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Trip 5, Park 4: Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands was a pleasant surprise for us, as we did not know what to expect. The Island in the Sky, a huge, high mesa between the Colorado and Green Rivers, is the most-visited and most easily-accessed part of the park and the only part we visited. From overlooks on Island in the Sky, we could see out for miles to distant snow-capped mountains and down thousands of feet to the canyon floor. Looking over the rim of the canyon was dizzying! The park does not seem well-prepared for the number of visitors, as there were lines outside of every toilet facility (even the toilets at the visitor center were pit toilets with very long lines), although parking was generally adequate.

Our first stop after the visitor center was the Shafer Canyon Overlook, which looks down upon the canyon walls and the Shafer Trail, which originally was much narrower and was used to drive cattle to and from the high mesa. The trail was upgraded and widened to support mining equipment during the uranium boom, but still appears harrowing! We watched several vehicles as they inched their way down the switchbacks heading for the bottom of the canyon.

Mesa Arch is one of the most popular trails in the park, with lots of people making the short hike to see this arch above a cliff that drops 800 feet to the canyon bottom.

One of our favorite hikes of the day was the White Rim Overlook Trail. The approximately 2-mile round-trip trail was less crowded than Mesa Arch and provided stunning views of the canyon and La Sal mountains in the distance.

We also hiked the 2-mile Grand View Point Overlook trail, which follows the edge of the canyon to the tip of the Island in the Sky mesa and has beautiful panoramic views.

We also explored the western side of Island in the Sky, with a hike at Upheaval Dome (a crater whose origins are not known...either made by a meteorite or an eroded salt dome) to overlook the crater, and a stop at the Green River Overlook. Our final hike of the day was the Aztec Butte trail, which leads to ancestral Puebloan granaries and a dwelling. The trail requires some scrambling over very steep slickrock and ledges. Also, the trail cairns were not always readily evident and we ended up off trail a few times before readjusting.

Overall, with a solid day, you can see most of the sights in Island in the Sky and get in some short hikes with stunning views. The park is well worth a visit for the beautiful vistas and enjoyable hikes. The spring was a good time for visiting here; the heat and sun in the summer months could make for some intense and very thirsty hikes.

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