I’ll admit it. We definitely shortchanged Canyonlands on this trip. So much of what’s amazing about this park is in the backcountry, the wilderness, the “inaccessible.” And we didn’t have a lot of time for any sort of backcountry excursions this time around, but I needed to go there. I hadn’t personally been to Canyonlands in many years, and it fit perfectly with our trip and our goal to see as many parks in 2016 as we could. Maybe that will be seen as cheap by some, but hey, it’s my trip, and I still appreciated this park very much.
We visited the Island in the Sky district (there are three in total, including Island, The Needles, and The Maze). This is definitely the most accessible district, and the best one to visit if you only have a short amount of time but still want to experience the park. It was WINDY, and a little cold, but we survived, haha.
After a quick stop at the Visitor Center, we drove straight to Grand View Point and did the hike to the end. The vast majority of the scenic photos of Canyonlands, particularly this district, are taken at Grand View Point.
After our little hike at Grand View Point, we stopped at a few other pullouts as we headed back towards the highway, including Mesa Arch. I can pretty much guarantee you’ve seen a photo of Mesa Arch- especially one with the sun rising just below the arch. It’s a pretty popular shot, and even on our relaxed little Sunday in September there were a zillion people there. (Okay, not a zillion… but probably close to a hundred.) Ew.
One thing that actually really surprised me was how much cryptobiotic soil there was in Canyonlands. Especially on the Mesa Arch hike that stuff was EVERYWHERE, and it was beautiful, thick, strong, rich crypto. If you don’t know what cryptobiotic soil is (and that’s okay, my own dear husband didn’t and was so confused by the “dead-alive” term for it), it’s pretty cool. From Canyonlands’ website– Biological soil crust (cryptobiotic soil) is a living groundcover that forms the foundation of high desert plant life in Canyonlands and the surrounding area. This knobby, black crust is dominated by cyanobacteria, but also includes lichens, mosses, green algae, microfungi and bacteria. Cyanobacteria, previously called blue-green algae, are one of the oldest known life forms. It is thought that these organisms were among the first land colonizers of the earth’s early land masses, and played an integral role in the formation and stabilization of the earth’s early soils. Extremely thick mats of these organisms converted the earth’s original carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into one rich in oxygen and capable of sustaining life.
If that was a tl;dr for you, crypto is soil that’s technically alive, as it’s filled with lots of different kinds of algae, fungi, bacteria, mosses, etc. It helps hold the soil together and keeps it from blowing away in the harsh desert landscapes. Basically, it’s the coolest! However, it takes a really long time to grow, especially into the larger formations you can see in the picture above, and stepping on it kills it. There are signs everywhere in Arches talking about “Don’t Bust the Crust!” It takes decades, if not hundreds of years, for the crypto to repopulate the area damaged by one single footprint. So, if you see it, admire it from afar on the trail!
I can’t wait to have the chance to drive some of the famous backcountry roads in Canyonlands, like the White Rim Trail. Some people mountain bike it, but let’s be real- I’m way too lazy for that. HA!
After our little sojourn in Canyonlands, it was off to my very favorite park- Capitol Reef! (Insert heart eyes emoji, hehe)
Our Canyonlands National Park “Must Do”:
Island in the Sky is so accessible and so easy! It’s a great way to get an introduction to Canyonlands without getting yourself into something you might not be able to handle. I’d highly recommend seeing all of the pull outs, but keep in mind that you have to come back- and it’s much easier to turn right in and out of pull outs!