In the past 10 years 9 films have been made in or near Canyonlands National Park including 127 Hours and Need for Speed. It’s a natural movie set.
In summer 2012 Ruth and I visited The Needles, one of the 4 districts in this vast expanse of “wilderness of rock at the heart of the Colorado Plateau”, which is how The Canyonlands National Park Service brochure (CNPSb) perfectly describes it. On September, 3, 2012, I blogged about Needles, the Maze, and the Rivers. Well-named, The Needles had lots of rock spires. After browsing its Visitor Center, Ruth and I explored all that’s just off its 10 miles of paved road. If you want to see more, like the Confluence Overlook, you’ll need serious hiking boots and/or 4-wheel-drive. The Maze is wild, “one of the nation’s most remote areas” according to CNPSb, which uses the word primitive a lot. Confluence Overlook is 1,000 feet above the joining of the Colorado and Green Rivers, the streams that formed these canyons. To see the confluence from the rivers, rafters must launch from either of 2 towns, Moab or Green River. Those who attempt a private trip including Cataract Canyon, which is below the confluence, will need to free up a week.
It took us 2 years to get back to Island in the Sky, Canyonlands most popular and accessible district, which is different from the others because it “traces the shoreline of an ancient ocean” according to one display in the Visitor Center. It was worth the wait, but be warned. Canyonlands is high desert, which means hot summers, cold winters, and extreme dryness. Elevations roughly range from 4,000 to 7,000 feet and daily temperatures can rise and fall 50 degrees. Beginning early on a cool June morning, we drove the rest of the Island’s paved road, took a few modest trails, saw the rest of 5 scenic overlooks, and were ready to get out of the heat by mid-afternoon. The Mesa Arch trail was, by far, the most popular. Luckily, we had seen the Visitor Center and Grand View Point Overlook (highly recommended but follow the trail markers faithfully) late the afternoon and evening before. My favorite overlook was Green River (seen in the photo above). There are many longer trails and gravel roads to explore in Island in the Sky for those more ambitious and heat-resistent than I. Because you can sometimes see 100 miles across mesa and canyon to distant mountains, Island is appropriately called Canyonland’s observation tower.
This is an important year for Canyonlands. Since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Public Law creating it in September, 1964, Canyonlands is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. Its initial 257,640 acres were expanded to 337,598 in 1971. Today its 4 districts now attract almost half a million visitors each year. I hope that only a small fraction of them show up for the rededication ceremony one week from tomorrow at Needles. I doubt there will be a birthday cake. But who knows? Check canyonlands50.org to find out.