On our way back from the Needles Overlook I saw what I took to be some small buildings at the base of a large rock formation. We were some distance from it and so it was hard to be sure, but I set my camera on 10x zoom and took a couple of photos.
When I got a close look at the photos the next day, I was surprised by both the number and the size of the houses.
If you’re in the Moab or Monticello area of southeastern Utah the Needles Overlook is a must-see. It’s not well marked but about halfway between Moab and Monticello on route 191 there’s a turnoff to Needles Overlook. From there it’s about a 20 mile drive up a two-lane asphalt road that was slightly bumpy but otherwise in fairly good shape to the Overlook. Most of the drive was through sage brush, Juniper trees and Pinyon pines with numerous rock formations, some more interesting than others.
About 5 miles before we reached the Overlook, we got our first glimpse of the canyons of Canyonlands.
Needles Outlook is on a promontory peninsula and is perfectly situated to give an absolutely spectacular view of both Needles and Islands in the Sky. Looking north, we could see where we had been a couple of days ago in the Islands of the Sky.
We are staying in Moab, Utah, mostly so we can see Canyonlands again. Three years ago we visited the Needles section of Canyonlands and were completely awestruck. We didn’t have the time to see any other parts of Canyonlands so this time we started with the northeastern section, Islands in the sky. If we have the time we will probably visit Needles again.
What we saw this time was why it is called Canyonlands in the first place. Needles has all sorts of bizarre and tortured rock formations, and we did travel through canyons to get to it, but we didn’t see any canyons in Needles. Islands in the Sky is all about the canyons.
We started, though, by a steep climb with several switchbacks, up a rock-walled canyon. From the first viewing area we could see The Monitor and the Merrimac, two rock formations on top of the canyon walls.
The drive the rest of the way to the park was interesting, but it wasn’t until we got near the park’s Visitor’s Center that we really started to see the canyons. Across the road from the Visitor’s center there was a viewing area next to the cliffs.
None of these formations had any names that we could tell. Most of the placards at the viewing areas were about the ecosystem and the need to care for the park and did not name anything.
Following the road further into the park there were frequent viewing areas, but the Buck Canyon Overlook was the first viewing area that had a handicap accessible path and Susan was able to join me in looking at the scenery.
We’ve seen Ship Rock from a distance. Once when we were on the road to Four Corners and more recently from the top of Mesa Verde. Both times we were quite a distance away (25 miles or more) and we didn’t get more than a hazy view of it.
Yesterday we took a drive down to Ship Rock in order to get a better look at it. Ship Rock is southwest of the town of Shiprock and is about 1600 feet high (the peak is at an altitude of 7200 feet and the altitude of the surrounding land is around 5600 feet).
Ship Rock is the remains of a 27 million year-old volcano and is what’s left of the lava that was in its throat. The rest of the volcano has long since eroded away. Interestingly, although it is a prominent landmark we never once saw a sign for it. I checked with Google Maps and took the road that was closest to it. The road was on the southern side of Ship Rock and as far as I can tell there is no way to get to the base of it that isn’t on private or Navajo reservation land. Ship Rock is sacred to the Navajo and is present in a number of their myths and legends. Access to Ship Rock was banned in 1970 following a rock climber’s death and there is a council of the local Navajo that works to keep it un-molested.
So we got some good photographs and had a nice ride but this is the closest we could get to it.