Canyonlands National Park, Part 1: Island in the Sky

Canyonlands National Park is unique in that it is divided by rivers into different sections that require driving significant distances outside of the park in order to travel between them. We started in the more popular Island in the Sky section and made our way through the overlooks and shorter hikes there. This section of the park is on the mesa overlooking the dramatic canyons below, and really does feel like you’re on an island in the sky, especially when surrounded by low cumulus clouds. It’s stunning.

Our first stop overlooked a portion of the 100 mile long White Rim Road, a 4-wheel drive only permit road that I cannot wait to explore on my next trip here. From there we hiked a short, easy trail to Mesa Arch which offered a spectacular view of the valley as well as the arch itself.

View from Shafer Canyon Overlook with White Rim Road below, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

View from Shafer Canyon Overlook with White Rim Road below, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

View through Mesa Arch to canyon below, Mesa Arch Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

View through Mesa Arch to canyon below, Mesa Arch Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Our next stop was Upheaval Dome which is a salt dome uplift within a 2 mile diameter crater. We hiked out to both the First and Second Overlooks here before driving to our next point, Whale Rock. Both these jaunts offered chances to climb on slickrock, which I found to be pretty great. Of course, the views weren’t bad either. Whale Rock in particular was amazing in that once you get to the top, you are above the mesa as well as the canyons.

View from First Overlook, Upheaval Dome Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

View from First Overlook, Upheaval Dome Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Walking up the slickrock of The Whale with only sky to see, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Walking up the slickrock of The Whale with only sky to see, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Our next stop was Aztec Butte where we hiked around and atop a couple swirled sandstone buttes, the second of which had two Puebloan granaries concealed under the overhanging cliffs of the butte and an open air structure from the same time period on the other side. These ruins date from approximately 1,000 AD though they are so well preserved it can be hard to believe.

View of swirled buttes from the top, Aztec Butte Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

View of swirled buttes from the top, Aztec Butte Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

View of the granaries on Aztec Butte Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

View of the granaries on Aztec Butte Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

View of Taylor Canyon from atop Aztec Butte, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

View of Taylor Canyon from atop Aztec Butte, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

From there we stopped at a slew of overlooks, each providing different views into the canyons and river mesas below. I did not include pictures from all the overlooks as some of my photos were better than others.

Green River Overlook, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Green River Overlook, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Zoom shot of Buck Canyon from eponymous overlook, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Zoom shot of Buck Canyon from eponymous overlook, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Grand Viewpoint Overlook Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Grand Viewpoint Overlook Trail, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

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