Canyonlands National Park, Utah, September 14-17 2012

"Wherever we look, there is a wilderness of rocks, deep gorges where the rivers are lost below cliffs and towers and pinnacles, and 10,000 strangely carved forms in every direction, and beyond them, mountains blending with the clouds. John Wesley Powell (1875) Scribner's Monthly

In southeastern Utah, the Green and Colorado Rivers have carved parts of the Colorado Plateau into a series of red pinnacles, mesas, buttes, spires, crimson cliffs and canyons. There are numerous National Parks in this area including Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef, the north rim of the Grand Canyon, and Canyonlands. Canyonlands National Park is broken into three distinct districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. There is an additional unit of Canyonlands NP called Horseshoe Canyon. Several movies by John Ford (Monument Valley is located south of Canyonlands) and others (e.g. The Comancheros, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Galaxy Quest) as well as the final scene of Thelma and Louise (Island in the Sky) were filmed in or near Canyonlands. Aron Ralson became trapped in a slot canyon located in the Horseshoe Canyon unit and was forced to amputate his right arm. This was later described in his memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place and the movie 127 Hours.

For a change of pace, we decided to do a desert trip. Ted had been to Canyonlands several times and suggested this location as a nice place to car camp. Because it is the desert, we thought it would be best to go late in the season when the temperatures would be more moderate (we had highs of 80 to 90 F and lows of 40 to 50 F). However, this meant that Brian and Jim were unable to go because of teaching commitments.

I got off train in Green River Utah at the Amtrak/UP train station. The train station was boarded up as were most of the buildings nearby. Ted had not yet arrived, so I walked down to Ray's Tavern (best burger place in town). Using modern technology, I sent an email to Brian and Jim who called Ted on his cell phone. Brian and Jim later relayed to me that Ted was on his way. We crashed at the River Terrace Motel located on the Green River across from a John Wesley Powell Museum. Great place with a great breakfast. The next day, we repacked his truck, gassed up, bought ice and drove down to National Park Ranger station located in Hans Flat. This was about 60 miles on paved road and then 46 miles on unpaved 2W drive road to get to the Ranger station. We picked up our back country permit and then drove 34 miles on high clearance 4W drive to the Maze Overlook. It took us about 4 hrs to get to the Maze Overlook from the Ranger station and we stayed there for 2 nights. Then we drove 37.5 miles on 4W drive road to Cleopatra's Chair to spend the one night there.

While at the Cleopatra's Chair campsite, we had a new moon and almost completely dark skies. I say almost because there were two lights we could see on Island in the Sky. I broke out my 15x30 binoculars and we observed the Andromeda Galaxy (M31; located in the constellation Andromeda), the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules (M13). We also saw the globular clusters M62 and M19 at the same field with my binoculars. These clusters are located just above Antares in the constellation Ophiuchus.

The next day we left Cleopatra's Chair and drove back to Green River stopping along he drive to take photographs.. I caught a shower in Ted's motel (Knight's Inn). Then we headed back to Ray's Tavern for some food prior to me departing on Amtrak that evening.

This was also the first trip where we had to pack our poop out!! Ted has this plastic toilet seat with three legs that you open up. You use a kit called Wag Bags to place a plastic bag inside that the toilet. The plastic bag contains something called Poo Powder breaks down waste with a NASA-developed gelling/deodorizing agent. The kit also contains toilet paper, a hand sanitizer, and a zip lock bag to put everything in after you are done. We then placed it in a large plastic tub (which did begin to smell like a diaper bag) and disposed of it in normal trash in Green River.

The sign at the side of Utah Highway 24

Rancher Steve's warning. I haven't seen too many wild cows. Perhaps some visitors were taking home a few cows as souvenirs?

Flint Trail Road

The Flint Trail Road, The switchbacks were just big enough for Ted's truck. The grayish portion of the roadway in the bottom of the second picture is Bentonite (used in kitty liter)

The view from our campsite for two nights at the Maze Overlook. The Chocolate Drops can be seen in the distance

A local coming by to say hello

One of the easier stretches on the road

On the road to Cleopatra's Chair

View at Cleopatra's Chair

Another local visiting us at Cleopatra's Chair

Unknown plant 1

Probably Ephedra viridis var viridis - Green Mormon Tea

Another shot of Green Mormon Tea

Unknown plant 2

Unknown plant 3

Unknown plant 4

Unknown plant 5

Probably Yucca angustissima - Narrowleaf Yucca; Fineleaf Yucca

Cool tree at Cleopatra's Chair campsite

Cleopatra's Chair off in the distance)


A Pronghorn Antelope posed for us

Millard Canyon Overlook

Flint Trail Overlook

Campsite 2 overlook at the Maze Overlook

Cleopatra's chair. Our campsite is behind me

View off to the left side of Cleopatra's chair. Ted can be seen to the right