Into the Canyonlands

The purpose of our six-week road trip across the West was twofold: 1) To see many of the states and national parks neither of us had seen and 2) to visit places that were hard or expensive to fly into and, thus, only readily accessible by car. I’ve been asked why we aren’t hitting up Zion—answer: been there, done that; and while I’d like to go back for longer, we can easily fly into Arizona and do a southern Utah tour sometime in the future—and why we didn’t detour to Colorado Springs for Garden of the Gods (see previous statement). However, one spot I had visited, many years ago in 2002, and I just had to go back when it was more or less along our route and show SVV its geological wonders; that place was Utah’s spectacular Canyonlands.

In fact, my inner emotions about returning for a second visit looked something like this:

(And yes, that is me jumping on the edge of the canyon; and yes, I am the biggest klutz you virtually know and probably shouldn’t be doing things like this. Oh well, you only live once. Sorry, Mom.)

Like the rest of our trip, we didn’t really have a plan. We had no idea if we’d show up and have nowhere to park our truck and trailer (many campsites in national parks are offered on a first come, first served basis and it was a Friday toward the beginning of summer, after all). We didn’t really know what we’d do once we got there. But that’s the beauty of a road trip: Time is not of the essence and driving allows one the flexibility to detour when prompted or extend a stay when nature gives you no other choice but to do so.

And so we drove south from Salt Lake City, over the mountains at Provo and arrived just outside Moab some hours later. We headed straight to Horsethief, a campsite on the fringe of Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park and found a host of sites open. For $12 a night, we camped on the edge of the canyon in a primitive site (no water, no electric, no sewer), and it was glorious (despite that most annoying family who decided to turn on an audiobook at 11pm one night and was met with screams .

The first morning there, we got up early and headed into the park. After all, we’d purchased the annual national parks pass for $85 (versus paying $10 or up each time we visited a park) and wanted to get our money’s worth.

We entered the park through the Island of the Sky region; the Needles was just too far of a drive, and besides, many of the main attractions that don’t require backcountry trekking are in the northern part of the 527-square-mile park. After dropping in at the main visitor’s center near the entrance for trail maps, we continued through the park by car. Mesa Arch is the first main stop on the route, so we parked and hiked the easy half-mile trail out to the overlook.

Next, we drove to Upheaval Dome and did the mildly steep mile-and-a-half hike out and back to a big rock, where this delegation of travelers took a little nap on the sandstone.

On the way back, we got a little turned around as we lost sight of the cairns, and even though Upheaval is a major tourist stop, I can see how one could easily wander off the trail by accident and find themselves in the middle of nowhere. All that red rock starts to look the same after awhile!

Next, we drove out to the Green River Overlook, where you can see the La Sal Mountains and their snowy peaks…

…as well as the Green River snaking its way through the valley.

Other than countless lizards and chipmunks, we didn’t encounter any wildlife, but our little billy goat was loving leaping onto towering (to her) boulders and scampering through puddles. If I could speak Puppy, I’d say the Canyonlands was Ella’s favorite part of this trip so far. (The bison in South Dakota, on the other hand, were probably her least favorite.)

We’ve been traveling for 17 days now. Fifteen of those days have been plagued by end-of-days-like rains. I’m only grateful the one blissfully sunny day we experienced was in the Canyonlands, with just the perfect amount of cloud coverage for photography sake.

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Comments ( 44 )

  1. The Canyonlands is my favorite backpacking area of all time!

    • I wish we’d gotten to do a little backpacking while there! Unfortunately, toting around a wee pup doesn’t make any backcountry camping too easy. Still, we loved the spot we camped in the trailer in–beautiful!

  2. Love your little road-trip mascot. This place is gorgeous! For a minute, I thought it was the Grand Canyon, but I love the variety in this.

    • She is totally loving every second of this trip, but particularly the times when we let her off leash to chase geese. It’s classic. (Video footage to come tomorrow.)

  3. Sounds like a fun place to backpack. That’s one of the best jumping pics I’ve seen – jumping on the edge of a canyon gives it a whole new level of danger and excitement!

    • Thanks, Scott! I need to come up with some new poses, so in the meantime, I thought I’d challenge death to make it more interesting =)

  4. JUST completed a month-long trip through the five national parks in southern Utah! Such incredible beauty! Who knew? I camped just up the road from Horsethief past the Blue Mesa group campground. Yes. Rain. Wish I’d stayed longer and done a couple more hikes. Check out my experience at Tell me about your favorite hikes.

  5. Was it not unbearably hot? Just looking at these pictures makes me thirsty–although they really are beautiful!

    • Ris, I wish! This day at the Canyonlands was the warmest day we’ve had in the three weeks on the road, and the high was just 65! The rest of the time we’ve been traveling, it’s been in the 40s and 50s, ugh. (I packed all sundresses! Idiot.)

