Arches and Canyonlands – National Parks Road Trip – Day 14

Our morning started at sun rise at Arches National Park.

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The entrance road leads through large stones and past rock formations named after items which they resembled such as the Organ, the Tower of Babel, Park Ave. the Courthouse and the Great Wall of Rock. We moved through quickly without traffic to get to the Window Arch and Double Arch, two recommended to see at sunrise.

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The sun highlighted an area of rock and then instantly shadowed the same rock as it moved along the rock and shone through windows of rock. The gravel loop trail leads to three massive arches (North and South Windows and Turret Arch), with options for viewing the arches from all sides. As we passed the north side we were greeted by a number of jackrabbits hopping about the area.

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Also known as the Spectacles, the North and South windows stand side by side, though separated by some distance, cut from the same sandstone fin. A large “nose” separates the Spectacle arches visually from the southwest, made of a gigantic fin over 100 feet wide. Turret Arch is southwest of the Windows. The whole Windows area is full of unique and captivating stone formations, with many arches among them. As we left this area we passed the Parade of Elephants, a section of sandstone, the remnants of the fin to which Double Arch used to belong. The rock formation appears to be a herd of elephants, holding each others’ tails, traveling single file.

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We drove by Balanced Rock which is probably the second most recognized feature in Arches National Park. The big rock balances on the tip of its base and can be seen from the main road. Weathering created this odd formation in which the rock above the base tip is the size of three buses.

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We drove out to the trailhead for Delicate Arch to climb the trail to the top. The climb was a bit strenuous for a three-mile trek. We made it to the top of the slickrock following the cairns (a small stack of rocks used as a trail marker) to reach the 480 ft. summit then scooted along a 200 yard ledge above a steep canyon to get to Delicate Arch posed centered above a large bowl canyon. A steep drop straddled each side of the arch. We were proud that we accomplished this daring and long trail which took us about 3 hours to complete.

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As we drove through the park we came upon a rock formation that reminded me of a hand with a pointed finger. On a previous trip through Nebraska we stopped at Chimney Rock where she posed with her index finger simulation the look. Since this rock look like a middle finger raised, I recreated the moment with my middle finger. From here we walked the trail to see Sand Dune Arch hidden behind a sandy beach of shrubs and trees tucked away in a niche of larger rocks. Our voices echoed within the large rocks and we kissed under the Sand Dune Arch. It was fun to hike through the sand and crawl between the narrow passages of the tall pillars.

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Our adventure continued as we made our way to Devil’s Canyon but could not find a place to park so we drove to a campground and walked behind the amphitheater to see Skyline Arch. It was nice to absorb the view without anyone else around.

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We took photos of the rock formations near the entrance of the park since we had little chance to see these in the dim light of the early morning. One standard for us is to take a photo of each National Park sign. Having missed this in the early morning, we stopped at the park entrance sign on the way out, but had to wait about 15 minutes to get a photo of the sign while a woman had her boyfriend do a photo shoot of her at the sign. It was very weird but, waiting we did, and eventually had our sign photo.

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The drive from Arches to Canyonlands was void of any options for lunch, so we ended up snacking on what was in the car. The Canyonlands visitor center is directly across from the Shafer Canyon overlook, with an amazing view of the vast canyon of red rock making us anxious to see the rest of the park.

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We drove the roads along the rim of the Island in the Sky, a large mesa with overlooks of the canyon. The canyons in Canyonlands went on and on, providing views of up to 100 miles in any direction from the Island in the Sky.

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Canyonlands is reminiscent of the Grand Canyon with its deep cuts through rock, being the largest national park in Utah. The Colorado River and the Green River meandered through the bottom of the canyon. The confluence of these two rivers was visible from our viewpoint and large mountains draped the background of the canyon providing a majestic vista.

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Our first significant hike at Canyonlands was to see Upheaval Dome. We hiked up a hill but got off the trail slightly ending up on a rocky perch to look down into Upheaval Dome that looked like a big crater, providing an excellent location for a snack as we gazed out over the dome. Geologists are unsure how the dome was formed, with various theories including a meteor slammed into the earth at this spot or the collapse of a salt dome. The inside of the dome had different layers of rock and colors of white and brown stone surrounded by sandstone. Returning to the trail to get to the main overlook provided a slightly different view.

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As we continued out the drive we came to the Buck Canyon viewpoint staring out miles into the canyon. The short trail leads to an overlook at the edge of these sheer, 1,000 feet high cliffs, illustrating the vastness of this staggeringly beautiful National Park. A huge landscape of cracked and fissured sandstone stretches all the way to the horizon. It’s one of those places where the scale of what you’re looking at is as impressive as its beauty. –

We moved on to the Green River Overlook and saw the Green River run through the canyon. This overlook view, from 6000 feet elevation, looks out across Soda Springs Basin towards the Green River. Here, the Green River is a tiny ribbon of water in one awe-inspiring canyon. An incomprehensible distance, the vista stretches out for a hundred miles to the horizon. A sandstone viewing area, sparsely decorated with juniper, marks the canyon rim and signals where a 2200 foot drop-off begins to the river far below. About halfway down into the canyons you can see the White Rim Trail which follows the river for miles.

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Later we went to Grand View Point where we could see nearly the whole canyon from that overlook. The canyon is so massive that roads and rivers looked like tiny lines from the overlook; it is repetitive but still it is hard to fathom its actual size but so it is spectacular.

Our final stop was a loop trail to see Mesa Arch. Mesa Arch is, undeniably, one of the spotlight attractions in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands, standing high above a canyon with a thin bridge at the top of the arch, providing an excellent backdrop for someone underneath the arch. The Canyonlands National Park web site describes the Mesa Arch Trail as a “mild walk,” a very accurate description of this very short loop. This loop travels across slickrock and dirt, but unlike other slickrock trails which are usually only marked by stone cairns, this trail has a fairly easy to spot path along it’s entire route. There are stairs carved into the stone, and the trail is is hemmed in by desert driftwood. The trail rises over a low hill and you’ll immediately begin to see some phenomenal views looking east toward the Colorado River.

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We left Canyonlands National Park and paid to enter Dead Horse Point, a state park, with another excellent visitor center with a great view. We drove to Dead Horse Point at the end of the park and saw the most wonderful view of Canyonlands from the opposite side of the canyon. From Dead Horse Point, we had a closer view of the rivers and mountains from a large pavilion and stone wall that stretched along the edge of the canyon.

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Since we were tired we moved on and drove the thirty miles back to Moab.

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