Visiting Canyonlands and Arches national park

[This was the fourth leg of our ~3000 mile journey in the great American west. Here are the links to the first, second, third,  and fifth parts]

After seeing the amazing Passage, Staircase and Secret canyons of Arizona, we left the same afternoon, heading up north toward Canyonlands National park, in Utah.

We happened to do the last hour of this journey through an “open-range” in pitch dark – no street lights, and sometimes winding roads through hills. An “open-range” here meant that wild animals could cross the road anytime, and there were warning signs posted frequently for drivers to be alert.

Every few minutes, we saw huge bolts of lightning in the distance between mountains, and on the plains, and we couldn’t hear a thing. It was spectacular, and I’m not sure any recording device would’ve been able to capture that raw beauty.

Ever the optimist, I even got out of the car, setup the tripod & tried bringing back the memory – but failed!

We were in an arid, dry land area, and we were heading toward a particular campground without a reservation, hoping to find one free spot to pitch our tent & go to sleep. Eventually, we did find such a place, and spent quite some time securing the tent’s outer cover really tight so the heavy winds would not disturb our hard-earned sleep !

You’ll see the campsite next to a huge mushroom-like boulder in the picture below.

The campsite we found at night, with the help of the moon :-) - at Canyonlands National park

The campsite we found at night, with the help of the moon :-) – at Canyonlands National park

 

 

 

 

There was no bathing facility here, and no drinking water at all (we were in desert land), but we got basic water to boil for our breakfast needs.

A topographical overview of Canyonlands National park

The three main areas of Canyonlands National park

 

Canyonlands National park has 3 main districts. One was not reachable at all at that point, except by raft (!), and was not really motor-able even after getting there. We went to the other two areas – Needles, and Island in the Sky.

We spent the first night on the plains – at Needles.

Canyonlands visitor Center

Canyonlands visitor Center

 

The Canyonlands visitor Center in this area (specifically, the one in the Needles district, was one of the best we’d ever seen. It had glass walls facing the red rocks far away, the view was spectacular. There was a theater that played short movies on geological features, lots of wonderful maps to browse through, an exhibition on the process the rocks must have gone through to become what they are today and what they may become tomorrow, a topographical model showing the physical features of the entire area, and supra-friendly rangers ready to answer questions with much patience. It is really heartening to see how well the American national park service operates.

The Needles district of Canyonlands national park

The Needles district of Canyonlands national park

 

The effect of time, wind and water -  at Canyonlands National park

The effect of time, wind and water – at Canyonlands National park

 

Walking underneath a huge mushroomesque boulder - at Canyonlands National park

Walking underneath a huge mushroomesque boulder – at Canyonlands National park

 

The next afternoon, we left the Needles district to head to the Islands In the Sky district.

Another portion of the same national park, it is an elevated landscape that stands some 1400 ft above the rest of the plains around it, with deep gorges. Although this was just 14 miles as the crow flies from Needles, there is no real way to climb the height by car, so we had to drive back out 30 miles, up north another 60 and then west another 20 to get to the Islands… and we only just made it in time for sunset at the Mesa Arch.

View of the great plains from the incredible mesa arch, at canyonlands national park utah (Uday Arya)

View of the great plains from the incredible Mesa Arch, at Canyonlands national park, Utah

View of the great plains from the incredible Mesa arch, at Canyonlands national park utah (Uday Arya)

View of the great plains from the incredible Mesa Arch, at Canyonlands national park, Utah

After a few more stops, we reached a campground that we had been hoping to get a spot in, and found to our dismay that all the dozen or so sites were taken! We looped the area a couple of times, just to make sure. The nearest ‘other’ place was a good hour’s drive away (this also meant lesser rest), and it was already 9pm.

We really wanted to stay at this campground. Just as we were about to give up, Priya decided to step into a site which had just one motorbike and see if there was any additional space possible. A man walked up to her and said, “I’ve taken this site, but if you want, you can pitch your tent anywhere here – as you can see there is plenty of space”. We thanked him profusely and were so grateful for his extraordinary gesture.

Sleeping under a painting above - at a campground in 'Island in the sky', Canyonlands

Sleeping under a painting above – at a campground in ‘Island in the sky’, Canyonlands

It was the most beautiful campsite we had been to. High on the cliff, just a few trees here and there, beautiful vast sky full of stars, a gorgeous moon rise and no winds, which meant we did not need the top cover of the tent, allowing us to stare up at the sky as we lay in our sleeping bags. And the temperature was just perfect too! The other sites and tents were far away. Also, in the previous few campsites, we were in the midst of tall rocks and canyons. Priya had found those a bit claustrophobic, but this one was different. Open, wide, high, bare – just perfect.

The next day, we decided to visit yet another area close by called the Arches national park. This place probably deserved a couple of days at least, and we only had two hours… oh well. We’d seen many interesting geological formations and this was a chance to see something new.

The last few pictures from this part of the trip were from an area where wind, water and time made “windows” from rock –

North Window - at Arches National park

North Window – at Arches National park

 

View from the North Window - at Arches National park

View from the North Window – at Arches National park

View from the North Window - at Arches National park

View from the North Window – at Arches National park

After Arches, we left towards Salt Lake city, where we had a chance to rest, have a good long bath and head further up to Wyoming, into the incredible Yellowstone park.

 

Other parts of this road-trip

Uday
..is a wanna-be travel-writer and photographer currently based out of New York. In 2013, received the Dilbert bravery award for attempting to put together lengthy travelogues in the age of 20-sec attention spans.
Uday
Uday