Day 18 - Canyonlands NP  
    Mesa Outrcrops on the way to Canyonlands NP, Utah    
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

After a morning spent photographing Arches National Park, my travelling companion David had seen his fill of "big red rocks and holes in the ground" for the day. He decided to spend the afternoon back at the motel taking a breather from our fast pace, and while the prospect of a relaxing afternoon was attractive, I wasn't going to lose the chance to photograph a sunset in this most amazing of areas. Accordingly, I decided to drive over to Canyonlands NP to see how different it was from nearby Arches NP.

Canyonlands NP comprises 337,598 acres of amazing rocky terrain, carved over thousands of years by the erosive effects of water and gravity. Situated at the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers,Canyonlands was relatively unknown until the 1950's when the then Superintendant of Arches National Monument (later to become Arches NP), Bates Wilson, began calling for it to be created as a National Park.

In 1961 he led the then Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall on a camping tour of the area, and got his support for the creation of the park. After additional lobbying, in 1964 an area of 257,640 acres was declared as Canyonlands NP. Congress expanded it to its current size in 1971.

Canyonlands NP is a different type of park to Arches. Where the different areas of Arches are all relatively close to each other, Canyonlands comprises several different districts that have no direct links and are up to six hours travelling distance apart by car! Additionally, the park is recognised as a recreational vehicle playground, with numerous off road tracks and camping areas. This makes it a wonderful destination for people really wanting to explore the Western wilderness.

Given I had a limited time for my visit, I decided to visit the 'Islands in the Sky' district, the most accessible area of the park. The Islands in the Sky district is accessed from US Highway 191, with the turnoff approximately 10 miles North of Moab. The total distance from Moab to the Visitors Centre is 32 miles, and so it is a longer drive than the short trip from Moab to Arches National Park.

The Islands in the Sky is a mesa, situated on sandstone cliffs about 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain. The roads through the mesa provide great opportunities to view some of the most amazing terrain in the country, and the number of visitors to the Park is much lower, meaning that there is less issue with people getting in your way!

My tripod standing literally inches from the edge of a 1,000 foot drop.
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

When I first arrived at the park the first area of interest was the Shafer Canyon Overlook. I was absolutely amazed to see that there was a flat area with a perfect view of Shafer Canyon, completely without any protective barriers at all! Naturally, I set up there, and as you can see above my tripod was only a few inches away from a 1,000 foot drop! I must admit, that even though I am not scared of heights I really needed to concentrate so as not to freak out being that close to such a sheer cliff. The view was incredible, and while my images are probably the same as a million others, they are some of my most treasured from the trip, probably because of the memory of standing on the edge of that cliff!

Shafer Canyon, Canyonlands NP.
Minolta XD7 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC W.Rokkor Film: Fuji Velvia
At the bottom of Shafer Canyon you can see the Shafer Trail Road, which leads down to the White Rim Road, at the lower elevations of the Islands in the sky district. The White Rim Road is popular with four wheel drivers and mountain bikers looking for a challenging wilderness experience.
Shafer Canyon, Canyonlands NP.
Minolta XD7 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Velvia

After photographing Shafer Canyon the sun was starting to get lower in the sky. The time had come to find a good point to photograph the sunset. I reviewed the map provided upon entry to the park, and decided to visit the Grand View Point Overlook - after all, the name sounded most impressive.

The Grand View Point Overlook is twelve miles from Shafer Canyon, at the southernmost tip of the Islands in the Sky Mesa. A selection of images from the Grand View Point Overlook are shown below.

Gorges in the plateau leading down to the rivers, a further 1,000 feet below the White Rim.
Minolta XD7 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Velvia

In the image above you can see some of the 100 mile long White Rim Trail as it winds its way around the edge of the gorge far below. I can only imagine that the sight of the towering cliffs above lit by the setting sun must be incredible.

Close up of the rock fins from the above gorges.
Minolta X-570 with 200mm f/2.8 MD Tele Rokkor. Film: Fuji Superia Reala
At the extreme left of the panoramic vista from Grand View Point you can see the La Sal mountain range in the distance. There is a better view of the mountain range at the Mesa Arch Viewpoint, halfway between Shafer Canyon and Grand View Point, where you can actually capture the range framed by the arch. Unfortunately, that view would have to wait until my next visit, but the view was still impressive, even from Grand View Point.
The La Sal Mountains, seen from Grand View Point.
Minolta XD7 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Velvia

Gradually the sun sank lower and lower in the sky until the last rays of the setting sun illuminated the cliff walls with a rich glow. This is what I had been waiting for, and the light show unfolding in front of me was absolutely worth the wait.

Sunset at Grand View Point Overlook.
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji Superia Reala
I was in photography heaven as the sun went down.
Minolta XD7 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC Rokkor. Film: Fuji Velvia
Minolta XD7 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC Rokkor. Film: Fuji Velvia

After the sun went below the horizon the show wasn't over. The rich yellow colours of the sunset were replaced by deep blues as the light slowly faded.

Grand View Point, Canyonlands NP.
Minolta XD7 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Velvia
Can you imagine a more impressive place to park? Canyonlands NP.
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

With the sun down and my stomach starting to remind me that dinner was due soon I reluctantly packed up my tripod and gear and drove the 44 miles back to Moab. I met David at the hotel, and we went out again to the Moab Brewery for dinner, and to talk about the amazing day we had just had.

Due to my desire to see so much of the country in a short period of time this was our last night in Moab. As we drank our beers in the warm evening air I pondered just how lucky were the people who lived in America, and could visit these amazing places with ease, spending days at a time exploring the parks. I will need to come back for a much longer stay in the future.

To Day 19 - Moab to the Grand Canyon
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