Canyon Lands

Exploring the Parks and Canyons of Southern Utah - Oct 2005

Sunrise near Muley Point
Located on a bluff near Mexican Hat, Muley Point offers one of the best landscape views in southern Utah. Looking south, one can see the 'gooseneck' turns of the San Juan River with the mesas and spires of Monument Valley in the distance.

Cliff and Kiva
Grand Gulch has some of the best preserved (and largely unrestored) prehistoric ruins in the southwest. This ancient kiva (a circular ceremonial room) at Junction Ruin was created by the Ancestral Puebloan culture (AKA Anasazi) nearly a thousand years ago.

Turkey Pen Ruin
Turkey Pen Ruin in Grand Gulch was equally impressive with a number of nearly complete small rooms huddled beneath towering sandstone cliffs.

Late Night Party at the Twin Rocks Cafe
Tiny Bluff, Utah is an old Mormon farming town and one of the 'gateway' towns to places like Monument Valley, Grand Gulch, and Natural Bridges National Monument.

The Cows Came Home
The old Cow Canyon Trading Post in Bluff, Utah does not see much business these days, but makes for a scenic photo. Bluff lies on the northern edge of the Navajo Reservation.

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument
Located far from any towns (large or small) along Highway 95, Natural Bridges National Monument does not receive the same publicity (or crowds) as many other southern Utah parks. But the scenery (featuring three huge natural bridges in a stunning sandstone canyon) is well worth the trip.

Soft Light, Hard Land
Dark clouds, strong winds, and a touch of rain greeted me as I entered Arches National Park near Moab. But the sun was able to sneak in from the east, creating one of those odd situations where the skies overhead are dark, but the landscape is still bathed in warm light.

Double Arch
Double Arch was used as the backdrop for one of the scenes in the opening of the movie 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'. Here again, I was blessed with full sunlight despite dark skies. There was also a rare absence of people climbing beneath the arches (telling everyone that I had seen a bunch of rattlesnakes up there helped).

Delicate Beauty
Delicate Arch is probably the most famous in the park and the inspiration for the design on the Utah state license plate (not to mention the logos of half the businesses in Moab). You can always expect a good crowd at sunset when the sharp angle of the last rays cause the whole arch to briefly light up like an orange neon sign.

Evening Glow on Double-O
Double-O is another impressive arch that requires a bit of a hike. It is so named because there is a second small window (the other 'o') located a little ways below the big one (it is not shown in this picture).

Shade at Last
The area around Double-O Arch is filled with steep wall-like fins of sandstone that lit up with the glare of sunset and shadows. The shade thrown over the rocks and trees by one fin stood out in contrast to the still brightly-lit wall of the next rock ridge behind it.

View from Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park
This view looking east from under Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park has become very popular with photographers in recent years. I did not realize that you can not stand under the arch itself, as it hangs out over a steep cliff. The rough canyons of the upper Colorado River can be seen below with the La Sal Mountains in the far background.

Spires of Stone
Canyonlands National Park covers a huge area divided into three districts (Islands in the Sky, Needles, and The Maze), each with very different scenery and facilities. The Needles district offers some great hiking through a rugged landscape of rock fins, twisting gullies, and - of course - the Needles themselves.

The Spring Ran Dry
Along I-70 north of Moab, sits the small town of Thompsons Spring. I had originally pulled off here to check out the nearby ghost town of Sego, but found that Thompsons Spring is a pretty impressive ruin itself with several old abandoned store fronts and only a handful of the remaining homes still inhabited. Not sure why... since there are no other towns for nearly an hour drive in any direction.

Sleeping Sego
Sego was a hard-working coal mining town until the 1950s when the switch to diesel trains killed local demand. The completely abandoned town still has some impressive ruins including numerous small dug-out homes along the stream banks, a two-story wooden boarding house (about to collapse) and the stone shell of the company store.

Walls of Grand Wash, Capital Reef National Park
Capital Reef National Park reminds me of a larger, less crowded, and more low key version of Zion National Park with colorful canyons and cliffs and several small rivers that make for more lush vegetation than is found in much of the area. Grand Wash is a great little hike through a narrow sandstone canyon.

Bend in the Wash
At its narrowest, the over 800-foot high walls close to within about 15 feet of each other (would not want to be here during a flash flood). Legend has it that outlaw Butch Cassidy would sometimes hide out in a nearby side canyon.

End of Day at the Gifford Farm
Water from the Fremont River once supported a small Mormon farming community near the entrance to Capital Reef National Park. Several of the buildings, including the barn of the old Gifford farm have been restored by the park service.

Lower Calf Canyon Falls
At 126-feet, Lower Calf Canyon Falls is one of the tallest (and most beautiful) permanent waterfalls on the Colorado Plateau. It is located at the end of a pleasant three mile hike near the small town of Escalante in the newly established Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

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