It’s not a long climb, but being the third hike of the day, it’s mercifully short. We’re heading up the red rock trail to overlook Upheaval Dome. The ranger at the Canyonlands National Park visitor center said it’s less than a mile and under 100 feet of climb, but after hikes at Grand View, Mesa Arch and meandering around Murphy Point, it might as well be far longer.
The red rock sets this landscape aside from any seen elsewhere. “It’s like Grand Canyon without the crowds,” marveled my companion as she spryly surged ahead of me on the trail. It was here, 20 years ago that I first got red rock dust in my blood – and it’s never left. Visits to the Colorado Plateau are like a homecoming in my heart.
Canyonlands is uniquely split into three districts by the confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers. The most-visited portion is Island in the Sky, about ten miles north of Moab, Utah, and just up the road from Arches National Park. From U.S. 191, it’s about 32 miles along Utah Highway 313. The road winds its way across the top of the island and passes roads to Dead Horse Point State Park and Gemini Bridges, twin arches, on Bureau of Land Management property.
Canyonlands is another of the amazing places for cycling, hiking or climbing. The red rock setting of the Colorado Plateau is a uniquely American geologic landscape. This is the American West, the hoodoos and buttes, arches and terraces, all carved by wind, water, ice and the Colorado and Green rivers.
One of the unique scenes in Canyonlands is the confluence of the two rivers – each carrying its own color. When they mesh, the Colorado River holds two lanes of water, its native red and it carries the green color of its tributary for a distance before they rivers mesh and take on the red it carries into the Grand Canyon.
We reached to rim of Upheaval Dome, where the weight of the earth forced molten salt from its depths. The salt-based extrusion sits in ragged white peaks inside a crater-like cul-de-sac of red rock. We could have hiked the rim trail and worked our way down to the salt slabs, but it was time to head back to Moab for dinner.
Our trip to the Capital of Red Rock country, Moab, was on a shoulder season. We had to balance the fact that some restaurants and businesses close for the season in the fall, but many were open to provide a good choice.
We found a clean hotel, the Bowen Motel (169 N. Main St.), with a unique feature – a reverse osmosis filtered water filling station for bottles and hydration packs. It was nice not having to buy four and five liters of water every day. Moab, despite the cool weather for our trip, is high desert, dry, windy, and one of the places where you want a liter of water for each hour hiked.
For breakfast, we were amazed with the variety and quality at the Eklecticafe (362 N. Main St.). The vegan-friendly menu offered the variety my companion wants as a vegetarian and still satisfied the “gotta have bacon craving” I get in the great outdoors.
For dinner, we splurged one night at Twisted Sistas’ Café (11 E. 100 North at Main St.). The menu was fresh, uniquely flavored and delightfully prepared. It was definitely pricey, but well worth the end-of-travel meal on arrival day.
The other two nights we ended up at the Moab Brewery (686 S. Main St.). The dinner is pub fare, but very tasty. We slaked our thirst with a variety of the house-brewed beers. Dinner was tasty and servings generous.
The other two districts, the Maze and Needles are distinctly different experiences. The Needles, about 40 miles south of Moab on U.S. 191, is designed for more rugged outdoors fan. The roads beyond Big Spring Canyon Overlook are for high-clearance four wheel drive vehicles. Camping is more primitive and the trails more rugged. Outside the gate of Needles, is Newspaper Rock. This canyon wall has been marked with petroglyphs and pioneer initials covering more than a thousand years of travelers.
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is one of the least-visited national park lands in the nation. It has few roads, hiking trails are not well-marked. This is a land for the true outdoors experience requiring advanced orienteering and survival skills. The views and scenery are unmatched.
Canyonlands is a unique experience for families looking for a flavor of American not tasted anywhere else. It’s one more reason the American West needs to be on bucket lists.