Moab, an amazing wonderland on most Traveler's Bucket Lists, and for good reason. Moab is home to both Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. A mecca for those that love the outdoors, Moab has so much to offer. Two of the "must see" places that should be on your Travel Bucket List is Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse State Park.
Canyonlands has three sections of the park. The Needles, Island in the Sky, and the Maze. The Maze is backcountry and only accessible via hiking and/or four wheel drive. The Needles entrance is about an hour South of Moab and Island in the Sky entrance is just about 30 north of downtown Moab. Many people skip the Needles and only visit the Island in the Sky because it is closer to Moab. We actually preferred the more dramatic scenery of Needles section over the Island in the Sky. Both parks have twenty minute drives in, but the Needles greets you with large red rock formations where Island has more of a prairie feel to it.
In the Needles, we hiked 3 of the shorter trails in the park. The Roadside Ruins, the Pothole Communities, and Cave Spring, The Roadside Ruins trail was a bit of a bust. There were no fifty cent interpretive maps at the beginning of the trail, so short of a couple of small formations, we had no idea what we were supposed to be looking for at each stop. The Pothole Communities is a trail mostly on slackrock that has potholes that contain entire ecosystems. Regardless of the signs at the beginning explaining this, many people still walk and allow their children to play in the sand in the potholes, which was quite sad and frustrating for us. Actions like this have been a common occurrence on this trip, but that's for another Blog. There are some great views of the mountains, mesas, and the Needles formations from this hike. Cave Spring has similar views, but features a large rock overhang and cave that was used by cowboys and even has cowboy hand prints embedded in the rock. This trail has a couple of ladders and a slight climb on slickrock to get to the views, but is fairly easy and a must do.
There are several more trails here ranging from 2 miles to 22 miles if you are looking to explore some more. There are developed campgrounds as well as BLM campgrounds. We are lucky enough to find a perfect site in the BLM “Superbowl” campground. It had a nice fire ring with grill, picnic table, and a pit toilet, and an amazing view of the two twin mountains with spires atop. For $5/night or $2.50 with an access card, it's a terrific deal. The sunset from here will take your breath away. The trees and the mountains had an amazing golden glow to them.
The next day we headed to Moab. There are many campgrounds and BLM options in Moab, but be prepared to spend more. Also, many of the campgrounds are walk up, first-come first-serve so arrive early for the best chance to get a site. En route to Island in the Sky is Dead Horse State Park, which now has two campgrounds available. We stopped here first and they had a few sites left so we grabbed a site and then headed out to explore.
Dead Horse Point is where cowboys wrangled mustang to because it had a bottle neck where they could easily corral the horses. Unfortunately, one time they decided to take the healthy strong horses into town and left the others behind, but forgot to leave the corral open for the other horses to leave, which led to their demise. A sad story, but the views from this park are spectacular. A rigid canyon with a bright blue evaporation pond and a view of the Colorado river make this a great stop while visiting Moab. There are several mountain biking trails here and whitewater rafting as well.
Island in the Sky does not have the dramatic entrance that Needles has, but offers a different view of the canyon. The Needles has more views from the bottom of the canyons, whereas Island is atop a mesa and looks down into the canyons. Two of the main hikes we did the was Upheaval Dome and Mesa Arch. The arch is very scenic, and this time of the year it had a cool fire and ice look through it with Red Rock and snow- capped mountains seen through it. Upheaval Dome is just a large rock that is believed to be the remnants of an impact crater. The rock itself isn't too exciting, but it is cool to stand next to a large impact site. We almost went to the impact site near Winslow, AZ, but after seeing the $18 admission charge by the corporation running it, we felt it was more of a tourist trap than an experience. We also didn't like that they had misleading signs making it seem like they are a part of the National Park Service. Upheaval Dome is more than just a large hole in the ground. The multi-colored rock and the beautiful views surrounding it make it much more worthwhile in our own opinions. The hike was fairly short and easy with just a small amount of climbing required.
Both sections of Canyonlands is worth exploring. Island in the Sky gets all of the attention because of it's proximity to Moab, however, we definitely recommend making the drive to the Needles, which is one of the most underrated parks we have visited.