After a few days of cloudless skies and unrelenting sun, the spring rains rolled into Moab. After a quick bite to eat, Mike and Eric headed back to Jackson to prepare for their ascent (and ski descent) of Grand Teton. That left Anna, Garth, and me to wander Moab in the morning. We stopped by the local thrift shop, had a completely fried breakfast at Milt’s, and eventually let Anna head off to Boulder. Garth and I then had to decide what to do with the weather. Although we weren’t necessarily put off by the weather, it definitely meant that climbing was not an option. Wet sandstone isn’t necessarily ideal. Instead, I followed Garth’s lead and headed for Dead Horse Point State Park.
On the way to Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point showcases an extreme bend in the Colorado River where a plateau rises steeply above the waters below. The ominous name actually connects directly back to the way that cowboys and cattle rustlers used the thin, precipitous spit of land. It served as a natural corral, forcing horses to stay in a tight area, lest they fall to their deaths. As the name would suggest, more than a few horses eventually took the plunge.
Combination of the powerful Colorado River and the fragile rock of the Colorado Plateau is a perfect recipe for canyons. At Dead Horse Point, and later in Canyonlands, we stared out over a seemingly endless horizon of layered, maze-like canyons. With low clouds skimming across the rock, the scene took on an eery quality. Changes in wind and precipitation meant that the vistas never looked the same from one moment to the next. Massive buttes would materialize out of the mist, while others would vanish entirely behind a low cloud.
Hardening our resolve against the snow and sleet, we wandered along the rim of the canyon, peering down into the thousand foot void just a footstep away. Despite the rocky and harsh conditions, vegetation seemed to thrive on the rim of the canyon. Dense shrubs and dwarf-like trees grew out of solid slabs of sandstone. Far below, a carpet of pale green spread across the rusty layers of the lower plateaus. I won’t go so far as to say that weather was ideal, but having Garth along made the experience highly enjoyable. Every day is an adventure with that guy!
Later on, Garth and I said our goodbyes. He headed back to Park City and I promised to be there soon. Before I could leave, however, I had to spend some time in Canyonlands. I headed back into Moab and did some work over a steaming mug of tea before heading to bed for the night.
I dedicated the next day entirely to Canyonlands. The weather, however, hadn’t really improved. The rain had moved on, but fierce winds had replaced it. Sustained twenty-five mph winds buffeted me around for the day. With the occasional forty mph gust, I even worried about getting too close to the rim of the canyon. My experience at Canyonlands, therefore, was a bit different than I had expected. It was definitely a far cry from my time in Arches.
Canyonlands feels like a park that is best explored from a 4×4, high clearance vehicle. The unpaved White Rim Road and Shafer Trail wind through the lower reaches of the park, skirting the edge of countless canyons as it snakes into the horizon. It provides access to some of the best canyon hikes. On foot, those hikes would turn into overnight backpacking excursions simply because of the descent and ascent of the main plateau. Sadly, I didn’t have the time to commit to such a venture this time around.
From above, Canyonlands feels like a desiccated landscape of gaping cracks that cut into the otherwise flat horizon. In scope, it reminded me of the Grand Canyon. Canyonlands, however, is not simply one giant crack filled with buttes and plateaus. I don’t mean to belittle the Grand Canyon, but it has a beautiful simplicity hidden within its grandeur. The terrain of Canyonlands, however, has angular layers that rise and fall from lofty pinnacles into deep canyons. Hiding behind a juniper bush high on the rim, I sat staring off into that horizon, fantasizing about what wonders lay hidden among the labyrinth below. Someday, I wouldn’t mind getting a little bit lost somewhere down there…
After an especially powerful gust of wind, I decided to head out. I retraced my route back through the junipers and pinyon pines of the high desert before setting my sights on Salt Lake City.
Time to head Northwest towards SLC.