Canyonlands, Land of Rock Cairns

We took a slight detour in our route from the Grand Canyon in order to pass through Monument Valley, since I grew up on old-school Westerns and couldn’t pass up the chance to see the land made famous by John Ford.

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Like driving through The Searchers.

Canyonlands was the brainchild of former Arches superintendent and all-around western wilderness adventurer Bates Wilson. Legend has it Wilson helped the National Park Service acquire parts of Canyonlands by plying BLM officials with Jim Beam, while “James Beam” appeared on official rosters as the park mascot. Wilson designed the Squaw Flat campground so the campsites fit into the surrounding natural features rather than disrupting them, but predictably, the campground was full when we arrived. We had a backup plan thanks to a kookily wonderful couple we met in Bryce: they recommended Hamburger Rock campground, just a short drive outside the park in the newly-created Bears Ears National Monument.

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Because the rocks look like hamburgers!
And we still got a campsite nestled into rock formations.

We picked the Druid Arch trail for its varied terrain, the promise of a funky arch as payoff, and the opportunity to extend the hike by branching out onto other connecting trails.

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Cairns marked the numerous trail sections through sand and over slickrock.
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Dan reliving his skateboard-riding past on this “half-pipe.”
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The payoff, absolutely worth a 5-mile hike, a climb up a ladder, and a rock scramble.

We took a side trail an extra mile and a half up to the Chesler Park overlook to properly see the Needles, rock formations that provide the name of the southern section of Canyonlands.

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The next morning we drove to the Anticline Overlook to see Dead Horse Point and the Colorado River free of crowds.

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We continued on to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands, which I’d love to come back an explore with a four wheel drive, high clearance vehicle. We visited some incredible overlooks but didn’t find much opportunity to get out into the backcountry and explore without committing to a backpacking trip.

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Upheaval Dome. Scientists theorize the crater could have been caused by a meteor strike or the erosion of a salt dome.
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Looking down onto the White Rim trail, around canyon rims and down to the Colorado and Green Rivers.

Back to the quiet of the Hamburger Rocks for one last night.

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