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Arches National Park Canyonlands National Park

22nd June 2010

The Wild, Rugged, Remote Landscape of Canyonlands, an Explore of Island in the Sky

Panorama From Buck Canyon Overlook - Note the White Rim      (please use scroll bar)

Panorama From Orange Cliffs Overlook      (please use scroll bar)

Panorama From Grand View Point Overlook      (please use scroll bar)

Panorama From Green River Overlook      (please use scroll bar)

Panorama From Aztec Butte Granary Looking Towards Taylor Canyon - A Long Way to Walk to get Out      (please use scroll bar)

Looking Down into the Crater of Upheaval Dome - over 2 miles across and 3/4 miles Deep      (please use scroll bar)

    Whilst preparing my exotic breakfast this morning, I ran out of propane gas, so I disconnected the defunct gas bottle, and set off into town to swap for a full one, which is what I would do in the UK. I was amazed that nowhere in Moab are the gas bottles recycled. OK, I thought, I'll just buy a new one. But I checked in a few places what I was supposed to do with the 'empty' bottle. I knew that such bottles still contain residual gas, and can be regarded as potential bombs. In the hot air ballooning circles, often when traveling by ferry or sometimes through tunnels, the propane gas bottles had to be purged beforehand, and a certificate of purging had to be presented on request. The purging in that case was completely fill the bottle with water and empty it, or fill it with carbon dioxide up to a certain pressure, empty it, and repeat that another two times. An example of how lethal an 'empty' propane bottle can be; a worker on a building site in Colchester required some buckets for carrying rubble. So he commandeered an 'empty' propane bottle and proceeded to cut it in two with a welding torch. His body was scattered over quite a large area after the bang. In Moab it seems such 'empty' gas bottles are treated as trash, and go into standard trash bins!
    After my sumptuous porridge, I posted five CDs of photos back to the UK, and power washed the van to soothing music being blasted into the spray booth; I rediscovered the van colour was navy blue. Then, without delay I headed of to the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park.
    Millions of years ago the Colorado and Green Rivers cut winding paths deep into the rock, creating a labyrinth of rocky canyons that form the heart of this stunning wilderness. At its centre, the rivers' confluence divides the park's 527 square miles into three districts: the Needles, the Maze, and the grassy plateau of the Island in the Sky; all vast and very different regions. The areas share a common primitive spirit and wild West atmosphere, each offering its own rewards. Few people were familiar with these remote lands and rivers when the park was established in 1964. Only Indians, cowboys (Butch Cassidy hid out in the Maze canyons in the late 1800s), river explorers (e.g. John Wesley Powell), and uranium prospectors had dared enter this rugged corner of south-eastern Utah.
    Views from the Island in the Sky reach from the depths of the Green and Colorado Rivers to the mountaintops and above. They stretch across canyon after canyon to the horizon 100 miles distant. Island in the Sky - a broad mesa wedged between the two rivers - serves as Canyonlands' observation tower. From here could be seen vistas of almost incomprehensible dimensions. 1200' below the Island was the White Rim, a nearly continuous sandstone bench of the hard white rock variety. A trail for 4x4s existed along its 100 mile length, and estimates of at least two days were required to complete it. Another 1000' feet below the White Rim were the rivers, shadowed by sheer canyon cliffs.
Shafer Trail
    My first stop on this Island explore was a viewpoint overlooking the Shafer Trail. This provided 4x4s an alternative way to travel overland to reach Moab. It was also an access point to the White Rim Road. The scale was unimaginable, with only the road winding along the bottom to give an impression of scale. From there it was a short drive to the Mesa Arch. It was only when I was right up by the arch, looking down the 1000' drop, did I realise that the arch is clinging perilously to the cliff edge.
    Traveling further south I came across more stunning viewpoints: Buck Canyon, Orange Cliffs and Grand View Point Overlooks. All looked out over vast tracts of land that at one time must have been level as far as the eye could see. But now, due to the forces of erosion, a 1000' lower plane had been created, in which numerous valleys were carved and two rivers wound there way 1000' lower still. The panorama shots can't do the vistas justice.
