Road Trip 3, Part 5: Enter Utah, a Land Unlike Any Other

The route thus far:
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Desolate. Bleak. A seemingly endless landscape of other worldy rock formations. Southern Utah is home to one of the most unique and spectacular landscapes in the world. An area which would look more at home on Mars than on Earth. A place preserved by five National Parks and numerous other National Monuments shall forever keep this unique part of the planet wild and open to the public at large.

Sign for the Navajo Tribal Park at Monument Valley

Heading west from Mesa Verde my first stop was the legendary Monument Valley. The backdrop for so many legendary western movies, this red, barren, flat desert has many seemingly impossible red towers reach up from the desert floor, impossible pillars of stone. These giants of the desert floor were formed through millions of years of erosion from an ancient dried up sea which used to cover the area.

Monument Valley

The Earth’s ever moving crust, pushed this once near sea level area thousands of feet into the sky, part of the Colorado Plateau much of the area sits above 5000 feet in sea level. The story of this land is not a finished one, constantly changed by eroding winds, this landscape will continue to change and form dazzling formations which will continue to challenge our perceptions of how amazing nature can be.

Panoramic of Monument Valley

Heading up the road from monument valley I discovered another incredible sight I didn’t even know existed in Utah, an incredible cliff formation which forms an incredible mesa that separates the desert from the brushland of the area. The drive takes you on various switchbacks across this incredible landscape which stretches for as far as the eye can see.

View from Cedar Mesa on Utah 291

Known as the Moki Dugway the drive turns into a rugged dirt road up the side of the Cedar Mesa. The views from both the bottom and the top of the Mesa are awe inspiring. Climbing higher and higher up the Mesa gives you a great respect for just how massive these rock walls are. Winding up over 1200 feet from the floor of the massive cliffs.

View of the road on the Moki Dugway

Heading up past the Moki Dugway the landscape transforms dramatically. High above the desert floor below raises a plain full of vegitation. The wonderful Natural Bridges National Monument preserves some of this land along with three gigantic natural bridges which formed out of ancient sandstone.

Part of the Landscape at Natural Bridges National Monument
Owachomo Natural Bridge at Sunset

For a short drive and relatively small park, three spectacular Natural Bridges, Kachina, Owachomo and Sipapu are well worth the time to explore and gaze upon their grandeur. While not as well known as the other wonders in Southern Utah the Bridges stretch across vast portions of sandstone escarpments making them fascinating in their own right. Formed by flash flooding and streams these are unlike Arches which are formed by wind.

Kachina Bridge and the Surrounding Landscape

Making my way away from the Bridges, I had my sites set on a park I had been yearning to go to for some time, the incredible Canyonlands National Park.

View of the drive into Canyon Lands Needles Unit
Canyonlands Entrance Sign

Separated into several different units, Canyonlands is an expansive land of needle like spires, white sandstone rimmed canyons and other fascinating rock formations that seemingly surround you anywhere you are in the park. I set out on foot to explore this incredible area and was not disappointed by the landscape.

View of the red slickrock in Canyonlands

Climbing and traversing this land is like stepping into a time machine. Layers and layers of these rocks were formed from the same ancient sea that lent it’s hand to the other wonders in this area. The different layers each represent a different era of time in the earth, millions of years separating each layer which eventually added up to the bizarre but beautiful landscape that exists today in Cayonlands National Park.

Up close view of Needles in Canyon Lands National Park

Adventure awaits any who endeavor setting foot in this land. Climbing over slickrock, sliding through canyons and spotting distant cairns are among the things that make hiking at this Canyonlands as unique as the landscape itself. This is not your average walk through a forest, setting foot here is an unforgettable experience.

White rimmed mushroom like rocks in Canyonlands

While adventure waits the Canyonlands should not be taken lightly. I had to help lead several people out of the beautiful but long and strenuous Chester Park trail. It covers over 11 miles of incredible scenery in the wilderness with incredible panoramic views of the Needles and Canyons of this region.

One of the panoramic views from the Chesler Park Trail
Me on the Chesler Park Loop in the narrow slot canyon you hike through

There is no way to go wrong exploring this vast expanse of wild country. This part of the park, Needles, is only a third of the actual park. There are two other parts yet to explore, the more popular Island in the Sky and the less developed Maze region.

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Moon rising at Canyonlands at sunset

Just scratching the surface on the incredible wonders of Utah, I have my sites set on Arches and the Island in the sky region of Canyonlands next. Until next time, the sun sets on another amazing chapter of my journey.

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