The following is a guest post by my dad, who shares his experience of visiting the Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park from Moab, Utah.
I am probably repeating myself but the area around Moab in Utah really is one of my favorite places in the Southwest of the US. To many, Moab is not only known for the magnificent landscapes but much more for extreme sports: mountain biking, 4×4 challenges, rock climbing and so on.
I am not an extreme sporter. In fact, I am not a sportive person at all. Besides being fundamentally lazy I am also too fond of a Burgundian lifestyle. The red rocks of Moab and the nearby La Sal mountain range offer, however, more than enough inspiration for a keen photographer to generate the motivation for some physical exercise. Some hiking and climbing can get you to wonderful viewpoints with gorgeous images as a result.
Dead Horse Point State Park
Not very far from Moab, the Dead Horse Point State Park, and the Canyonlands National Park form an excellent day trip destination. As Dead Horse is a State Park and not a National Park you should be aware though that your America the Beautiful pass does not work there.
There are many legends as to how Dead Horse Point State Park got its name, but most have to do with the fact that the place was used as a kind of natural corral, to capture the wild mustangs roaming there. Dead Horse is like a “rock peninsula” with only a relatively narrow entry that can be sealed off.
Cowboys used to round up the horses, driving them to the point, then closing the narrow entrance with branches. Beside the locked entrance, the horses would be surrounded by precipitous cliffs going straight down on all sides. Cowboys would then select the horses they wanted and free what was left.
Apparently, for some unknown reason, horses were left in the corral after such a chase. Some stories say they died of thirst within sight of the Colorado River 600 meters below, other stories talk about the horses finally jumping down the cliffs to reach the water.
Whatever happened, the views are just amazing. I did not manage to get the view of the full curve in the Colorado, though. It would not even have worked if I'd gone flat on my belly.
Explore Dead Horse Point State Park by bike
If you'd rather explore Dead Horse State Park by bike, you can join a half-day guided mountain biking tour that takes you on a 10-mile (16 km) adventure through the Dead Horse Point State Park over the course of 5 hours. You'll follow a single track and will get great views of the Colorado River and Canyonlands below. The tour includes the use of a mountain bike and helmet, plus park entrance fees, light refreshments, and snacks.
Canyonlands National Park
After Dead Horse, we continued to Canyonlands National Park. At least we wanted to visit the Islands in the Sky district as it is called. Canyonlands is huge but is split into three areas by the Colorado River and the Green River. What you see on the other side of the river can easily take you a half day drive to get to because of a total lack of bridges.
The other districts are called the Needles and the Maze and are much less accessible than the Island in the Sky. It takes skillful 4×4 driving to explore them.
Sometimes the rivers cutting through Canyonlands are called the 4th district.
We visited Canyonlands National Park twice and there are many things to see – charted and uncharted. One location high on my list was “False Kiva” – look it up on the internet, it must be an amazing sight – but we did not find it.
I thought I had enough with GPS coordinates but ended up searching for the location 2-300 meters above the real location and could not find the path down. It was my own. I should have done my research better and well, should have asked at the visitor center. Other locations are well marked on the excellent maps you can get at the park.
One of my favorite spots (and easy to get to as well) is definitely Mesa Arch. It’s an amazing arch at the edge of the cliff, super material for a photographer but just beautiful for anyone who likes this wonderful architecture of nature.
After the visit, you can leave the park and normally you would drive back the same way you came. There is an adventurous alternative, however: you can take the Shafer trail which is a dirt road going down in the canyon and connecting to one of the scenic byways along the Colorado River.
Alternatively, you can take a two-day, 160 kilometers round trip but make sure to have plenty of supplies, food, water, spare tires and let the rangers know what you’re up to.
In fact, if you fully want to enjoy the park and see all it has to offer without having to worry about getting too far from a bed, a toilet, food, and drinks, consider getting an RV. Just make sure to spend the night at the designated campgrounds.
Canyonlands National Park Tours
Canyonlands National Park Needles District by 4×4
On this full-day tour, an expert guide will take you to see the highlights of Utah’s Chesler Park such as Elephant Hill, Devil’s Lane, and Devil’s Kitchen. For those eager to get moving, there’s also the option to take a 3-mile (4.8-km) hike on the spectacularly scenic Joint Trail. The tour includes your guide, lunch, water, lemonade, and transport by 4WD.
Canyonlands National Park White Rim Trail by 4WD
During this full-day tour, you'll go off-road via the Canyonlands White Rim while a professional guide shows you hotspots such as Island in the Sky, Gooseneck Overlook, and Musselman Arch. You'll also get the chance to make short hikes to hidden-away canyons, caves, and passages. This tour includes your guide and transportation as well as ice water, lemonade, and lunch.
Canyonlands National Park Half-Day Tour from Moab
On this half-day tour, an expert guide takes you to see the highlights of Canyonlands National Park in a 4WD jeep. You'll drive down the White Rim Road, see the remains of ancient Pueblo civilizations, stare down dazzling cliffs and more. This tour can be done in the morning, the afternoon or around sunset and includes your guide, your ride, ice water, and lemonade.
Moab Combo: Colorado River Rafting and Canyonlands National Park
This full-day adventure combines a rafting experience on the Colorado River with a 4WD-tour of some of Canyonlands National Park's highlights, such as Island in the Sky and the Shafer Trail. This tour includes your guide, your transportation from Moab, refreshments, lunch, and all the needed rafting equipment as well as river bags and a camera box to place your items in while rafting.
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Hans Couwenbergh is a wine and travel loving photographer. Snapping away, he tells you all about the stories behind his photographs. Connect with him on Facebook.