A short distance north of Moab is Canyonlands National Park, the next stop on my trip. Canyonlands NP protects the junction of the Green River and Colorado River which divide the park into three districts; Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. I chose to stay within Island in the Sky due to its excellent accessibility and my lack of time. This region is literally covered with thousand foot deep canyons, inside thousand foot deep canyons. As generic as the name "Canyonlands" sounds, it is a perfect description. I arrived during the afternoon which ruled out any morning locations such as Mesa Arch. Instead, I hung out at one of the overlooks and waited for the sunset. If you look closely you may be able to see the lone photographer on the ledge below the sun.
The following day I stopped for a ranger presentation and heard the same story about cryptobiotic soil that I heard repeatedly for the past week. A combination of bacteria, algae and other living things will form a microscopic net in the sandy soil. This prevents the soil from washing away and also provides basic nutrition for other plants and animals; it is the basis for life in the desert. Since damaged cryptobiotic soil can take nearly a century to repair, there are signs everywhere urging you not to walk on it. My final hike in Canyonlands NP was out to Upheaval Dome. Once believed to be the result of an underground salt dome, it is now thought to be caused by a meteorite impact. The size of the crater is hard to comprehend when you stand there, but is an amazing two miles across.
Deadhorse State Park is very near Canyonlands NP and has similar terrain and features. One unique vantage point provides a view over the potash evaporation ponds, which supply the factory in Moab. Water is pumped underground into the salt domes, returning to the surface as a brine slurry. The slurry is left in open ponds, putting the brutal sun to good work. Once the water evaporates, the salt is collected by big Caterpillar scrappers and hauled to the factory. The blue ponds are a very nice contrast to the warm landscape.
My time in Utah was over as I drove east and crossed back into Colorado. My destination was Colorado National Monument, the last Natural Park Service facility on this trip. Colorado NM (confusing abbreviation, right?) is a series of canyons and spires originally explored by John Otto. He lobbied the government to turn the area into a national monument, and later ran the park when they did. The most interesting feature in the park is actually its perimeter road, Rim Rock Drive. The road was built by the CCC, which provided work for the unemployed after the Great Depression. It is a breathtaking road that hugs the canyon edges, with barely a guardrail between them. One of the popular overlooks is Wedding Canyon where John Otto married his wife. She was a city girl and couldn't handle the outdoor life; they divorced months later. While I was taking these photos, a wedding ceremony was happening further into the canyon. Hopefully their marriage turns out better than Otto's.
I hiked a few trails and listened to a few ranger presentations, but my trip was winding down. From Colorado NM, I drove east on I-70 along the Colorado River. I've been to this region of Colorado many times, so this was pure driving, no sightseeing. However, I did allow myself a quick stop in Leadville to see the town and visit the Mining Hall of Fame. This short detour resulted in me crossing Tennessee Pass, Fremont Pass and finally the Eisenhower Pass, all three over the continental divide. Then it was a clear shot back to family and my first laundry day in nearly two weeks.
Well folks, that's the end of this trip. It took me three months to write about a two week trip, which is something I need to work on. In the end, I hope these stories were as enjoyable to read as they were to experience. Probably not, but it seemed like a nice thing to close with.