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Monday, August 23, 2010 : Canyonlands National Park, Salt Lake City

 

Today, the weather is beautiful. It is time to visit another park, close to Moab, Canyonlands.

 

The Colorado and its tributary, the Green River, split Canyonlands into three differents parts, which do not communicate with each other. We are visiting Island in the Sky, the closest to Moab, and perhaps the most scenic. That leaves two we are not seeing today, which makes two more reasons to come back !

 

Canyonlands is located on a plateau. After leaving Moab on US-191, we drive up, along the edges of a canyon, quite narrow and with steep sides at places, superb. Then comes the crossing of the plateau. We went up from less than 4,000 ft to more than 6,000 ft in hardly a few miles.

 

Canyonlands is not really crowded by tourists and, apart from Mesa Arch, we will see almost nobody. Its vegetation may be scrubby, its landscapes are absolutely stunning, and it definitely deserves a visit.

 

Like in Arches, once beyond the minuscule visitor center, this is the kingdom of pit toilets. Nice to know !

 

Canyonlands, first stop

Canyonlands, first stop

 

Right from our first stop, we are delighted by the wild, almost lunar, landscapes.

 

Canyonlands is no place to visit without water. It is warm, very warm, and there is no shadow. It is almost a desert of stone and gravel.

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Canyonlands, Shafer Canyon Overlook

Shafer Canyon Overlook

 

We make our second stop at Shafer Canyon Overlook, a steep point of view. Along the edges of the canyon, we can see a trail that used to lead down to an abandoned mine. We cannot see it on the picture but the beginning of the canyon is almost vertical, and the trail hangs there on the side of the mountain, almost like by the tip of its nails.

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Canyonlands, Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch and the tourists

 

The only place in Canyonlands where we meet some significant human presence is Mesa Arch, probably the most famous place in the park. Mesa Arch is only a short walk from the parking lot, and whatever little effort to do is largely rewarded by the sight. But beware, right after the arch is a vertical cliff !

 

Have a careful look at this arch. Haven't you already seen it somewhere ?

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Canyonlands, Mesa Arch

View under Mesa Arch

 

Yes, you've found it ! This is the arch that you can see on one of the standard slidesets in Windows 7 !

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Canyonlands, Mesa Arch, the kids and me

The kids and me at Mesa Arch

 

Soon it is our turn to enjoy the unique view under Mesa Arch.

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Canyonlands, Candlestick Tower Overlook

Candlestick Tower Overlook

 

At Candlestick Tower Overlook, we vainly look for some trace of human presence. Before us, as far as we can see, is a vast expanse, absolutely void of any life. The canyon that we guess against the grey background of the plateau is the course of the Green River, which will soon meet the Colorado. The cliff in front of us is about 12 miles away.

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Canyonlands, Buck Canyon Overlook

Buck Canyon Overlook

 

Our next stop takes us to Buck Canyon Overlook.

 

The work of erosion that carved the edges of the plateau can be seen quite well. Oddly enough, though Canyonlands is particularly dry, it is the combined work of wind and water that gave these complex lace forms.

 

Not far from here, at Dead Horse Point State Park, in a canyon closely looking like the one at our feet, a few of the final scenes of Thelma and Louise have been shot.

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Canyonlands, yucca

Yucca

 

This picture shows one of the typical vegetations in Canyonlands, the yucca. The lack of water does not allow anything much thicker.

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Canyonlands, Grand View Point Overlook, trailhead

Grand View Point Overlook, end of the road, start of the trail

 

We have now reached the end of the road. A more or less flat path now leads us to Grand View Point Overlook, ultimate point in Island in the Sky.

 

As can be seen, the start of the trail is quite easy. A few steps have even been carved in the stone, to ease the task of the average tourist. Further on, it gets quite worse and, at places, the trail is hardly more than an ill-marked path amongst the brownish rocks. If you walk at a decent pace, the trek takes a little over an hour roundtrip. And, once again, the sight is largely worth the effort.

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Canyonlands, Grand View Point Overlook, end of the trail

Grand View Point Overlook, last point of view

 

At the end of what was supposed to be a trail is the point of view on the mesa that separates us from the confluence of the Green River, on the right, and the Colorado, on the left. Since each river flows in a narrow canyon, I can see neither. But they have nevertheless carved those round shapes in the soft limestone.

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Canyonlands, cacti

Cacti

 

Back from Grand View Point Overlook, I take this picture of minuscule cacti. The ground is so dry that even they have a hard time growing !

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Canyonlands, Upheaval Dome

Upheaval Dome

 

We have our picnic at the base of Upheaval Dome, then we walk up the short but steep trail. The geology of the place looks complex : It seems the ground heaved (hence the name), then collapsed, leaving in its place what looks like a volcano crater without being one. The highly colored contrast of the different rocks gives these pastel shades that look so nice on the picture.

 

Canyonlands has many trails, most of them for experienced trekkers. If you are in good physical condition and in no hurry, there are lots of trails to walk.

 

In the afternoon, we leave the park, towards the north and Salt Lake City. It is our first major city since Las Vegas a week ago. A bit before Salt Lake City, we are back on Interstate 15, which we had left before Zion.

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Utah, freight train

The whole train takes at least 4 pictures !

 

For a while, our road follows a railway line. We see several freight trains, most of them quite long, but no passenger train. The line is one-track only, and not electrified. For us French, it is unusual.

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Salt Lake City, Church of Latter-Day Saints, conference center

Salt Lake City, church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, conference center

 

Late in the afternoon, we make it to Salt Lake City, the seat of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a.k.a. the Mormon Church. The various buildings of the church span a few blocks, right in the city center, a bit like the Vatican inside Rome, but more open on the rest of the city. There is a conference center, a library, the Temple and several other institutions of the Mormon faith.

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Salt Lake City, Church of Latter-Day Saints, the Temple

Salt Lake City, church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the temple

 

Across the street from the conference center is the Temple. This picture is a back view.

 

Salt Lake City is a very clean city, very wide open. Streets are unusually wide, even in the United States, and traffic jams are unknown.

 

Then we have dinner at a restaurant mostly populated by sports fans, where the TV broadcasts a football match at top volume. It's noisy, but this, too, is Deep America.

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