Canyonlands National Park: Island In The Sky District


The entrance to the Island in the Sky district is about 30 miles from Moab, along scenic, rolling UT-313.  Once you pass the visitor’s center, you wind along the narrow stretch of road you see above (the neck), which feels almost like crossing a bridge, since the land drops off sharply on either side of the pavement.  From here on in, you are essentially on an island, except instead of water, you’re surrounded by steep cliffs.

Canyonlands is divided into three sections.  While I only visited the Island in the Sky district, the Needles district is also easily accessible (although you’ll need a 4wd to reach some of the attractions in the Needles district). The area known as the Maze is impossible to reach by car, and difficult even by Jeep.

Didn’t I tell you the LaSal Mountains would add the perfect backdrop in this park?

Mesa Arch

One of the most satisfying stops in Canyonlands is also one of the first you’ll make.  You simply must hike to Mesa Arch. The trailhead is about five miles from the Visitor’s Center, and right before the turnoff to Upheaval Dome.

Once Again, the LaSal Mountains make a dramatic appearance.

Mesa Arch is perched precariously at the edge of a cliff.  There’s nothing to stop you from falling over, so be careful here.

These are the views to the left and the right of Mesa Arch.

Just above Mesa Arch…

Trees… on the edge.

Grand View Point Overlook

Continue heading south through the park, and you’ll find several more viewpoints, all of which  give an excellent vista of the canyons below.  Scroll to the right to see the entire picture above.

This is part of the White Rim, which encircles the Island In The Sky district on three sides.

The LaSal Mountains make another appearance, at Grand View Point Overlook.

Upheaval Dome

Upheaval Dome is a bit of a mystery.  To geologists, it simply doesn’t make sense that this dome of rock exists.  And while I’m sure it will impress geologically inquisitive visitors, I was less than thrilled.  By this time of day, the sun was nearly setting, it was once again getting chilly, and my feet were aching from a very long day of hiking.  So, I took a picture and headed back to the car.

This is one of my favorite road pictures.  It also gives you an idea of the landscape you’ll be seeing, when you’re not at the edge of the island.


I captured this series of photos by setting my camera on top of the car, then snapping a shot every minute or two.  If you decide to stake out the sunset, chances are, you won’t be the only one: I met a fellow photographer here at the Shafer Canyon Overlook, and we chatted as the sun completed its journey.

… and the sun is gone.

One final view of the incredible sunset.  I had started driving out of the park when I looked back and saw this.  I had no choice but to stop the car and capture this shot.

In the golden light that remained, I headed back to Moab, completing the most exhausting day of my trip.

Note: This trip was first published in 2004.

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