If you enjoy heights, this is the place for you.
With the snow-capped La Sal Mountain Range setting an epic background to the wild red mesas and canyons below, Canyonlands National Park is truly unique among sky islands in the west.
Sky islands are more commonly known in the west as contained ecosystems separate from their immediate surrounding environments. One of the best-known examples is Mt. Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona. Rising above Tucson to nearly 10,000 feet, this drivable peak is a cool, forested mountain environment with streams, black bears, cougars, and even a skiing area. Looking out from this peak to the surrounding environment thousands of feet below reveals not just an epic vista, but the desert floor where it can be 20-40 degrees hotter.
Canyonlands National Park has a similar appeal, but the ecosystem on top is more akin to Sedona. While still desert-like, there is additional plant life not found in lower elevations in the area. This plant life also supports an abundant mule deer population. Among this varied terrain even at lower elevations, you'll find some unexpected wildlife. Black bears, big horn sheep, and even frogs and salamanders live and travel among the hills and rivers.
If you didn't come for wildlife, you won't be disappointed, either.
You can easily drive to many scenic vistas in this expansive park. A few seconds or minutes from any given parking space, you're on the edge of oblivion. The top is relatively flat and covered with juniper and other scrub bushes and trees, and then suddenly drops off an average of about 1,000-1,200 feet around the rim.
If you're looking for some of the most incredible sunrise and sunset spots in the world, Canyonlands National Park is the place. The best-known feature in the park is Mesa Arch, home to some of the best-known sunrise photographs in the world.
We were not there at sunrise that day, but it was still pretty cool. We arrived at sunrise the next day, but apparently you need to get there a few hours before sunrise to reserve your spot. The strange thing was that there were so many more exciting things there than Mesa Arch, which is the highlighted attraction there.
In fact, our favorite spot in the Island in the Sky District was Buckskin Canyon in the morning followed by Orange Cliffs in the evening. These two spots are spectacular and have very few visitors compared to other stops along the top road. We had Buckskin Canyon all to ourselves at sunrise with the exception of a herd of mule deer that joined us on the cliff to enjoy the view.
Canyonlands National Park is well worth the 45 minute drive from Moab if you've never been. You might also check out Segoe Canyon, Moonflower Canyon, and other amazing spots in the area.
The Island in the Sky district is only one section of the park. We'll be back in Moab soon to explore White Rim Road, the Needles District, the rivers, Horseshoe Canyon, and the Maze district.