Canyonlands, Utah, USA
Mesa Arch in Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky region, a popular sunrise spot. Photo by Snowpeak.
Mesa Arch is initially disappointing as – after a short walk – visitors find it’s much, much smaller than those at Arches National Park, but on closer inspection you discover that the arch is located right at the edge of the cliff and becomes a perfect frame for the spectacular view beyond it, not to mention insane, teetering moments photographers have trying to capture the ultimate shot. Wow!
Shafer trail, which is the name of that very winding road in Canyonlands. Photo by AsturKon.
Canyonlands is the biggest national park in Utah and some say the best, though the BugForce would disagree, we prefer our rocks to be in funny shapes, colours and easily accessible.
Canyonlands is, however, over 500 sq miles (800sq kms) of undeveloped wilderness – rocks, rivers, wildlife and plants interrupted by only two proper campgrounds and a couple of short paved roads, so for serious solitude seekers this is the park.
Canyonlands is split into districts, Island in the Sky, The Needles and The Maze
Shafer Canyon as seen from Island in the Sky, Shafer Trailhead.
Actually Canyonlands is four districts if you include the two rivers, Colorado River and Green River. The rivers provide action and entertainment for rafters and kayakers on the quiet stretches above the Confluence while below it there are dramatic whitewater rapids, like those in the Grand Canyon.
The ‘Holy Ghost’ panel of the Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon. Photo by Scott Catron.
Horseshoe Canyon is not in one of Canyonlands’ four districts but just north of the park and west of the Green River, though still in Utah and managed by Canyonlands National Park.
The canyon is famous for its Barrier Canyon Style rock art, pictographs and petroglyphs produced by the ‘Desert Archaic’ culture, a group of nomadic group of hunter-gatherers who roamed the area possibly thousands of years BC.
The Great Gallery’s ‘Holy Ghost’ panel is 200 feet long, 15 feet high and the paintings are life-sized human figures.
Get there from State Route 24 via 30 miles (48 kms) of dirt road, or from Green River via 47 miles (76 km) of dirt road. There is a primitive campsite at the west rim trailhead with no water available.
Getting to see the rock art will require fitness and determination, as it’s a 3 mile hike (4. 8 km) to the bottom of the canyon, a vertical drop of about 300m. And no camping is permitted overnight there so you have to walk back too, probably in extreme heat and necessarily carrying a lot of water.