The southeast corner of Canyonlands National Park is a tote! I mean it’s in the middle of NOWHERE. Just us and some cows. (I threw the cow pics in for Uncle Ronnie). This park was WAY less crowded than any other park we had been to. Probably because they gave up driving out to it. HA!
Canyonlands is split into three regions. The Maze is a remote section with all unpaved roads that require 4-wheel drive, a great deal of self-sufficiency, and days to explore. We did not visit this section. 🙂 We did, however, visit the other two sections. We checked out the Needles first. The Needles is named for the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone in the area. We were all ready to get out of the car and move around.
Canyonlands has arches (over 80) including this one called the Wooden Shoe. But you need to really get out into the park to see them. We quickly found out that the Needles sections has an extensive trail system providing many opportunities for long day hikes and overnight trips. There’s much fewer short day hikes. But that was okay with us.
We stopped at the visitor’s center to get an idea of what hikes to do and grab the boys’ Junior Ranger books. While we were there, I noticed they had these Discovery Pack backpacks to check out. (I was told they have them at Arches too but I didn’t noticed them. Bummer). The backpacks have all kinds of tools to explore the park with like a magnifying glass (Tuck’s favorite), track identifying cards, scat identifying cards (Mason’s favorite), rock identifiers, a field guide book, and more. The boys had so much fun on our first hike, Slickrock Trail, that we had to skip the Pothole Point trail.
These rocks look so different from the other parks. They’re almost like thick melted stone. The trails are marked with cairns (bottom left).
We hit the visitor center to return the packs and turn in their ranger books before they closed (they close early too). Ranger Mike did an amazing job with boys. He took them outside and gave them their own personal ranger talk. He discussed with them why the arches in Canyonlands and Arches are different and he explained it in a way the kids could really understand and process. You can tell he enjoys what he does. It was awesome. Thanks Ranger Mike!
With ranger badges in hand, we struck out to the Cave Spring Trail. It’s a short loop that takes you to a historic cowboy camp. In case you’re wondering what my boys are doing in the picture below, they are pretending to be cowboys. Mason is shooting and Tucker is using his lasso. HA!
Past the cowboy camp, you find some old rock paintings and peckings.
You have to climb a couple ladders to complete the trail. The boys found this rock to crawl inside. Do you know how many times we have to ask the boys, “Did you check for critters before you crawled inside/picked that up/hid behind something?’ I think it’s just going to take getting bit or worse for them to start looking.
***It is at this point in the trip when the coronavirus started effecting our schedule. More about that at the end of the post.***
So instead of heading south, we headed north back through Moab to check out the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands before it got too late. As we were driving through town I start yelling for Trevor to turn around because I saw the Famous Idaho Potato Tour truck. What started as a one-year campaign to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Idaho Potato Commission, turned into a nine-year (and counting) cross-country journey. I saw a video about this truck before we started our trip. At one point, I looked into being a part of this truck tour or being a Oscar Meyer Wiener Ambassador but I quickly realized gigs like that wouldn’t work with our trip goals. But how cool is it that I got to see both on this trip!!
Island in the Sky is the most visited section of the park and it is also the most easily accessible. Instead of being down in the valley, the mesa rests on sheer sandstone cliffs over 1,000 feet high, so you get an entirely different perspective of the park’s landscape. (Like a lot of other parks during the winter, it’s best to check the visitor center’s operating seasons and hours). Knowing we would be getting to the park late, we decided to just ride through the entire paved route through the park. This was a great park to do that. We were surprised to see all the grass on top of the mesa. We were expecting rock like in the valley so it was an unexpected treat. We were going to try to make it out to Dead Horse State Park on our way to the Island in the Sky but we ran out of time. I read lots of good recommendations for that park. If you go, let me know if we really missed out.
We drove out to Whale Rock and quickly turned back. We stopped at Green River Overlook and snapped a few pics.
Then we headed out to Grand View Point Overlook for a chilly but beautiful sunset. It was amazing to see down into the valley. Mason said it looked like a dinosaur footprint.
