Canyonlands, Needles District, Wow!

Once again PBS comes through for us.  PBS has a regular show on the national parks and a couple of months ago there was one Canyonlands National Park.  We’d never heard of it before, but I looked it up on the map and it was near our expected path through southeastern Utah.  Canyonlands is divided into three districts (Needles, Islands in the Sky and the Maze) that are all separated by the Colorado and Green rivers.  The Needles District is near where we are staying in Monticello, Utah so we took a trip to it a couple of days ago.

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Canyon walls along the way to Canyonlands

The scenery along the way, well before we even got to the Canyonlands park boundary, was absolutely spectacular.  I know I’ve been saying that a lot lately but we really do feel that we’ve fallen into a National Geographic magazine.   And once again, it was also completely different from anything we’ve seen before.

Canyon Walls
Canyon Walls
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Canyon walls seen on the way to Canyonlands

 

On the way we drove through a series of broad canyons with very steep walls.  There were no power or telephone lines anywhere which is understandable since once we had turned off US191 and onto the road to Canyonlands we only saw two inhabited ranches along the way.  We passed an area set aside for rock climbers and we saw one half way up a cliffside.

Cliff set aside for rock climbers
Cliff set aside for rock climbers

Among the canyons there were a variety of domes and spires.

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Domes seen along the way to Canyonlands
Spires seen along the way to Canyonlands
Spires seen along the way to Canyonlands

Canyonlands park itself  was completely different.  Early explorers had remarked on the thousands of rock forms they had seen, and that is what we saw too.  Everywhere we looked there was rock contorted and eroded into an amazing variety of odd shapes.

 

 

Capstoned spires
Capstoned spires

Even though the park only gets about 9 inches of rain a year, water erosion is the major cause for all the different shapes.  When, for whatever reason, a section of rock is harder and more water resistant then it, and the rock underneath it survives and ends up forming capstones and spires.

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More capstones and spires
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Another spire we saw along the way to Elephant Hill
A row of capstones that are eroding into separate spires
A row of capstones that are eroding into separate spires

There are supposed to be a number of stone arches in the park, but most of them are in the back country, well away from the road.  There is one exception, and that is the Wooden Shoe Arch.

Wooden Shoe Arch
Wooden Shoe Arch

The name for the Needles District comes from a specific rock formation.

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The Needles

Even though it is a desert, we saw flowers everywhere.  We must have come at the right time of year.

Flowers at Canyonlands
Flowers at Canyonlands

We were taken completely by surprise.  The show we’d seen on PBS had focused mostly on the Maze district of the park which can only be accessed by foot or on horse.  We knew we were going to a different area and had no expectations and ended up being blown away by the spectacular scenery.

There is a lot to see in the southeastern corner of Utah but if you’re ever there, you need to put Canyonlands near the top of your list.

We’d give the park a C for handicap accessibility.  The Visitors center was eminently accessible and there were a large number of turnoffs near scenic spots, but there were no wheelchair accessible trails or scenic vistas of any kind.

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