Friday, August 17, 2007

Utah Day 3 - Canyonlands

Tuesday morning dawned bright and sunny, and again we got moving early. We stopped at our campsite at Dead Horse Point State Park so that we could leave our camping supplies behind, which enabled us to travel in one car. Dave’s parents rented a giant SUV and all seven of us fit in there comfortably. As much as I’m down on large SUVs, I have to admit this car was pretty cushy. Tuesday was devoted to Canyonlands National Park. This is a huge park, and it’s largely undeveloped. We only went to the Island in the Sky District in the northeastern corner of the park, which is the most developed (not saying much – it’s still pretty wild). We had our picnic lunch at the White Rim Overlook, and then did the Grand View Point Drive and trail. And a grand view it is, everywhere you look. The roads at Canyonlands are on top of a large mesa surrounded by deep canyons (1000 ft. to the next level down) on both sides, which were carved by the Colorado River (on the east side) and the Green River (on the west). If one is ambitious one can drive a 4WD vehicle along the White Rim Road along the edge of the first step of the canyon. You can see the road in some of the photos if you look closely. We did not do that, of course. All of the above photos were taken on the Grand View Point Trail, which is an easy jaunt I would highly recommend. From this hike you can see a lot of complicated canyons, but no water. It’s presumably down there somewhere, but it’s so far down that you can't see it around the edges of the rocks. We finally saw some at the Green River Overlook. That’s the Green River there in the bottom, surrounded by actual green trees. We were impressed by this, having not seen water for days...
We also drove out to Upheaval Dome, which is a curiousity. How it formed is a mystery – whether it was an upheaval of salt (hence the white color) or the remnant of a meteor strike (which threw up the white salt) is still up for debate. Myself I prefer the latter hypothesis, it's more romantic.
The last thing we did at Canyonlands was the short hike to Mesa Arch. One can never have too many arches, and this is quite a nice one. You can look through the arch right down into the canyon. Along this hike there was a lot of cryptobiotic soil, which is unique to this region of Utah. The ground there is very rocky and sandy, so there isn’t much for plants to root into when their seeds land. Enter the cryptobiotic soil, which is a combination of cyanobacteria, algae, mosses, and lichens. Essentially it is living soil, and there are many signs warning people not to disturb it as it grows very slowly (go figure). It's the brown stuff that looks like burnt hamburger.
We then returned to our campsite and had dinner. Clouds gathered all around us and we watched some spectacular lightning shows. I love thunderstorms, and the lack of such weather excitement is one of the only faults I’ve found with living in Seattle. That and the price of real-estate. Anyway, we saw our fill of electricity on this trip! Tomorrow we’ll go on a long drive across Southern Utah, calling briefly at Capitol Reef National Park.


Robin said...

Beautiful photos - thanks for sharing!!

Dave said...

A meteor strike, how romantic.