Trek in. Walk out. Drive by. We found no shortage of opportunities to enjoy magnificent vistas at Canyonlands National Park. So, we mixed in a scramble to the park’s only meteor crater.
We had planned to begin our day enjoying sunrise at Mesa Arch in the Island in the Sky District. But we arose too late and had to settle for daybreak from the car on Highway 191, miles from the park’s iconic arch.
Fortunately, the classic shot is less about sunrise and more about early morning light reflecting on the underbelly of the pothole arch as it frames the canyon below. The half mile loop trail to the arch is easy, but getting a good shot is difficult because of the crush of early risers.
The photo bombers were relentless, but The Geek got her shot. We left the crowd behind and headed up the road to the trail at Upheaval Dome at the eastern edge of Canyonlands for a different perspective on the terrain.
Upheaval Dome is not a canyon. It’s an impact crater measuring three miles in diameter with a dome of shale covered by sandstone that rises 750 feet from the floor. Think of it as a bullseye in the desert. Scientists have debated its origin over the years, but the prevailing theory is that the crater was formed in an instant by a meteor strike.
The hike to the first of two overlooks at Upheaval Dome isn’t particularly long or difficult. But don’t stop there. Go the extra mile across what becomes a bit of a scramble to the second overlook. The hike across rough rock surfaces – some with steps carved into the face – is part of the fun.
You’ll know you’ve reached overlook No. 2 when you reach a platform with a safety fence for optimal but secure viewing. Rangers have marked the trail well with cairns.
We also hiked a portion of the 1.7 mile trail to Aztec Butte, known for ancestral Puebloan granaries tucked beneath stone ledges. When the going got steep we cut back across a spur to a smaller butte with a pair of granaries of its own.
Our last stop was at the Shafer Canyon overlook, where The Geek with camera in hand strode confidently to the edges of the overlook’s broad peninsula of rock, snapping pictures of the vista and notorious Shafer Canyon Road, which winds 18 miles to the bottom of the gorge. No safety fence here.
While The Geek reveled in the photo opportunity, MontaraManDan soberly watched a 4×4 slowly navigate the twists of Shafer Canyon Road. OMG.
This post is the fifth in a series about our adventures on a 6,000-mile road trip across the American West in Fall 2019.