~ Canyonlands National Park ~

Canyonlands National Park preserves a wilderness of rock at the heart of the Colorado Plateau. It covers 527 square miles of land at the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. The park is divided into three very different districts; the Island in the Sky between the two rivers, the Maze to the west and the Needles in the east and south of the park. The canyons of Canyonlands are carved by these rivers and tributaries.

Water and gravity have cut flat layers of sedimentary rock into hundreds of canyons, buttes, fins, arches and spires. Canyonlands remains largely untrammeled; its roads are mostly unpaved, the trails primitive and the rivers are free-flowing. Before being protected as a national park in 1964, few people knew these remote lands. Ancestral Puebloan Indians lived here for thousands of years building dwellings in most of the canyons in the park and leaving petroglyphs and pictographs on the walls. Cowboys and uranium prospectors are the only white people daring to enter this rugged corner of southeast Utah until the park came to be.

Source: Canyonlands National Park brochure

Roadside Ruin and Culture

Visitor Center

Pinyon pine
The cultural history of Canyonlands spans thousands of years. Over time, different groups moved in and out of the area in concert with the availability of natural resources.
Hunter-gatherers were the first to live here about 10,000 years ago. They roamed the southwest from about 8,000 B.C. until 500 B.C.
Roughly 2,000 years ago,early farmers came into the area. These included the Anasazi and Freemont Cultures, which relied more on domesticated animals and farming for their subsistence.
The Ute and Paiute cultures may have arrived here as early as A.D. 800. The Navajo arrived from the north sometime after A.D. 1300. These cultures tended to be more like the hunter-gatherers and did little farming in this area.
In the mid-1800s came the white man and everything changed. We all know that story.

My first stop was the Roadside Ruin Trail. The trail was about one-third of a mile and had markers along the way identifying the different typed of vegetation found in the park.

Most prevalent was the Pricklypear cactus. Pricklypear bears a sweet, juicy edible fruit. The pads were earen after roasting and removal of the spines. This cactus also had medicinal uses. The pads were split and applied to a wound as we apply aloe to a burn. That usage, too, came from Indians.
I can tell you from experience that the spines of the pricklypear are sharper than the lancets I use to check my blood sugar.

Pricklypear cactus

Shots from the Roadside Ruins

Indian ricegrass


Big sagebrush

Freemont barberry

Closeup of the Freemont barberry

Four-wing saltbrush

Narrow-leafed yucca

Utah juniper

This was a granary used to store corn, seeds and nuts. Granaries were placed in hidden, nearly unaccessible locations to keep them safe from others. The door to this one is located on its roof.

While photographing the markers along the trail, I caught this guy sunning
Some panoramas

The Wooden Shoe Arch

Some other rock formations on the same fin as the Wooden Shoe Arch

Canyonlands Geology

Canyonlands National Park is a showcase of geology. In each of the park's districts visitors can see the remarkable effects of millions of years of erosion on a landscape of sedimentary rock.
Most of the rock found in Canyonlands today came from distant mountain ranges like the ancestral Rockies and even the Appalachans. For millions of years rock from these mountains were broken down into sands and carried by the winds and water and building up in layers of sedimentary rock and forming the Colorado Plateau, a vast sloping plain. There are over twenty layers of different types of rock within the Colorado Plateau.
Through the changes of uplift and erosion the landscape changed. Uplift raised the elevation of the rock from near sea level, when the rock was created to over 5,000 feet. Some geologists believe areas of the Plateau may have risen 10,000 since uplift began.
As the area gradually rose the rivers that once deposited sediments on the lowlands began to remove from the emerging plateau. The Green and Colorado Rivers began carving deep into the geologic layer cake of rock exposing burried sediments and creating the canyons of Canyonlands. The rivers are not the only source of erosion. Summer thunderstorms bring heavy rains that scour the landscape. Water seeps into cracks in the rocks, freezes and expands widening these cracks and forcing the rock to split and leave spires like the Needles.
Eventually erosion will flatten the area again.


Potholes are depressions in a rock surface. They are caused by the different erosion rates for different parts of the rock. Once a pothole is started it will continue to increase in size through the action of wind, sand and water.
Pothole creatures have adapted to extended periods of dryness punctuated by brief wet periods. During hot, dry times of the year when ground surface temperatures may exceed 170 degrees, pothole life seems to cease.
However lying dormant within the cracked mud in the potholes are hundreds of microscopic eggs that tolerate the dryness well. When the rains come in early spring and late summer the eggs hatch within hours to start the life cycle again. The species include Fairy shrimp, Clam shrimp, tadpoles, Tadpole shrimp, mosquito larvae, beetles and snails. Larger animals like coyotes and sheep search out potholes for a source of water.
Over time potjoles may trap enough sand to allow for the growth of plants. The first growth is often the biological soil crust.

Biological Soil crusts are a very important part of Canyonlands ecosystem. Soil crusts are essential to life in the desert; they help prevent soil erosion, absorb and hold water and provide nutrients to other plants.
The crusts are formed slowly by living organisms and their by-products, creating a fragile surface crust of soil particles bound together by organic materials.
Covering nearly all soil surfaces in the desert, biological soil crust is almost invisible at early stages of growth but over time appears lumpy and dark brown or black. One footsrep can destroy hundreds of years of growth.

Almost every part of the narrowleafed yucca was used by early inhabitants of Canyonlands. The spines on the leaf tips served as needles. Leaf fibers were made into cord and rops and woven into sandals and mats. The flowers and fruits were eaten. The roots yeilded saponin, a substance used as soap.
I believe the plane grows the long flower stem to make sure the seeds fall far enough away so as to keep the nearby water for the parent plant.

Judging by its location I think the rock on the left came from the notch on the right

Free-standing formations like these are throughout the park


Thee little pile of rocks on the right is a trail marker. They come in all sizes from a few inches to two or three feet high. This was one of the larger ones.

The Needles

The Needles are rock pinnacles and spires banded in red and white. Earth movements and water freezing and expanding eroded the needles from a solid plateau of rock.

I took a drive down the Elephant Hill Road (dirt road above), but found out that without a four-wheel drive vehicle I couldn't get to where I could see much.

Arches in the making
The two semi-circular cutouts in the face of this cliff will eventually cut through forming new arches.

Music is "Canyon Voices"

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