Dead Horse Point and Canyonlands

Trip Start Nov 22, 2007
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Trip End Dec 01, 2008


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Flag of United States  , Utah
Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park
Dead Horse Point State Park is just outside of Canyonlands National Park and about 30 miles or so from Arches National Park and Moab, Utah. The park is named for the horses that were left to die there. According to legend, cowboys used to round up the native wild horses of the area and drive them to the end of the point. Once there, they were surrounded on three sides by the two thousand-feet deep canyon below, and the cowboys fenced in the one possible escape route (the neck of the point is only about 30 feet wide) with trees and brush that the horses could not jump over. The story goes that the men picked the horses they wanted and left the rest on the point with no escape. The horses would die of thirst in the hot, arid climate while looking over the edge of the canyon to the Colorado River several thousand feet below.
Despite the name, the state park is a neat place to camp, and we used this as a home base for our trips to Canyonlands, Arches, and rafting on the Colorado. The campground is about one mile from the point itself, where you have breathtaking views of the vast canyons cut by the Colorado River and the La Sal mountains that surround Moab in the distance. The colors of the canyon walls are mostly red, smattered sometimes with layers of color-blues, yellows and greens. The vegetation is scant, with the pinion pines, Utah Juniper, black brush and yucca comprising most land that is not sand or rock. Birds are aplenty though, with many bluebirds, titmouses and gnatcatchers. The swallows, omnipresent, are tag-teamed one-for-one with bats after dusk, keeping the insects to a less-than-annoying level and providing some interesting aeronautics.
Dead Horse Point and Canyonlands weren't very crowded. The weather was hot during the days and cooling into comfortable 70s at night. A few days threatened thunderstorms, and we saw some lightning in the distance (you can see the dark clouds in some of the pictures) but it never did rain there. Dead Horse only gets about 10 inches of rain per year and the climate is arid desert, evident by the lack of daytime wildlife and the short stature of the vegetation.
From the campground you can hike about mile to the edge of the canyon to watch the sunset and the moonrise on the west side, or to the east, see a fabulous sunrise. We did both.
A five-mile ride from Dead Horse Point brings you to the north entrance of Canyonlands National Park. This side of Canyonlands is a relatively small park, and can easily be seen in a day or two, unless you want to hike around a bit. (The other areas, the so-called "Needles" section to the south and the Maze section to the west, are larger and even less traveled. We did not go there, but they are supposed to be much different from the north canyon side.) There are a couple of worthwhile scenic drives which are a lot of fun on the motorcycles-the "island in the sky" in Canyonlands has great S-turns on a well-maintained road with terrific views of the canyons on both sides and the interesting rock formations. Different stops on the drive make for great photo ops-the Grand Overlook, where you can see the many miles of Canyonlands stretching out before you and the Colorado below; the Green River Overlook, which offers a different view of the canyons as well as a nice view of the river; the Upheaval Dome, which is the consequence of some natural or supernatural phenomenon (the jury is still out on what exactly cause this strange upheaval of salt and rock). I did not know that Canyonlands also has a very photogenic arch, Mesa Arch, accessible by a short hike. Through Mesa Arch you can see a rock formation aptly named Washerwoman Arch and another called Monster Tower, standing before Airport Tower Butte.
The park encompasses the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers. If you are into whitewater and are headed for this area-book early for the Cataract canyon rafting trip. Cataract Canyon is located just below the confluence and is among the highest rated of rafting trips. We did not plan ahead and weren't able to raft Cataract, but we did take a half day rafting trip on the Colorado from just outside of Moab. (Fun, but not as exhilarating as some rafting we each have done elsewhere.)
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