CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

Updated: Apr 18

by Naimul Karim (originally posted on naimul.net)

Two years and 10 days. That many days since our last road trip to a national park (Yellowstone National Park). It might as well have been eons. In between lies a chasm, or a dividing line, between BC and AC (Before Covid and After Covid) separating two different worlds. As if that were not enough, Ukraine happened shortly before our trip. It missed Ides of March by just three weeks. But it will be no less a pivotal moment in world history than Ides of March was for Roman history. It is no exaggeration to recall comrade Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov’s quote (better known as Lenin): “There are decades when nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen”. With these weighty thoughts off my chest, let’s go to Canyonlands National Park in Utah!


Our trip took us across Iowa, Nebraska, and Colorado. It was a pleasant drive, unencumbered by heavy traffic or toll roads, and stretching through wide expanses of beautiful American south-west. The only uncertainly was weather. This time of the year you can always get surprised by a blizzard in the plains of Nebraska. And indeed, we were caught off guard by a blizzard – albeit a mild one in Iowa.


Things worked out fine though, and we were even slightly ahead of schedule. So, on the spur of the moment, we veered off I-80 to visit our cousin Guddu, who lives in reasonable proximity to the highway. We hadn’t seen each other since they had moved away from Minnesota shortly before the BC/AC divide. Guddu and Kanta were home – telecommuting. Unfortunately, we missed the drawing talent (Ari), several of whose stunning works decorate their home, and his sister, the piano virtuoso (Anya). But the little mischief-maker (Aaref) was at home. He is a champion book reader now. There was no ignoring the fact, thanks to the big medal dangling around his neck. After a quick cup of tea, Guddu and Kanta showed around their beautiful home. The move has worked out very well - both are doing great professionally, no snow shoveling, etc. And to top it off, thanks to a bomb shelter deep under their basement, they feel safe from any eventualities. They vouched earnestly for the recent heightened activities of the Doomsday Plane over the skies of Nebraska. There is just one shortcoming – Lincoln lacks a decent night life. Anyway, the time was running. So we exchanged promises to see each other more often, and then hit the road again.

Cruising away from NE to CO

Early next morning we were off to Moab in Utah, driving along a beautiful mountainous route around Denver, CO. The scenic roadway winds through pretty high altitudes. I believe the highest point was 10,000 feet. Driving can be tricky here due to snow, and also because of hordes of tourists on the road (can’t they just stay home?). But we took it easy and even allowed for a short break with a light lunch at a tourist hamlet up in the Rockies.


Moab is conveniently located between two of Utah’s five national parks – Arches and Canyonlands. We had stayed in Moab back in 2018 to visit Arches National Park. I remember it as a small tourist town. Not anymore. Its main street is littered with newly constructed hotels now. To make matters worse, we arrived on a spring break Saturday. The streets were alive with tourists all vying for a dinner table (can’t they just stay home?). Things got much better on Monday though. The other big change was hotel prices, which have gone through the roof. And thanks probably to Corona, the overpriced rooms came sans housekeeping during your stay. We knew that already and came prepared with a simple solution – every two nights we changed our hotel, and thus got a fresh room.


Canyonlands National Park is divided in three districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. They are separated by the Green River and Colorado River. Traveling between the districts requires two to six hours by car because they are not linked by direct roads. The rivers themselves represent a fourth district for boating experience.


The closest one to Moab, and the most visited district, is Island in the Sky. The Needles is about 70 miles away. We visited both and did day hikes. They provide magnificent views of a rocky and desolate landscape. Most trails are craggy and desolate too, marked solely with small cairns. So caution is warranted, if you are hiking alone.


In the Island in the Sky district we did White Rim outlook trail and the outlooks of the Upheaval Dome. Along the way, we stopped by at Green River outlook for a spectacular view of Green River cutting through the desolate valley. We also stopped by at Green River outlook for a spectacular view of Green River cutting through the desolate valley. In The Needles district we did Slickrock, Pothole Point, Roadside Ruin, and Cave Spring trails, and stopped by Wooden Shoe Arch overlook. These are all small to medium hikes, so that you can do several of them in a day. The Maze district requires a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive, vehicle and preferably backpacking. We skipped it.


Throughput the trip I didn't do any serious photography - none of them made the cut to be included in the Photography section of my website. Instead, I focused on taking snapshots and videos to keep the memory alive.


Upheaval Dom: Did a meteor cause this formation?


Green River down there

Beyond Canyonlands National Park.

Spectacularly beautiful landscape on the way to the Needles District.





Wilson Arch is a conveniently located attraction on the way to The Needles District. It is almost impossible not to stop, climb to the top, and have your picture taken by someone from the bottom. See me there? I was taken aback at the top by the strong, cold gust that is apparently created by the wind funneling through the eye of the arch. It blew my favorite cap off my head - a 2012 memento from Glacier National Park. I guess it was a tribute to be paid. I took it as a warning and took the panoramic sweep video attached below while sitting down - perhaps rather awkwardly, but definitely more safely.



​"Listen to the wind blow" (on top of Wilson Arch)

Morning Glory Arch (at the end of Grandstaff Trail)


The end of Mill Creek Trail



The lizard


and the lazy

Newspaper Rock

The entire region is rich in prehistoric relics. One of them, Newspaper Rock, is conveniently located on your way to Needles district. A petroglyph panel is etched in sandstone depicting 2,000 years of early human history - possibly from the Archaic, Basketmaker, Fremont and Pueblo cultures. The figures were etched from B.C. time to A.D. 1,300. Unfortunately it is not known what the figures represent - storytelling, doodling, hunting magic, clan symbols, ancient graffiti or something else? The day before our departure, Mike and Joyce recommended an even more attractive site - Sego Canyon Rock Art. It was too late for this time, but we'll definitely check it out next time. BTW, they are my retired colleagues from Minnesota, who I hadn't seen for several years. We bumped into them, of all places, in the Country Store in Moab! It was a pleasant surprise - you never know what you'll experience when you go on a journey.


Click on Christine's Album Canyonlands for more pictures.











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