      But the one other time I was in Canyon Country was in August 2002, and it was hot as balls! It’s not unusual for days to average 110 degrees in summer months; we just traveled during a really weird spring, weather-wise.

  6. It looks so beautiful there!

  7. STUNNING, looks like you guys are having so much fun!!1

  8. Gorgeous!! Can you believe I’ve never been to Canyonlands!? It shall be remedied shortly, pinky promise. Also, tidbit fact about the La Sal mountains. When the first Spanish explorers came across them it was mid-summer and they were still capped in snow, the conquistadors thought there was no possible way there would still be SNOW mid-July, so they assumed the mountains were made entirely of salt. La sal is Spanish for “salt.” And the name stuck. :)


    • Ahhh, how is that even possible, Ms. Ambassador for the State of Utah? Remedy that ASAP, please.

      Fun story, though–I’ve pretty much learned the history of the whole state of Utah thanks to you!

  9. Beautiful Scenery!

  10. Holy fuck monkeys! You know, Kyle’s got a thing for the southwest, but I’ve always been very “meh” about it. I mean, it’s a broiling desert full of rocks. But your pictures pretty much just sold it for me. So freakin’ gorgeous!

    • It was a high of 65 while we were there! I kept having to put my long-sleeved tee and fleece on to keep warm! Just don’t go June through August. Those are the steamy months.

  11. So cool you finally got good weather and at one of your favorite places. Was nice to see the Canyonlands as it’s been over 30 years since I visited. Must be time to go again. I am surprised that dogs (no offense Ella) are allowed on the trails. She sure looks happy to splash around.

  12. Your little pup kills me every time!.. LoL.. I got the chance to go the Canyons last September and it was so beautiful! Glad you got at least 1 dry day to enjoy it :-)


  13. That picture of you jumping next to the edge gave me a knot in my stomach just looking at it! You’re crazy!!!

    Love that Ella got to travel with you on this one!

  14. Awesome! That place is definitely on my list of things to see.

  15. Love it! I travelled through Moab on my big XC trip, and thought it was stunning. Agreed that it would be so easy to get lost there – I was by myself so totally paranoid, but I’d love to go back and do some backpacking there.

    • Yeah, we can’t really either due to the pup, and we can’t go much further off the beaten path with the trailer because the water tank is just so small!

  16. Confession: I have A Thing about people (myself included) standing on the edges of cliffs. It’s this unfounded fear that my body will suddenly fling itself off the cliff, or something, which I know makes ZERO SENSE, but I can’t help it. Thus, that photo of you jumping and the one of SVV standing at the edge of a HUGE canyon gave me a wee bit of anxiety just now. Ha!

    So glad you guys are having such an awesome! trip thus far.

    • I YELL at Scott when he does such silly things. He always balances on the edge of steep drop offs and it scares me silly. What you can’t see here, is that there are stair step ledges on the canyon, so if I fell, it would only be a few feet (versus a few hundred). I’m stupid, but I’m not THAT stupid, ha.

  17. Nice photos…..ifyou like canyons you must see or visit in Brasil (Serra Geral Park)…nice place !

  18. Aaaah, my favorite part of the whole continental US. *drools* Honestly, we’re having a blast here in South America, but one thing I know that the very first trip we do after we get back to the US is to re-visit the canyon states. So gorgeous! Enjoy, u guys.

  19. I remember standing in that exact spot where you’re jumping and taking a photo… or /trying/ to take a photo before Kali freaked out and pulled me away from the ledge. I’m going to show him this photo and say “See? SEE? She’s /jumping/ on the ledge and didn’t die!”

  20. Love the jumping shot and the photos are just edible.

  21. Mister Sister June 5, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    White girl got some air in that photo!!! And B.I.L. finally learned to smile!!! :) yayyy!!!

  22. wow!! is this part of the grand canyon? my US geography is limited to the east and west coast!! i love the dog in all the pics! i love the shot of you jumping! were u close to the edge?

  23. Glad I found your blog as I am going to be living vicariously through you. :)

  24. That photo of you jumping is scary – how many times did you have to jump to capture it?

  25. Utah’s fab! Nice shots.


  1. […] but for now, I thought I’d do a wrap-up each week. Time wise, this should have been with the Canyonlands post—which corresponded with the end of our first week of travel—but I forgot, […]

  2. […] being in the Canyonlands for four days, I couldn’t imagine prettier vistas than the steep cliffs from above. But the […]

  3. […] with opportunities to explore. Plan a similar road trip to the one we took a few years back through Utah’s Canyonlands and Arches National Park. If you’re more of a city slicker, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos would […]

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