Thursday, September 24, 2015

Canyonlands National Park (The Needles), 9/20/2015

Today we visited The Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. It is located i the southeast corner of the park and is not accessible by road from the Island in the Sky district (unless you have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle). This part of the park is approximately 75 miles from Moab (where we are staying). 

While we were driving on UT 191 south towards the park (about 24 miles south of Moab), we saw this beautiful arch on the left side of the road. Named Wilson's Arch after a local pioneer, it has a sandstone arch with a span of 91' and is 46' high. The other two photos are of the surrounding landscape at this spot.

Continuing on UT 191 south we were looking for UT 211 to Canyonlands. We came to a road with a sign to the Needles Overlook and took it. 

The views from this overlook were amazing. 

The overlook area has a .5 mi trail and fencing where it is very close to the cliff edges.

We realized that this overlook is not in the Canyonlands National Park (although the Needles district can be seen in the distance from here). We retraced our route to UT 191 and continued south to find UT 211. The left turn was on a short distance (so if you drive here from Moab, be sure to look for the UT 211 sign!)  We continued about 35 miles to the Needles Visitor Center, admiring the amazing scenery along the way, 

There are exhibits about the area as well as a small park gift shop.

Our first stop on the Scenic Drive in the Needles area was the Roadside Ruin. There is .3 mile loop trail here. You can pick up a trail guide ($.50) that provides background information the granary found here as well as the plant life found along the trail.  Located here is an ancestral Puebloan granary (c 1000 - 1200 AD) used for grain storage. There are dozens of similar structures throughout Canyonlands. The granary is tucked into a ledge above a dry wash. The door to the granary is on the roof. 

Next was Pothole Point where a .5 mile trail across slickrock that has depressions known as potholes. There is significant variation in the size of the potholes. 

During periods of rain (and there is only 7-9" annually), the holes fill with water. Within a few days the pools of water teem with life. The smaller, shallow ones have protozoan and simple algae while larger/deeper ones may have fairy and clam shrimp, tadpoles, and insect larvae. The views from this overlook provide another dimension of this diverse park.

We are always on the lookout for wildlife. We spotted this cute squirrel at this stop.

Cave Springs was the next stop on the is Scenic Drive. It is one of the very few areas in Canyonlands with a year-round water supply. The seeps here are formed by rainwater that has percolated down through layers of porous sandstone. A .6 mile trail (with two ladders) provide a tour of where ancestral Puebloans and later, cowboys, inhabited the area. In the late 1800s, pioneering cattlemen lived in the canyon and continued to use this area as an outdoor line camp (well into the 1900s). A large cattleranch continued to operate a 1.8M acre cattle ranch with 7-10,000 head of cattle in the area prior to Canyonlands becoming a National Park. Below is one of the camps with remnants from the cowboy days.

Below is a large area under a ledge that was inhabited by Native Americans 700 to 1,000 years ago. Note the smoke covered ceilings. Also shown are petroglyphs dating back to the same time period found here.

As we continued along the trail, many more areas covered by ledges could be seen,

The trail continued up this ladder where we could see more panoramic views of the area.

Very interesting rock formations have formed here. They resembled big mushrooms to us!

If you have the time when you visit Canyonlands, be sure to check out The Needles district. Island of the Sky is the more popular attraction at the park, but both have fascinating rock formations and landscape features. For additional information about Canyonlands, visit their website.


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