Sunday, August 6, 2017

Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands

Even if you’re not into photography, you need to consider getting up before dawn when staying in Moab, Utah. The canyon formations jump like fiery blazes; in fact, you almost need sunglasses. It’s impossible to ignore the power of Mother Nature.

The rock canyon walls blazed in fiery red at dawn.
Photo @ Debi Lander

The Good Girls rose early to hit Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands National Park at sunrise. But, when we arrived at the Dead Horse parking lot, there were no other cars. Hmmm? We surveyed the scene and realized that although the vista is dramatic, it's not the best place for sunrise shots.

 Judy surveys the scene near the entrance to Dead Horse State Park.
Photo @Debi Lander

Back in the car, we headed toward the famous overlook at Dead Horse Point. Now, this spot on the Rim Walk offers all the majesty we'd wanted. We were standing 2,000 feet above the gooseneck bend in the Colorado River.

Stunning morning views from Dead Horse Point.
Photo @Debi Lander

The horizon looms 100 miles away, and with a blessed clear morning, we were overwhelmed by the vastness of the rock real estate and inhospitality of the region.  Hard to imagine ancient Puebloan people ever lived here. The spellbinding location offers a sweeping panorama any time of day; don’t miss it thinking it’s just a State Park.

A closer look at the bend in the river.
Photos @ Debi Lander

We didn't see hikers on the trail. Who would want to make the climb back up?
Photo @Debi Lander

Still following the morning light, we skedaddled out of Dead Horse and hurried along to Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands is divided into four districts carved by the Green and Colorado rivers and offers broad overlooks at Island in the Sky, rambling trails in The Needles to deep remoteness of The Maze.

We stopped at the Island in the Sky region’s Visitor’s Center for a map, but the center itself was still closed.
Arriving at Canyonlands: Island in the Sky area.

We again used the Arches and Canyonlands Gypsy Guide App and found it picked up signals better in this region. We’d listen to facts about the park in between directions to the next stop.

Before long, we arrived at the trailhead to Mesa Arch, a pothole arch that spans across the mesa’s edge. It frames a fantastic formation that looks castle-like. The audio guide told us, “A pothole arch is formed by surface water that pools on the sandstone behind the arch, slowly eroding the rock.”
Mesa Arch spans 50 feet and sits at the edge of a vertical cliff.
Photo @ Debi Lander

We followed the 0.7-mile round-trip loop trail to the landmark, but reaching it took about 10-15 minutes.  The trail is uneven and slippery. Fortunately, we were still early enough to see the arch magically illuminated by the sun.  The iconic stone arch spans 50 feet, and I carefully sat down at the top of a 500-foot vertical cliff.

Debi lives on the edge. Photo by Judy Wells.
For me, this was one of the most memorable moments of our entire trip. 

Sit down and enjoy the spectacular view!
Photo @Debi Lander

The view in the oppsoite direction from under Mesa Arch.
Photo @ Debi Lander

Mesa Arch makes a terrific photo op, and if I return, I’ll go there first thing in the morning and stop at Dead Horse later.

The walk back to our car was hot and sunny making us glad we had started early and brought our own water.

Canyonlands holds a plethora of photo ops.
Photo @ Debi Lander

View from Grand Point.
Photo @ Debi Lander

We pulled in to more outlooks for views and photos before reaching Grand Point Overview. It’s aptly named because it is indeed grand. This section of the park is reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, except the gorge does not drop as deep, and the walls of the canyon are farther from the river.

A telephoto lens lets me get a close-up.
Photo @ Debi Lander

We moved on to Upheaval Dome, which is, surprisingly, a crater. The dome is upside down or the sunken area. We also passed Whale Rock, and while it caught our fancy, Canyonland’s Moby Dick was impossible to photograph from stops along the road.  Apparently, kids like to climb on the ridge or the whale’s back. On this hot day, we didn’t see any.

Whale Rock- can you tell?

We drove slowly back to the Visitor’s Center and went in to watch the movie.  Compared to the fantastically educational and artistic film at Arches, we were somewhat disappointed. Nonetheless, it proved interesting.

Canyonlands Close-up.
Photo @ Debi Lander
Overall, as with all National Park sites, Canyonlands is worth a visit, especially if you are into hiking. Another option is to drive the nearly 100 miles trail, the White Rim Road.

Note: There are no restaurants or snack facilities within the park, so be sure to bring your own food and water. Budget conscious, we picnicked on cold lasagna leftovers from dinner the night before.

This lady helped us see the petroglyphs on the wall.
Photo @ Debi Lander

Since it was just lunchtime, we decided to drive along Potash Road. We’d been told about some prehistoric rock art just a few miles down. Thankfully, there were others around to point out the drawings. The sun bakes the rock wall in the afternoon and creates glare.  Once you accustom your eyes, you discover many primitive figures.  Judy and I felt they were extraordinary and highly recommend a stop.   
Potash Road Petroglyphs.
Photo @Debi Lander

Ancient Rock Art, a real treasure.
Photo @Debi Lander

Note: Potash Road is narrow, running between the cliffs and the Colorado River. Vehicles of rock art gazers and rock climbers share the shoulders. 

Can't resist adding a look back at Mesa Arch!
Photo @ Debi Lander

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