Arch and Sand Dune Arch. For more information about the park click here.


Colorado National Monument – Grand Junction

Just south of Grand Junction lies Colorado National Monument. Never heard of it? You’re not alone. A few years ago, residents declined the opportunity to convert it to a national park. The reason? It would spoil this quiet, pristine area with traffic and tourists.

Also, the name is a misnomer as I thought it would be a single, man-made monument like the Washington Monument in DC. Instead, it is an area of red rocks, canyons and the Colorado River Valley.

The Coke ovens

The Coke ovens

And unspoiled it is. We drove the 23-mile Rim Rock Drive from the east entrance (just south of Grand Junction) to Fruita, where we hooked back on to I-70. The late afternoon sun glimmered on the rocks creating spectacular scenery. Since there was no traffic on the two-lane road, it only took 45-60 minutes out of trip. Highlights included the Coke Ovens, Balanced Rock and Independence Monument Рall formed by erosion with views of Book Cliffs on the horizon.

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Balanced Rock

We passed several cyclists biking to the highest point 2,000 above the Ute Canyon. Additionally, several short trails were labelled on the map; but because of the high winds, we remained in the car. For more adventurous types, several backcountry trails ranging from 3 – 8 miles wind through the canyons. Colorado National Monument is definitely worth visiting for anyone in the area. For more information, see their website.

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Click here to see a map of the drive.


Trip Report – Utah and Colorado

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Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

I wanted to go somewhere that didn’t look just like home. For several years I had been researching the Grand Canyon, but flights were expensive. After talking to a friend who did a 2-week tour of the national parks, we came up with this 5-day itinerary. The focus was on the three Utah parks – Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef and we made Moab our base. The nearest airports are Salt Lake City and Denver. Since Denver was significantly less expensive and we’d get to explore some of Colorardo, we chose that route. It sounds like a lot, but it worked and was the perfect amount of time. One more day and everyone would be getting cranky. Be sure to click on the hyper-links for detailed posts on each place.

Ski Lift at Vail

Ski Lift at Vail

 

 

Day 1

Fly to Denver

Vail Ski Resort – lunch

Colorado National Monument

Dinner and Overnight in Moab, Utah

 

 

 

Windows Arch at Arches NP

Windows Arch at Arches NP

 

 

Day 2

Arches National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Return to Arches NP for Delicate Arch trail at Sunset

Overnight in Moab

Canyonlands NP

Canyonlands NP

 

 

 

 

Day 3

Canyonlands National Park

Dead Horse Point State Park

Capital Reef NP

Dinner and Overnight in Moab

 

 

Scenic Colorado

Scenic Colorado

 

 

Day 4

Scenic drive to Telluride

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Overnight in Salida, Co

 

 

 

University of Colorado

University of Colorado

 

 

Day 5

Boulder, Co

Rocky Mountain National Park

Overnight in Denver for early flight the next morning