Looking Through Mesa Arch
    It was at the Grand View Point Overlook that I learned about Powell. On May 24th 1869, Major John Wesley Powell set out on a remarkable mission - to explore and study the uncharted canyons and waters of the Green and Colorado Rivers. Powell, a geology professor and a one-armed Civil War veteran, began the journey with nine novice oarsmen and four wooden boats. As they entered the Canyonlands, Powell wondered, "What shall we find?"
    By the time Powell's party reached the confluence of the two rivers in July, one boat had been smashed, and provisions were low. But he found a unique landscape that drew national attention. Powell's journal stated, "We glide along through a strange, weird, grand region. The landscape everywhere, away from the river, is of rock," with "cathedral like buttes towering hundreds or thousands of feet, cliffs that cannot be scaled, and canyon walls that shrink the river into insignificance".
    It was a voyage of scientific discovery, but also one of the world's great adventures. Today's adventurers run the river in rubber boats, but they see a wild landscape that has changed little since Powell's time.
     I headed back north to the Green River Overlook where the river could actually be spotted meandering between the sheer canyon walls. A sort distance further brought me to the Aztec Butte. I walked a trail which crossed sand dunes to the base of the butte. I came across beautiful flowers crossing the dunes, including the prickly pear cactus. Earlier in the day I had asked an elderly lady about a plant that had also intrigued me but nobody seemed to know what it was. She explained to me it was a Yucca. Like many desert plants, it had a succulent stem, tall in the Yucca's case, and spiny leaves at the base. The plant was a favourite of the Indians. The stem contained long fibres that could be used for tying, and the prickly spines served as needles when dried. The sand dunes made me wonder, here I was walking on sand that had probably been produced by erosion of sandstone over millions of years, the sandstone having been produced form sand at an even earlier epoch in time. The temporal and physical scales of the region were beyond my comprehension.
Blue Flowers
Cactus Flower
Another Cactus Flower
    The trail started to climb steeply up the butte on smooth rocky surfaces. At the top were granaries. Ancestral Puebloans traveled to the Island in the Sky to hunt and gather seeds. They stored food in stone granaries located at the top of Aztec Butte. It was quite moving to walk along the very narrow ledges and observe these buildings used to store their precious food in times long gone. Life must have been exceedingly harsh in those times. An unexpected marvelous view presented itself on the far side of the butte across to Taylor Canyon.
A Granary
Another Granary
Yet Another Granary
    My final stopping off point on the Island was the Upheaval Dome. This involved a steepish climb which brought me out onto a broad ledge that overlooked a crater, over two miles across and three quarters of a mile deep. What was unusual about the crater was that the rock layers inside were not well organised structures laid down in time like the rest of the Island, but the rock formations inside the crater were all haphazard. This had puzzled scientists for a long time, and two theories had been put forward. One was that a meteorite had created the crater, and the recoil from within the earth had pushed lower layers back up in a mixed up structure. The other followed the same theory behind Arches National Park; a salt dome had created the tremendous upheaval. The jury is still out on the matter.
    This had been a lovely introduction to Canyonlands; the wilderness, remoteness, ruggedness and mystery, it all appealed to me.
    In the evening I strolled down to Eddie McStiff's for some food. It seemed like a lively place. In the corner a bass player, banjo player, and a female guitar player/singer played out songs that I couldn't say were country and western, in fact I couldn't say what they were, but it got feet tapping and a few folk up dancing. As in all bars there was a minimum of two TVs showing sports channels. I noted England was playing Slovenia in the morning, but I wasn't keen on the idea of a 7:30 am kick off US time though. The food was good, the atmosphere was good, and I left content but whacked.
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Arches National Park Canyonlands National Park

Uploaded from Canyonlands Campground, 555 South Main Street, Moab UT 84532 on 24/06/10 at 15:10

Last updated 25.6.2010