Utah Hiking: Arches and Canyonland National Parks
September 22-30, 2012
Explore two spectacular parks, Arches and Canyonlands; vibrant gems of the Colorado Plateau. Time in red-rock country with its intense hues of red and orange is deeply satisfying. In Arches, find a fantasyland of sandstone formations; fins, amphitheaters, arches and balanced rocks in abundance. Many can be seen from the car or on short nature walks, while active groups will be thrilled to get deeper in; to walk over the fins and through the arches – there’s nothing quite like it! The dramatic Windows section of the park holds the largest and most famous arches, with scattered, wind-sculpted pinyon pine and juniper trees. Sunset over red rock arches is sublime.
Canyonlands National Park has several sections. The Island in the Sky and adjacent Dead Horse Point State Park are known for sweeping vistas and wild volcanic formations. Seemingly atop the world, one can walk around an entire crater and take in breathtaking views, 2,000 feet above the Colorado River. Processes of geologic erosion have sculpted rock and dunes and the colorful Needles section of Canyonlands National Park shows this off in detail. Walk between rock spires, fins, and massive canyon walls, and see fairy shrimp and other life in water-filled potholes.
The road into Canyonlands gives us outstanding views of the Abajo, or “Blue” Mountains, and a chance to stop at Newspaper Rock, a fantastic rock art site where the Fremont and Anasazi carved figures of animals, birds and abstract or geometric designs into stone, over the last 2,000 years. At the start of our journey in Grand Junction, Colorado, we tour Dinosaur National Park, and towards the end we hike in the La Sal Mountains.
Sat. Sept. 22 Arrival in Grand Junction, Colorado
Arrive today at the Grand Junction Regional Airport (JCT) in Grand Junction, Colorado. Relax at our lodgings and prepare for a great week ahead. At dinner, meet your guides and fellow traveling companions as we welcome you to canyon country. Those arriving mid-day may wish to visit the The Museum of Western Colorado, known for its prehistoric pottery, Navajo rugs and rock art panes. As several flights arrive late afternoon, our first gathering will be the welcome dinner. Plan to meet in the lobby at 7:00 PM.
Accommodations in Grand Junction (D)
Sun., Sept. 23 Dinosaur National Monument / Moab
A billion years of Earth history is captured in a fantastic setting, with a world-class museum located amid the monument’s stunning scenery. The park’s signature is one of the world’s renowned dinosaur fossil sites. Specimens on display are from the Morrison Formation of the Jurassic Period, about 150 million years in age. Discovered in 1909, research at the quarry was managed by the Carnegie Institute for many years. In addition to its rich fossil treasures, the park hosts dramatic river canyons and impressive rock art with petroglyph panels of the Fremont Indians. As leader Carol Simon is a herpetologist, one goal for today’s shakedown walk is a three-mile round trip walk to see the Fremont Indian rock art site known for its large lizard figures.
Dinosaur National Park has a new Quarry Visitor Center, where, along with the Quarry Exhibit Center, we get a grasp on the fascinating chapter in Earth’s history portrayed here. In addition to seeing one of the most important fossil sites for dinosaurs on the planet, we take time to see some of our first spectacular red rock scenery, here at the northeast edge of the Colorado Plateau. Enjoy a picnic lunch at the park. Mid-afternoon, we leave the park and drive west to Moab to get settled into our lodgings for the next six nights.
Accommodations in Moab, Utah (B,L,D)
Mon., Sept. 24 Arches National Park – Select Trails, Photo Viewpoints, a Grand Overview / Half-day Colorado River Trip
Arches is one of the West’s most impressive national parks, readily located just outside of Moab. It was made famous by Edward Abby’s book, Desert Solitaire. Today, in contrast to Abby’s time, a modern road takes us into this fantasyland of sandstone fins, balanced rocks, amphitheaters and arches. All are found in abundance, and many are easily accessible on nature trails.
We take a series of 1-2 mile hikes today to see the highlights of the park as an overview, as we’ll return another day for a lengthier hike. In the desert shrub vegetation that surrounds the lower reaches of the park we find several species of lizards, Coyotes, Say’s Phoebes, Ash-throated Flycatchers, and Black-throated Sparrows. The dramatic Windows section of the park holds the largest and most famous arches, and amidst Pinyon Pine and Utah Juniper trees we should find Western Scrub Jays, Juniper Titmice, Bushtits, Bewick’s Wrens, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Gray and Cassin’s Vireos. Mostly we find fascinating geology and a fine scenic inspiration as we wander. We return to Moab for a great half day river trip on the Colorado, gazing at red rocks as we float along this quiet stretch of river. In the evening, enjoy some free time to wander downtown, and enjoy dinner at your leisure.
