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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Canyonlands National Park

The stars at night near Moab were spectacular. Even when there were some clouds during the day, the skies seemed to mostly clear every night. The Milky Way Galaxy was clearly visible, as shown here in this 25 second exposure I took one night:

Early Thursday morning my dad and I went back to Arches for a sunrise, and we decided to watch from the Delicate Arch view point. It actually took quite a while from when the sun came up until it hit the arch, but it was still pleasant to sit quietly and watch the landscape change colors during the 90 minutes before and after sunrise. I even heard a canyon wren during that time! Here's the view from the upper viewpoint after the sun illuminated the arch:

Delicate Arch, as seen from the upper viewpoint

After breakfast we drove to Canyonlands National Park. We only had time to visit the Island in the Sky region on this trip, but we had time to do several short hikes there and see all the major viewpoints. You enter the park on the top of a mesa, named the Island in the Sky because it is only connected to the surrounding land by a narrow strip known as "The Neck", and on all other sides drop the canyons into the Colorado and Green River valleys. 

It's hard to imagine this land was once a flat plain; it is now divided into three different levels, each separated by about 1000 feet in elevation. We stood on the Island in the Sky, the next step down was the White Rim, and then below that the river gorges. The top level is the most moderate in climate, the middle level the driest and most desert-like, and the bottom level the most lush in terms of flora and fauna:

View from the Green River Overlook

One of the highlights of Island in the Sky is Upheaval Dome, which actually looks like a big crater with a mound (the dome) in the center. Both the rock structure and the erosion here are different than elsewhere in the Park, leading to several different theories as to its formation. Under one theory, the crater was formed by a salt dome, wherein salt buried from a former marine environment pushes its way to the surface. The second theory, which has been further bolstered by the most recent studies done in the area, is that it's actually an impact crater formed by a meteorite collision.

Upheaval Dome

We also took the short loop hike to see Mesa Arch, which was probably my favorite vista in the Park. There's a 500 foot drop off right below the arch, providing stunning panoramic views under the arch down into the surrounding canyons:

Under Mesa Arch
We got another look at the three tiers of Canyonlands from Grand View Point. I got a great book on the geology of Southern Utah at the Park visitor's center, so I'll probably do a couple of follow-up posts after reading that describing more how some of the amazing geological features we saw were formed. For now, do what I did, and just enjoy the view:

Looking down from Grand View Point

On our way out of the National Park we stopped at nearby Deadhorse Point State Park. The point here is also connected to the "mainland" only by a narrow neck, this one only 30 yards wide. This was actually our favorite canyon overlook of the day, looking down onto the winding Colorado River. We didn't get too lucky with the light at Canyonlands in terms of photography, and dark clouds continued to build while we were at Deadhorse Point. One ray of sunlight shone down onto the river, however:

Deadhorse Point
And a wildlife update! The coolest sighting at Canyonlands National Park was neither mammal nor bird, but insectoid. It was a *blue* larva, a surprising find in what's mostly a brown, orange, red, and tan environment. I've done some searching online and cannot turn up anything that matches to tell me what it might be, other than a comment on a photo on one site saying its probably not a caterpillar but the larva of some other insect. Does anyone have any ideas?

The bird sightings continued to be sparse, but I did add a couple of year birds, too! I realized I never mentioned seeing some red-necked phalaropes (213) in the San Juans in late August, so the loggerhead shrike I saw at Arches National Park was year bird #214. Then, at the end of the Little Wild Horse Canyon hike, we saw a rock wren (215) in the wash, making that the species to bring me to my year goal of 215!

1 comment:

John Caddy said...

The blue "larva" is probably a millipede