Thursday, December 5, 2019

Canyonlands National Park

"In the past, I've visited remote places partly as a way to visit remote states of mind, remote parts of myself that I wouldn't ordinarily explore." -Pico Iyer

After a glorious day at Arches National Park and a mind-blowing sunset at Dead Horse Point. I thought I'd seen every flavor of majesty that this corner of southeast Utah has to offer.

Well, I was wrong. 

Because the next morning, after my close encounter with a bighorn sheep, we headed to nearby Canyonlands National Park for another eye-searing morning of sightseeing. 

Though the two park entrances are less than thirty miles apart, there's a world of difference between Arches and Canyonlands.

There are certainly gorgeous vistas to be had at Arches, but most of the park has an intimate feeling. Canyonlands, on the other hand, is vast, open, and unabashedly untamed.

There's an immensity of place that draws the visitor into herself. It's a place that begs us to sit and wait whereas Arches invites us to move in and around the places we see. 

I took a keen pleasure in the juniper berries, lush and pale blue on every bush in sight. They provided the only sense of closeness and detail in a place of unrestrained scale and size. 

We traveled out to the Grand View Point Overlook, where the waters of the Green River meet up with the Colorado. Then we circled back to the Green River Overlook. 

Red rocks.
Shimmering threads of water.
Broad basins of rock.
Canyons as far as the eye can see. 

If Arches is a dancer, Canyonlands is an astronaut exploring vast regions of the galaxy.

If Arches is an evening at home with a few friends, enjoying cocktails and good conversation, Canyonlands is a months-long cattle drive. 

If Arches is a perfect little cream puff, Canyonlands is a party-sized sub sandwich.

And if Arches is a place one could linger through for hours, it would take months or even years to explore Canyonlands. 

In fact, it's quite difficult to get around many parts of  Canyonlands. The park divides into three geographic regions and most visitors, including us, stick to the area called Island in the Sky. A mesa with easy access to Moab and plenty of well-maintained roads, this is the place to visit if you have limited time and want easy access to some fabulous overlooks.

The Needles is for the more committed visitor. Here can be found some stellar arches and rock formations, but unlike those over at Arches National Park, these are deep in back country so visitors need to take on long hikes or four-wheel drive trips to see them. 

The Maze is the third area of the park; it's the least visited and least accessible section of the park.

Not to be overlooked are the waterways, perfect for kayakers.

My husband visited here as a boy, and took a raft trip through the Needles with his adventurous dad and devotedly acquiescent mother. I cannot believe that woman went along with all of these crazy wildlife adventures but she did. 

As for us, we stuck to some easy strolls around the overlooks, a picnic lunch, and one short hike out to this finger of rock.called the Schafer Canyon Overlook.

Though we stuck to the well-traveled roads, we could see evidence of the park's more primitive pathways. Unpaved trails like this one offer a down and dirty way to get closer to the scenery, but four-wheel drive vehicles only, please.

And for the truly rabid animals among us, some visitors actually ride bicycles through the canyons along barely there roads like this ferocious grade.

We watched a trio of bicyclists descend this wild cliff - see them in the top half of the lower loop - but before we saw them, we heard their over-taxed brakes squealing with rage as they fought to maintain control against a big wallop of gravity.

Arches National Park definitely appeals to a tightly controlled and aesthetically precise energy; Canyonlands is a place, quite frankly, for thrill seekers and utter maniacs.

Cute red dogs, however, are equally happy to visit both. 

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Road Trip 2019: read all about it.

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