Sunday, July 25, 2010

Moab: Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park

There are three distinct districts of Canyonlands National Park--Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze—but they are too far apart to visit in the same day. The Island in the Sky district alone is more than 10,000 square miles in size! However, the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park can be combined with a trip to Dead Horse Point State Park, as they are in the same general vicinity--about thirty-five miles southwest of Moab, with Dead Horse Point State Park a detour on the way. That is what I did and both parks are well worth the trip.

Before embarking on drives or hikes in either park, a stop at its visitor center will enhance your trip. The Dead Horse Point Visitor Center carries many of the same books and souvenirs as those at the national parks, as well as items specifically about this state park. Visitors also receive a brochure about the park, just as visitors to the national parks do. I spent about one hour at Dead Horse Point State Park, driving along the scenic route that leads to the eponymously-named location (see photo above). Looking down into the gorge, more than a mile below, was amazing. Seeing the Colorado River, so small and insignificant at the bottom, gives a sense of how vast the West really is. Kid and Heyes could have ridden through the high desert landscape (see photo at right) that you drive through to enter and exit the park but otherwise I do not think they would have been able to traverse this area, unless it was by boat on the Colorado River.

Much of the section of Canyonlands National Park, established in 1964, that I saw, such as Grand View Point Overlook (see photo at right), resembled the geography of Dead Horse Point State Park. As with Arches National Park, Canyonlands began forming around 300 million years ago. Here, however, the ground was covered by a sea and the rise and fall of the water was one of the major causes of the geologic formations seen today, along with erosion and gravity. Each time the sea subsided, layers of sediment were left behind and helped form the structures now visible in the Park. Besides the Colorado River, the Green River has played a major role in shaping the way the Park looks. Canyonlands does have some arches and a half-mile hike brings you to Mesa Arch (see photo at right). Unfortunately, the scale of Canyonlands is so great that my photographs cannot do the place justice.

Despite the apparent barrenness of the landscape, quite a variety of life is present in Canyonlands. Vegetation has adapted to the dry conditions and low-lying bushes and tress may be hundreds of years old (see photo at right). The surface of the land looks like mere dirt, but I learned that it is cryptobiotic crust—numerous living organisms that are essential to the well-being of the Park; one footstep could destroy the crust, which could then take decades to recover and regenerate itself. Many animals, large and small, also live in Canyonlands. I saw lizards such as this one (see photo above) throughout my stay in Utah.

In the 1880s, ranchers began to graze cattle on the grasslands of Canyonlands National Park. Perhaps this is where Heyes and Kid learned ranching, before they went to San Juan some time later. Although ASJ apparently filmed here as well as at Arches National Park, I could not figure out where they might have been. None of the scenery I saw on my visit looked like anything in the third season episodes but that did not detract in any way from my enjoyment of visiting Canyonlands National Park.

Official website for Dead Horse Point State Park:

More information about Dead Horse Point State Park:

Official website for Canyonlands National Park:

More information about Canyonlands National Park: