We’re finalizing plans for our next big adventure, to Utah’s Mighty 5: Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks. We’ve set aside 10 days at the end of May to take in southern Utah’s spectacular quintet.
We’ll leave Dallas to overnight at Raton, New Mexico. From there, we’ll head to Grand Junction, Colorado, where we’ll make final preparations before our first destination: Moab, Utah, just outside of Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
Canyonlands National Park is Utah’s largest national park, with views thousands of feet down to the Green and Colorado rivers and thousands of feet up to red rock pinnacles, cliffs, and spires. The northern section of the park, Island in the Sky, enables visitors to look down to the Colorado and Green rivers. The Maze country, west of the rivers, ranks as one of the most remote and inaccessible sections in the United States. The Maze is a perplexing jumble of canyons that has been described as a “30-square-mile puzzle in sandstone.” Then, further west, is The Needles District, a place so named for its profusion of red rock spires and sandstone fins.
Arches National Park is known for having the largest concentration of red sandstone arches in the world, ranging in size from those with three-foot openings to one measuring 306 feet from base to base (Landscape Arch). Other natural formations, such as spires, fins and balanced rocks, create an unrivaled landscape. Arches lies near the heart of the Colorado Plateau, and atop an underground salt bed called the Paradox Formation, which is responsible for the park’s geologic formations. We’re planning on taking the Scenic Ride, an 18-mile excursion that offers views of Park Avenue, Three Gossips, The Windows Section, Delicate Arch Viewpoint, and Fiery Furnace.
From there, we’ll head to Capitol Reef National Park, which features the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long warp in the earth’s crust known as a monocline, which extends from nearby Thousand Lakes Mountain to the Colorado River (now Lake Powell). The rock layers on the west side of the fold have been lifted more than 7,000 feet higher than the layers on the east. “Water pockets” are basins that form in sandstone layers as they are eroded by water. These basins are common throughout the fold, thus giving it the name “Waterpocket Fold.” Erosion of the tilted rock layers continues today, forming colorful cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires, stark monoliths, twisting canyons, and graceful arches. Capitol Reef was established in 1971 to protect this grand and colorful geologic feature, as well as the unique historical and cultural history found in the area.
Next up will be Bryce Canyon National Park, named after the Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce. Established in 1924, the park is famous for its unique geology, consisting of a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The erosional force of frost-wedging and the dissolving power of rainwater shaped the colorful limestone rock of the Claron Formation into bizarre shapes, including slot canyons, windows, fins, and hoodoos. Ponderosa pines, high-elevation meadows, and fir-spruce forests border the rim of the plateau and abound with wildlife. This area has some of the world’s best air quality, providing 200 miles of visibility, and virtually no light pollution. In fact, the night sky at Bryce Canyon is so dark that more than 7,500 stars have been observed on moonless nights.
Finally, we’ll make our way to Zion National Park, Utah’s first national park and home to The Narrows, Canyon Overlook, Emerald Pools, a petrified forest, a desert swamp, springs and waterfalls, hanging gardens, wildflowers, wildlife and more. It includes what might be the world’s largest arch – Kolob Arch, spanning 310 feet, and is characterized by high plateaus, a maze of narrow, deep, sandstone canyons and striking rock towers and mesas. The north fork of the Virgin River carved a spectacular gorge, with canyon walls in most places rising 2,000 to 3,000 feet above the canyon floor.
On our return trip, we’ll overnight at Albuquerque, New Mexico, before finally heading to Amarillo and then to Dallas. What a whirlwind!