Exploring & Rafting Arches & Cataract Canyon in Utah
Part 2 – A Day in Canyonlands National Park’s Islands in the Sky Area
Monday morning, we again arose early, had breakfast at the hotel, and began our 45-minute drive to Canyonlands National Park’s northern entrance. Canyonlands Park is divided into three distinct areas: the northern “Islands in the Sky” area; the southeastern “Needles” area, and the southwestern “Maze” area. Given the size and distances involved, we decided to explore only the “Islands” area.
Again, the park was open, but the gate office and visitor’s center were closed when we entered. We took the park road south to near its end and began the “White Rim Overlook” hike (1.8 miles) first, due to the anticipated limited parking there. Along the way we encountered 4 mule deer before reaching the viewpoint from which we could see the Colorado River, Monument Basin and the La Sal Mountains. Upon returning to the car, we continued to the southern end of the road to begin the 2-mile hike along the “Grand Viewpoint Overlook”. This hike follows the canyon’s edge and provides spectacular views of not only the Colorado Canyon, but also the Green River Canyon, as they head to join at The Confluence.
Next, we drove to the most northwest part of the park to climb “Whale Rock” – a 1-mile hike and scramble along “slick rock” surfaces to a high, 360-degree viewpoint, complete with a cooling breeze. After returning to the Jeep, it was only a short drive to the trailhead for “Upheaval Dome” overlook – a massive crater from either a meteor impact or eroded salt uplift, and a place where we observed Bighorn Sheep tracks.
It was past noon when we made it back to the Jeep, so we ate a lunch/snack and took a short drive to the “Green River Overlook”, and then hiked ½-mile to the famous “Mesa Arch” where we encountered the most people we’ve seen on the entire trip. On the way out of the park, we stopped at the Visitor’s Center which was now open and reported our wildlife sightings to the ranger. Apparently, deer were rare in the park, but Bighorn Sheep have been sighted over in the canyon areas along the Green River.
After returning to the hotel and showering, we went window shopping in downtown Moab and ate a soup and salad dinner at the local Brewery Restaurant. Then, we returned to our hotel to finalize our packing for the next day’s beginning of our River Rafting Trip.