Accommodations in Moab (B,L)
Tues., Sept. 25 Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky
Canyonlands National Park has several distinct sections, and today we drive up in elevation to Island in the Sky, where fabulous views abound. There is also geologic fascination as the plateau sits high above a thousand feet of sediments and a maze of river carved canyons below. We stop at a number of scenic overlooks en route, including Grand View Point. It is possible to hike around Upheaval Dome, a great accomplishment for the day! This feature holds intrigue, as its origin is the subject of debate. This two-mile wide crater is surrounded by raised colorful layers of Kayenta and Wingate sandstone which stand buckled and twisted. The role of a meteor is often suggested, looking into its gray interior.
Return to Moab in the late afternoon, and enjoy dinner with the group at one of our favorite local restaurants, an easy walk from our hotel.
Accommodations in Moab (B,L,D)
Wed., Sept. 26 Canyonlands National Park: Needles District
Today, we visit the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park for a great hike between rock spires and massive canyon walls. Standing sandstone towers, pinnacles and high desert vegetation characterize this remote land of rugged beauty. En route to our trailhead, we stop along a mountain stream in the Abajo, or “Blue” Mountains outside of Monticello, to visit Newspaper Rock, a fantastic rock art site where several cultures including the Fremont and Anasazi have added their signature figures of animals, birds and abstract or geometric designs over the last 2,000 years. Once at Canyonlands, We choose a full day hike here with a picnic lunch; the geologic story reveals itself along the way. This is a grand day of red-rock immersion, one you will long remember!
Return to Moab in the late afternoon, and choose a restaurant tonight for dinner at your leisure.
Accommodations in Moab (B,L)
Thurs., Sept. 27 Arches: Devil’s Garden, Landscape Arch and more…
Today, we return to nearby Arches National Park, a place of wonder and ample hiking opportunity. Now that you’ve seen the major scenic highlights, discover a realm behind the scenes, as we venture away from roads and viewpoints. Climb up a sandstone fin, marvel at vistas, and explore an arid land of sculptured pinyon and juniper trees. The Devil’s Garden loop is one of Carol’s all-time favorite trails!
Return to Moab in the late-afternoon to enjoy some free time and dinner at your leisure.
Accommodations in Moab (B,L)
Fri., Sept. 28 La Sal Mountains
It is the peak of fall color in the neighboring mountains and today we hike amid aspen splendor. We’ve gazed at the La Sal Mountains all week, and today we go off to explore! This small range, a cluster of peaks about 18 miles in length, was an iconic landmark on the historic Spanish Trail. Today it is a part of Manti-La Sal National Forest, with several peaks reaching over 12,000 feet.
We return to Moab, and enjoy dinner together at a local restaurant.
Accommodations in Moab (B,L,D)
Sat. Sept. 29 Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve in Moab / Professor Creek Hike / Harvest Moon Dutch Oven Cookout Dinner – a Benefit and Fall Celebration for the Canyonlands Field Institute
Enjoy a leisurely morning. Those that wish can walk a few miles on a boardwalk trail at The Nature Conservancy’s Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve in Moab – a great place to look for fall migrant songbirds, or perhaps a hunting Peregrine, hunting from the river cliffs nearby. Return to Moab for lunch at your leisure and a chance to pick up last purchases you’ve looked at while window shopping in the evenings. We leave for Red Cliffs Lodge shortly after lunch, to spend the afternoon on a fine hike at Professor Creek, a classic canyon “wet hike” for which you’ll want wet-friendly footgear. We join our local guide from the Canyonlands Field Institute and friends at their autumn celebration and fundraiser. This is a beautiful place and a great way to end our adventure!
Accommodations in Moab (B,D)
Sun., Sept. 30 Departures from Grand Junction
All good things must come to an end. We plan to return to Grand Junction today, arriving at the airport at 10:30AM for flights 11:30 onwards. All major airlines have flights out after this time.
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OF THE JOURNEY:
The cost of the journey is $2590.00, per person based on double occupancy. This cost includes accommodations for 8 nights, meals as specified in the itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, and D=dinner), airport transfers, professional guide services, local park and other area entrance fees, and miscellaneous program costs. The cost does not include transportation to or from your home city to Grand Junction, Colorado, or items of a personal nature such as porterage, laundry, telephone calls, or beverages from the bar. Single supplement (as available) is $635.00.
PACE OF THE JOURNEY:
Plan to arrive if possible in Grand Junction in time for the welcome dinner on September 22nd. We plan to meet in the lobby of our hotel at 7:00PM to go to dinner, which allows for flights coming in around 6PM. You may arrive later this evening, but it is nice to get there, settle in and get ready for our next day’s adventures. Those arriving mid-day can relax or explore local museums and art galleries. Plan on flights out after 11:30 AM on Sunday, September 30th – we will be driving back to Grand Junction from Moab, and plan to arrive at the airport by 10:30AM. Grand Junction is served by US Airways, United, Delta and American.
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Aspens and arches, Carol Simon; Mountain Bluebird, Greg Smith - www.flickr.com/photos/slobirdr/; all other photos by Peg Abbott.