2 Nov 2014

USA Road-trip - Canyonlands

After our rather disastrous excursion to witness the lunar eclipse we went back to bed and slept all morning, wasting half the day. The sky had become more overcast in the early morning, though, so it's not as if we'd missed any amazing light. We dragged ourselves out at about midday, had an okay breakfast burrito in a cafe in town, then headed north up to Canyonlands National Park. On my previous trip I'd visited Dead Horse Point State Park (where the otherwise spectacular view is somewhat ruined by the blue potash evaporation tanks) and the southern part of the park - Needles, a long drive from Moab. This time I wanted to see the Island in the Sky, and in particular Mesa Arch. The drive there is also pretty long, a good 20 miles once you've turned off the main road, so it takes almost an hour to drive from Moab. Once inside the park the road is slow and windy, with some sections without a straight bit for miles.

The Island in the Sky isn't exactly an island, but is a large mesa with huge sandstone cliffs that is surrounded by canyons, 1,000 ft below. The Colorado River meanders through the canyon to the east and the Green River meanders through the canyon to the west. It is an easy place to visit, with scenic roads along the various sections of the "island" and a few overlooks close to the road. Our first stop was Mesa Arch, which I wanted to scope out for a sunrise shoot. The light was flat and dull, but there was still a stunning view through the arch to the distant buttes and the canyon floor to the east with the blue La Sal mountains on the horizon. The arch is only a five or ten minute walk from the road, and on the approach it suddenly becomes visible, usually with a few people posing for photos.

When I set up my tripod I was inundated by requests to take peoples' photos, so I spent a few minutes snapping away, handing back cameras before the next couple's turn. Eventually the crowds thinned and I got a chance for a few shots of the unobstructed view, as well as shot of my husband and me taken with the remote control. A helpful passer-by looked at the screen on my camera to check the composition for me and we shuffled over a bit so as not to cut my feet off!

I wandered around the area to work out what might make the best shots of the arch at sunrise, and noted a rock on the ground where I planned to be (if the spot wasn't already taken). There were some other nice views of the canyon below; it wasn't all about the arch.


We wandered back to the car and continued on to the Grand Overlook viewpoint, where there's a mile-long trail to the end of the island. Along the way we passed a couple of artists painting, but few other tourists ventured past the initial overlook point, so it was lovely and peaceful. The cloud was getting a little contrast, but I longed for some dramatic stormy skies instead.

As we'd set out quite late we were in good time to be there for sunset, although there wasn't likely to be much of one, given the almost solid cloud cover. I hoped for a little colour on the clouds as we'd caught a glimpse of the previous evening. We drove to the west side of the island to Upheaval Dome, a hugely eroded remnant of an impact crater. It's a short hike up to the crater rim, with the option to walk all the way around. We walked to the second viewpoint, across some slickrock, and plonked ourselves down to watch the sunset. The clouds became more dramatic and there was some colour after all. Behind us the crater rim glowed orange. There were many buttes and mesas and winding canyons off to the west, and all around higher mountains glowed blue in the fading light. Hubby played around on his phone while I played around with my camera.


We headed down just after the sun had set, knowing that it would be dark within 10 or 15 minutes, and we had a twenty minute walk back down to the car.

We drove back to Moab and lazily ate at the brewery again, only this time we were disappointed by the food and service and were too tired to try the good beers. The weather forecast was for another dull day the next day, so we didn't bother planning a sunrise expedition, but instead enjoyed a nice long sleep.

Next stop: Arches

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