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Moab with Conor and Will, Spring 2011, Day 3, Island in the Sky

May 16, 2011


Day three in Moab had us wake up and discover two things.
1.  We were tired and sore from the hike to Druid Arch the day before.
2.  It was cloudy and rainy looking.

After we discussed the above two issues at breakfast, it was decided to head to the northern Canyonlands NP "Island in the Sky" area for short hikes and general sight seeing.  We headed north of town to the Canyonlands turn off and headed up the small two lane paved road.  After a few miles driving up a nice open canyon, we started to climb.  The road just kept going up, switch back after switch back, until we ended up on top of a very big mesa.

Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in the gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos I put in this site’s trip narrative (and there are more of them). In addition, I have two other links that will help locate the area if you are interested in making the hike yourself. A Google Earth map can be found here. You will need to use the scale bar on the left side of the Google map to help zoom in or out to help locate the area based on where you live. (If you want to see all my trips, this link will direct you to a Google map that shows ALL my trips.) In order to help you with the actual area itself, you can use this link to view a road and trail map (care of the official Canyonlands Nat Park website) where you can see the Island in the Sky area. Please note that all links open a new browser window.

Photo by Conor


In addition to the Google map link above, please see a Microsoft Live map below. The red tack shows the general location of the trail from my home in Fort Collins, CO. You can click on the map to bring it up in a “live” mode and zoom in or out (and move the map around) to get more detail. Just make sure you don’t close the Microsoft "My Places" editor that pops up with map. If you close the editor (it is small and you can use/scroll/zoom the map without the editor getting too much in the way) without first saving the new location, the location button will disappear. If that happens, just close the map and click on it again on my web page.

Map picture


“Well, this was interesting”,  I thought.   The road was rolling through lots of nice big open meadows.   But, not much to look at.  I stopped after around twenty miles or so at the park visitors center, just after the park entrance, and took a look at some of their maps.  Hmmmm.  Here’s some sort of overlook just up the road called "Shafer Canyon Overlook".  Made a list in my mind of a few other possible "views" and short hikes, and we drove a couple of miles to the parking area and headed up a short trail.

"What’s this, dad?" asked my sons as we parked.
"Not sure, some sort of view I guess.  Might be nice.", I replied.

We didn’t need to get very far on the short trail before we saw that, yeah, it was a view all right.


Zoom.  Damn.  I could only imagine what this would be like on a clear day, because even with the cloudy weather, and the occasional spit of rain, it was breathtaking.



Photo by Conor.


I mean, you just wanted to stand there and "look".


The road you see down below Will and Conor starts up close to the park entrance and goes down to hit the "White Rim Road".  A fairly popular jeep and bicycle dirt road that follows the rim of the canyon down the Colorado River to where it intersects with the Green River.  The White Rim Road then follows the rim of the Green River back upstream for another long distance.  If you head upriver, instead of heading downriver, on the White Rim Road you can also get to Moab by the dirt road.  I might try that some day, but not this time.


Here is a view of the road following the rim of the canyon as it winds down from the main park road and, eventually, drops down to the White Rim Road.  Much easier to see on my web site at the link above.


On the other side of where we were standing, you can see the road begin a series of switch backs as it quickly loses altitude on its way down to the White Rim Road.  Photo by Conor.


View of the distant La Sal mountains (zoomed in).  Yeah, I’ll be back some time when the weather was nicer.


"Uh, any more places like this, dad?"
Well, that kinda whetted our appetites for checking out some of the other viewing areas.  So, we headed out to check some more.

Next on my list was some place called "Mesa Arch".  The trail is a loop and it didn’t take very long to see that there would definitely be some "views".  But, where was the arch?


Oh, there is is.  Talk about up close.


Okay, maybe too close.  I began to get a bad feeling about this one : )


"Woah, dad.   You gotta take a look at this."


Yeah, it was a pretty awesome view.




Zoom.  That’s the Colorado River down there in the distance.


This is what it looked like from the top of the arch.  I think.  Conor took the photo.


Wait?  Geoff, did you say "top of the arch"?  Well, sure.  I mean, they had to do it.  It was jus too much of a temptation.  I grabbed a quick photo just before the ascent (just in case).


Here they are.  Now, I know what your thinking.  “Well, Geoff, just how big of a deal is this?  Was this really a scary thing to do?  Or, does it just look that way?"

Let me put it this way, there were quite a few other people around at the time.  NO ONE else even had distant thoughts about walking out on top of this arch.  The other tourists did take a lot of photos of Conor and Will doing it.  One older lady sounded a trifle hysterical.


And then, just to make sure that I left the park a few years older than when I’d come, they decided to wrestle on top of the arch.  Sigh.


Washer Woman arch in the distance.


After my heart settled back down into my chest, we headed over to Upheaval Dome.  This is a massive hole in the ground that was either caused by the the collapse of some salt (weak, very weak), an asteroid or meteor hitting the earth (they seem to think that is a big possibility), or aliens.  For some reason they did not put that last possibility on the sign.  But, I vote for aliens myself.


Pretty impressive hole.  It’s got some strange pointed rock formations in the bottom.


To give you a feeling for the size of the hole, here is a photo of one side of it.  There are people standing in the distance (we hiked over there eventually).  There is also a trail that circles the entire hole, but none of us felt like taking the approximately 10 mile hike.


Zoom.  There were a fair number of families hiking around.  My expectation is that all the parents lost approximately 5 years from their lifespan during the hikes while watching the smaller children running around.


We ate lunch and then headed back down the road to the Green River Overlook.  Named because it is a incredible overview of the Green River winding it’s way towards its intersection with the Colorado River downstream.




This gives you an idea of the "height" that we were at when gazing at all this.  A person can also see why the road that follows the rim is called the White Rim Road.  Photo by Conor.


The final place for the day that we stopped to gaze and hike around a bit was at the very end of the park road.  Grand View Point Overlook.  I have no photos that can begin to provide the view that we saw from that final stop.  Just go there is all I can say.  Try to do it on a nice sunny day, preferably close to dusk or dawn.  But, even at mid-afternoon in the rain it was amazing.

You do need to be just a little careful around the edge of the viewing area.  There is no fence and it is a straight drop for a thousand feet or so.  After which your body will roll downhill before repeatedly dropping over smaller cliffs.  Most parent’s hands seemed to clinched rather tightly to the younger children’s arms.


Looking out, through the curtains of rain, towards the Colorado River.




Conor trying to capture it all.   Me hoping that he kept a good perspective of where his feet where while looking at his camera.


Conor did get some great photos.  Photo by Conor.


I basically gave up with the photos and just looked around.  Photo by Conor.


Photo by Conor.


We headed back to Moab after this.  But, some day I’ll come back again.  I didn’t see it all.  And even if I had, I wanted to see it all again.


We got back early enough to find Zax still open.  So, we had a great meal.  Afterwards I read a book back at the motel and Conor and Will wandered around town checking the night life.

The next day we would head back to Colorado.  But, I had plans for one more hike before we hit the highway.

– Geoff Weatherford

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