As soon as the sun started setting, it got cold fast. So we decided to head out. We didn’t stop at the Mesa Arch but if you want to see a picture of it, just dust off your old PC as it was a pre-installed wallpaper in Microsoft Windows 7. It’s best to see at sunrise anyway, so I’ve read.
We started out and snapped a quick pic before it got too dark.
Our boys usually have an early bedtime so they don’t get to see the night sky very often. Since, it was already late we decided to let them stay up and stargaze.
Canyonlands, like several other national parks, is designated as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. It was amazing for the boys to see the stars shining brighter and brighter the later it got. You can see the Milky Way. The boys were so pumped. Honestly, Trev and I were just as awestruck but the skies. It’s been a long time since we were out away from city lights and could really see the night sky. It was still fairly early when we pulled over to park but we had some much fun watching the stars come out as the night sky got darker. We were so entranced by gazing at the stars we forgot to get pictures. I looked online for a picture from Canyonlands that most closely resembled what we saw. This one was not exactly what we saw but it fairly close. Our sky was more black and less blues-red. It truly was remarkable. It’s so much better than walking outside and looking up at the sky from the house. Once you get away from all the light pollution, the stars really strut their stuff. If you ever get a chance to go to a Dark Sky Park, GO, and go during a new moon, when the sky is even darker. Oftentimes these parks have viewing parties. It’s totally worth it. You will be surprised by how memorized you’ll be.
It’s here that one of our best moments happened on the trip. The boys like to watch Food Network (mostly because it’s one of the few TV channels we let them watch). They like the competition shows the best. During the drive through the park they realized Buddy VS Duff was coming on and they wanted to get back to the hotel so they could watch it. We were not about to cut our time short in the park for a television show. So Tuck was kind of bummed. But on the way to the hotel, after checking out the amazing night sky, Tuck says, “Thanks for not letting us watch Buddy VS Duff. This was way better. Thanks guys.” And with that, our mommy and daddy hearts were filled knowing this trip was the right decision. Just being present with your kids is a great decision no matter where you are. Just be involved. Sometimes, they might not want to hang out as a family and that’s okay but other times they just need a push and it can be a wonderfully fulfilling time for the whole family.
Leaving Moab, the original plan was to head south and hit Four Corners Monument, where you can touch Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona all at the same time. The monument is on Navajo Tribal land. From there we were going to Antelope Canyon in Arizona and through Monument Valley, all on Navajo Tribal land. The south route back west would also include a photo op at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona as we headed back to California. The reason I mention these stops being on tribal land is the fact that, as we were heading south to the Needles we found out that the Navajo Nation had just closed all Navajo Tribal Parks and facilities. I mean that’s where we were headed! We had heard reports about the coronavirus but at that point we thought it was like the flu and just needed to make sure and practice good hygiene. Now, we’re like what?
So we had to back up and punt. With all those stops cancelled we decided to head back north (that’s when we hit Island In the Sky) and back to Zion and try to hit the Narrows.
Since these stops were removed from our trip, I though I would leave you with a photo of each of them. Again, these are not my pictures, credit is given for each picture below.
Four Corners (pic by QT Luong/terragalleria.com) – kind of out of the way and touristy but hey why not if you’re this close, right?
Antelope Canyon (pic courtesy of Earth Trekkers), there are some really amazing photos of the canyon online. I am extremely disappointed that we missed this. How cool does this look? I also wanted to visit the Wave (you should look it up, so cool, but when I looked into you have to get a permit, you have to be able to navigate without a map, I mean it was hardcore to see this place. Not something we were prepared or able to do so we had to mark it off the list awhile ago).
Monument Valley Tribal Park. How beautiful is this picture from the Navajo Nations Park website?!?! So many movies filmed here. Run Forest, Run!
We still could have driven to Horsehore Bend (pic courtesy of businessinsider.com) but it would have been the only stop and would have made our drive so much longer for just one stop. 😦
After seeing the pictures, now you can see why we were so bummed. Oh well, schedules change and you just have to roll with it.
Whatever the path to get there, our next destination is DEATH-iantly worth a visit.