Tuesday, May 12, 2015

On the Road: Canyonlands National Park

(Photo credit: memyselfandtheinterstate.com)
Many, many years ago I ventured into the southern section of CanyonLands National Park. The visit was during the summer and I was by myself in a desolate area. I never saw another car and became concerned for my safety if anything went wrong, so I left without really touring the area. I wanted to visit again to explore another section of the park and I am so glad I did.

CanyonLands is located north of Arches National Park. They are both on US 191. In looking for CanyonLands on the map, travelers will notice that the park is actually to the southwest of Moab. To enter the park, one must drive north for 10 miles on 191 from Moab to UT 313 and turn left. The closest interstate is Interstate 70 which is to the north. Take Exit 182 and drive south for 22 miles to UT 313 and turn right.

(Photo credit: memyselfandtheinterstate.com)
Researching a park like CanyonLands is crucial for the enjoyment and safety of a visit. The National Park Service does an excellent job of providing all necessary information on their website. All trails are described and rated as to their difficulty. The length and elevation change are provided in addition to the time necessary for the hike and a description of the conditions of the terrain. Suggestions are given for what to see if visitors have a limited amount of time. In addition, Trip Advisor gives reviews on the various aspects of the park and YouTube has videos of the trails.

At the Islands in the Sky section the easy trails are the Mesa Arch, Grand View Point and Murphy Point. Upheaval Dome, Whale Rock, Aztec Butte and Neck Springs are the moderate ones. The strenuous trails are quite long, so check the site before hiking them. These are Gooseberry Canyon, Syncline Loop, Murphy Loop, Wilhite Canyon, Taylor Canyon and Lathrop Canyon. This section of the park is the most accessible to visitors.

(Photo credit: memyselfandtheinterstate.com)
Forty miles south of Moab is the Needles section of CanyonLands. Drive south on US 191 and turn right on UT 211. The park is 35 miles west. This area is more challenging than Islands. The easy trails are Roadside Ruin, Pothole Point, Cave Springs and SlickRock. The strenuous trails are Big Spring to Squaw Canyon, Squaw Canyon to Lost Canyon, Confluence Overlook, Peekaboo, Chesler Park/Joint Trail, Elephant Canyon/Druid Arch, Lower Red Lake Canyon and Salt Creek Canyon. These last trails are long.

CanyonLands has water available at the Visitors Centers and the campgrounds. Otherwise people are on their own, so it is advisable to bring in several gallons of water depending on the weather and the number of passengers. No food, gas or lodging are available. Cell phone reception is extremely limited or nonexistent. For those who take the chance of driving their four-wheel-drive vehicles off road, be aware that towing bills are obscenely high. The minimum charge for towing is $1,000. Travelers should be prepared for the weather which can be extremely hot. Storms can bring flash floods. Winter can be extremely cold and snow can cover the trails. This area is desolate and beautiful, but is also unforgiving. As always, travelers should respect nature.

I was watching for the entrance and noticed what I thought was a construction site. Then I noticed the small sign for the park. That was the first clue that this is a bare-bones national park. The drive to the actual park entrance was lengthy. When we arrived, we saw a manufactured home type building which was the Visitors Center. We got our information for the park and talked to the rangers. We were ready for our visit.

(Photo credit: memyselfandtheinterstate.com)
We left the center and hurried to our car because it was so cold. I happened to look across the road and decided to see what was there. I was so glad I did. I cannot believe we almost missed it! The view was breathtaking and provided a stunning example of the scenery we would be fortunate enough to see. We stopped at every viewpoint and hiked some of the trails. The Mesa Arch was our favorite trail and we loved the Upheaval Dome even though the cold wind really ripped through us there.

The main road has one small connecting road that goes to the Upheaval Dome and Whale Rock. We were happy we had our hiking boots for traveling these trails. After we came back to the main road, we drove to Grand View Point. Since the weather was freezing, attendance at the park was low. A handful of people were at each site and we felt safe in the park. Even if I had been by myself, I would have been confident to tackle the trails knowing a few people were around to assist if things went wrong.

Every time I have driven Interstate 70 in Utah, I have wanted to take one of the roads to explore this magnificent country. Since I had a passenger, I felt this was the time to do it. I would feel confident to try this journey through the park again by myself. CanyonLands is now one of my favorite national parks. Our visit during the off season gave us the opportunity to experience the serenity of this desolate area. It also gave us an appreciation for the achievements of the early settlers and the workers who built roads through this land. Take the time to visit CanyonLands National Park. It is the experience of a lifetime!

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