Banner photo by Neal Herbert (National Park Service)
Established in 1964 and expanded in 1971, Canyonlands National Park encompasses 527 square miles of rock wilderness that forms the heart of the Colorado Plateau. At its center are two great canyons, carved from thousands of feet of sedimentary rock by the Green and Colorado Rivers; their Confluence lies in the center of the Park. Canyonlands has been deliberately unimproved; many of its roads are unpaved, the trails are primitive, the campgrounds have no running water. There are few places as wild and rugged as this one. Canyonlands is so big that it has been divided into several districts, each with its own unique character: Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze and Horseshoe Canyon (The Great Gallery).
Island in the Sky
Island in the Sky is a high mesa peninsula between the Colorado River and the Green River, overlooking their Confluence. The sheer, brick red cliffs and hanging terraces soar over a thousand feet above the White Rim; hundreds of feet further down, the rivers carve their way towards the sea. The road is paved all the way to the tip of the peninsula, called Grand View Point. The Island is the easiest district to visit if you don't have much time but want to see Canyonlands while you're in the Moab area. Every pull-out and picnic area is surrounded by breathtaking empty space and light and distance. Photographs cannot begin to do it justice. You must stand at the edge of the abyss and see the impossibly distant horizons for yourself, and even then it's difficult to comprehend the scope of the vision before your eyes.
Named for the red and white candy-striped spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone, the Needles District is located in the southeast corner of Canyonlands National Park. This is the floor of Canyonlands, but the scale of the landscape is so large it's easy to forget that you are inside the canyon itself. The Needles District offers a wide variety of hiking and backpacking trails, as well as 4-wheeling and mountain biking opportunities.
Utah Highway 211 is a paved road all the way down to Needles. The road passes famous Newspaper Rock, and winds along the base of the cliffs at Indian Creek; rock climbers come here from all over the world to test their skills on these beautiful soaring lines.
The Maze is one of the least accessible places on earth; it is the most remote district of Canyonlands National Park. The Maze is difficult to reach, and even more difficult to travel within its labyrinthine canyons. This place requires self-sufficiency to a much higher degree than normal for a national park. Bring your own water. Gas, food, and ice are miles and miles away. If you really want to get away from it all, the Maze will grant your wish. Plan your visit carefully please!
Horseshoe Canyon (The Great Gallery)
Located at the bottom of Horseshoe Canyon in Canyonlands National Park, the Great Gallery is one of the most significant and famous rock art sites in North America. This panel is over 200 feet long and 15 feet high, and contains dozens of pictographs, including powerful, life-sized figures. Their enormous hollow eyes stare back from the canyon walls, timeless and uncanny in the overwhelming silence.
Canyonlands National Park Website