Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Another World, Part 5 - Canyonlands National Park

              . . . the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth — there is nothing else like it anywhere.

                                                                 -- Edward Abbey, about Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah includes 527 square miles of canyons, mesas, and rock formations (including Mesa Arch, about which more below).  This is about 1/4 the area of Arizona's Grand Canyon.  The area was designated as a national park 50 years ago next month.

The canyons and other formations in Canyonlands have been created primarily by the Colorado River (#8 and #9 on the map below) and the Green River (#7 below) and their tributaries over millions of years.

Canyonlands National Park

The rivers divide the park into three districts -- Island in the Sky (#1 on the map above), The Needles (#3 above), and The Maze (#4 above).  A fourth district called Horseshoe Canyon (#6 above) is separate from the other three areas.  

Because of all the canyons, none of the areas are connected by roads inside the park -- you have to go around and approach each one separately.  Island in the Sky is the most accessible and attracts about 60% of the park's visitors; The Needles district attracts about 35% of the visitors; The Maze, 3%.

I was able to visit the Island in the Sky district in 2014 and the nearby Dead Horse Point State Park in 2013 and 2014.  These areas are not as otherworldly as the more remote parts of Canyonlands or as the parks in my previous posts in this series.  But the vistas are very reminiscent of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and worth sharing here.

Dead Horse Point provides one of the best views of Canyonlands.  It's a state park -- which is why we went there in October, 2013, when the national parks were closed.

We had great light that day, starting with dawn over the La Sal mountains:

The mesa at Dead Horse Point is about 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, which you can see in the image below:

That's not me up there -- no way!

In 2014 the light wasn't good (very bright cloudy sky), but I managed to get a few decent images like this one:

 You play the photographic hand you're dealt.

One of the primary attractions of Island in the Sky is Mesa Arch.  It's an easily reachable 50-foot span on the edge of a mesa (hence "Mesa Arch"), with a sheer 500-foot drop to the base of the mesa.

The arch is dubbed a "pothole" arch because it was formed by surface water that pooled in a depression in the sandstone behind the rim of the mesa and eventually eroded its way through.

Mesa Arch isn't big by the standards of the signature arches of Arches National Park, and from a distance it's rather plain and unassuming. 

 But as you get closer, it's like a magical window opening into another world . . .

. . . because it frames a spectacular view of the Colorado River canyons and the distant La Sal mountains to the east. 

Because of its accessibility and eastward view, Mesa Arch is a favorite location for sunrise photography.  So of course it's always crowded.  

But after the first few precious minutes of sunrise, everyone seemed willing to share, and there were plenty of great images to be had.

If you would like to see these images in a larger format, visit my photography website -- Todos Juntos Photography -- by clicking here.

Next destination . . . White Pocket, a hidden gem in northern Arizona !

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