Canyonlands, UtahJanuary 7, 2012 No Comments
Canyonlands is a magnificent National Park that’s split in three: one part of it just north of Moab, Utah, and two parts of it substantially south. Either end of the park that you explore results in amazing rock formations, beautiful views, and children with open mouths, wondering at the magical feel of the place.
Of course, the entire Southern Utah area is filled with amazing sights – the delicate arches and wonderful, easy loop trails in Arches National Park, the purple-at-twlight monoliths of Fisher Towers off Route 128, the serpentine meandering of the Colorado River alongside the road, the aptly named Green River snaking through canyons thousands of feet below an overlook.
In Canyonlands, particularly, you’ll find rock formations that the kids will love finding, as their names are descriptive: elephants, nymphs, knights and shoes are easily recognizable, regardless of which of the three distinctive park areas you’re visiting. Island in the Sky is easily accessible with an extensive visitors center, paved roads, short loop hikes, and a vast mesa resting atop sandstone cliffs that rise high above the surrounding canyons. Many overlooks reveal changing views from easy pull outs. There’s also a short trail to a very spectacular view point – called the Grand View Overlook. The trail is easy and under a mile, but as it takes you along the canyon’s actual edge, you’ll want to hold on tightly to small children’s hands. A favorite very short trail of ours led to Mesa Arch, with a great view of the canyons below. Older kids will love climbing the whale at Whale Rock, too.
The Needles area is the southeast end of Canyonlands, named for the brightly colored spire like sandstone formations here. You’ll also find more vast and panoramic views that take a bit longer to access, but are still an easy drive. Parents with small children will want to skip the Maze which is four wheel drive accessible. However, en route to that location, you’ll find the Great Gallery with some truly astonishing man made rock art – created by Native Americans in prehistoric times. You’ll also find some self-guided trails right off the scenic drive. Older children and adults will love the half mile Cave Spring Trail, which leads you past an historic cowboy camp and very well preserved prehistoric pictographs. But you’ll need to traverse two wooden ladders to see them.
We toured a lot of the park in our car, taking only short loop trails or picture taking stops. How adventures you want to be depends on both the ages of your children, your comfort level with taking them out along trails that are easy but have steep drops, and how hot or cold the weather is when you’re visiting. You can still see a lot of the park without wandering far from your vehicle, and having done this trip several times with children of varying ages, it’s always a pleasure just to view the scenery, to get out and take pictures and name those cool rocks.
The history of the place is awe inspiring. After all, many, many years ago, be sure and tell your children, this dry rocky landscape was perched at the edge of an enormous ocean. Many centuries of floods and subsequent dry spells caused vast deposits of sedimentary stone, and when the continent itself began to rise ten million some years ago, wind and rain created the amazing cliffs, strange island and peaks and arches. A wonderful children’s book, Fossils Tell of Long Ago might make a good traveling companion for this trip. Our family was enthralled by the different colored stone layers, red and brown and green and gold. And by the shapes, so fantastic and recognizable – rocks and arches look like theaters, buildings, bridges, cathedrals, and cars.
At the Visitor’s Centers, kids can receive Discovery Packs, which include binoculars, a hand lens for examining geological findings up close, a naturalist guide and a lined notebook. Parents will need to leave a deposit for these, but they’re a lot of fun for ages five and up.
Looking at such awe inspiring sights makes you hungry, we found. A casual stop in Moab is
Milt’s, a drive-in with a 1950′s era feel and fantastic crisp onion rings. For a full meal, you’ll find Pasta Jay’s in town, where what they serve is pretty evident by the name.
If you’re staying out at Red Cliff’s Lodge off Route 128, you’ll love the river front dining at a family friendly restaurant with an incredible view of Fisher Towers and the Colorado River to accompany your trout, vegetable platter, or apple pie. Even if you’re not staying there, it’s worth a drive for the view, although winter months may find the road a bit difficult.
Although Canyonlands is a bit off the beaten path, you’ll love experiencing this beautiful, divided park with its fairy tale rock formations and fantastic views.