Canyonlands, Islands in 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 Monitor and the Merrimac

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.

Canyon walls seen from near the Visitor’s Center

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.

Looking north to a solitary butte at Buck Canyon Overlook

Looking down into what may be Buck Canyon
Canyon walls at Buck Canyon Overlook

Just before the Grand River Outlook, we stopped at the Orange Cliffs Outlook and had lunch.

View towards Green River at Orange Cliffs Overlook
The Orange Cliffs

A short distance down the road was the Grand View Overlook, which also had a handicap accessible path, and again Susan was able to enjoy the scenery with me.  There was a canyon below us with numerous rock spires that were similar to some of the rock formations we’d seen in the Needles.

Canyon with rock spires
Close-up of rock spires

We took the side road to Upheaval Dome which in some ways was a disappointment. Upheaval Dome itself could not be seen from the road and the only access to it was a dirt path that included a long series of stairs, so neither I nor Susan went to see it.  But along the road there were still numerous sights.

Butte along the Green River
Another butte near the Green River

We finally know why Canyonlands has the name it does.  As I said, Islands in the Sky is all about canyons, and they were shown in abundance.

Unfortunately, we have to give Islands in the Sky a D+ for handicap accessibility.  Despite the fact that there were numerous viewing areas there were only two of them that had a handicap accessible path.  I also find it curious that even though so many of the placards and displays in the Park’s Visitor’s center were concerned about the fragile ecology of the region, yet most, if not all, of the viewing areas had no paths of any kind and you had to scramble up and down over rocks in order to see anything.  To give the park some credit it did have bathrooms spaced relatively frequently and most of them were nominally handicap accessible.

The trip was still worthwhile and we’re glad we went.  Arches National Park is nearby but I think that Canyonlands, both Islands in the Sky and Needles are far more interesting and thought provoking.

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