Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky

Canyonlands National Park, in south eastern Utah, is breathtaking in every direction. We started our two day (way too short) exploration of Canyonlands in the Island in the Sky area in the northern part of the Park. The name “Island in the Sky” refers to the visitors’ vantage point from the mesa overlooking enormous canyons carved by the Colorado and Green Rivers.

Upheaval Dome

Our day’s adventure began at Upheaval Dome, a geologic structure that is very different from the majority of the surrounding sedimentary layers of the Canyonlands. Upheaval Dome is an area approximately three miles across where the center is pushed up, with two surrounding rings of ridges and valleys around it (think of a water drop and the first couple surrounding ripples). You can view more information about it and see an amazing photo taken from the International Space Station at Canyonlands Upheaval Dome.

We hiked up to the inner rim to look down into the crater, noting the stark contrast of the grey, jagged upthrust rock at the center from the surrounding red rock. We then hiked partway (the easier part) around the Syncline Loop trail between the inner and outer rims of the Upheaval Dome feature. The Loop hike shelters the hiker in a meadow with just glimpses of the surrounding canyons above and between the raised boulders around edges of the outer rim.

View from Syncline Loop looking outward
View from Grand View Point Overlook

The southernmost place you can drive to in the Island of the Sky area is the Grand View Point Overlook. Breathtaking is an insignificant term to describe it, and my limited photography skills absolutely do not do the view justice. The Park’s information indicates there is a 100-mile view from the mesa. The White Rim is the nearly continuous sandstone layer 1,200 feet below the mesa. Carved into the White Rim, and extending down another 1,000 feet are rivers at the bottom of steep canyon cliffs.

Mesa Arch

The parts of the Park that were easier to access were crowed when we arrived, so we saved the iconic Mesa Arch for last, hoping the traffic would have thinned. The arch is beautifully situated to capture the panorama of the surrounding cliffs and towers through the window. However, even with diminishing crowds, it was still difficult to get an unobstructed view of the arch due to the constant throng of people trying to take selfies standing in the window. It reminded me a bit of trying to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum – people more interested in getting a picture with the object than actually admiring and contemplating on the object. I guess I’ll just need to come back during the off season to get a more contemplative view – oh darn!

Perhaps one of the most satisfied visitors to the Park was this coal black crow that decided to perch on the open top of a Jeep while the owner took a look at the arch. It was very adamant about owning its spot and keeping other crows at bay. I wonder if there were any shiny, pretty things inside the Jeep that went missing.

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