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Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is located near the city of Moab and Arches National Park. It preserves a colorful landscape eroded into countless canyons, mesas and buttes by the Colorado River and its tributaries. The rivers divide the park into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze and the rivers themselves. While these areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, each retains its own character. Island in the Sky is a broad and level mesa to the north of the park between Colorado and Green river with many overlooks from the White Rim, a sandstone bench 1,200 ft (360 m) below the Island, and the rivers, which are another 1,000 ft (300 m) below the White Rim. The Needles district is named after the red and white banded rock pinnacles which dominate it, but various other forms of naturally sculptured rock such as canyons, grabens, potholes, and a number of arches. Unlike Arches National Park, however, where many arches are accessible by short to moderate hikes or even by car, most of the arches in the Needles district are in back country canyons and require long hikes or four-wheel-drive trips to reach them. Visitors who make the trek may get a glimpse of coyotes, bighorn sheep, bobcats, or golden eagles.

This area was once home of the Ancestral Puebloan Indians, of which many traces can be found. Although the items and tools they used have been largely taken away by looters, some of their stone and mud dwellings are well-preserved. The Ancestral Puebloans also left traces in the form of petroglyphs, most notably on the so-called Newspaper Rock near the Visitor Center at the entrance of this district. The Maze district west of the Colorado and Green rivers is the least accessible section of the park, and one of the most remote and inaccessible areas of the United States. A detached unit to the north, Horseshoe Canyon unit, contains panels of rock art made by hunter-gatherers from the Late Archaic Period (2000-1000 B.C.) pre-dating the Ancestral Puebloans. Originally called Barrier Canyon, Horseshoe’s artifacts, dwellings, pictographs, and murals are some of the oldest in America. It is believed that the images depicting horses date from after 1540 A.D., after the Spanish re-introduced horses to America.

Photography in Canyonlands National Park is usually accomplished by a visit to the Island in the Sky unit. Mesa Arch is a world famous location to capture the spectacular reflected glow under the arch at sunrise. Deadhorse Point State Park has an incredible view looking down on the Colorado Rover. The famous “Holy Ghost” pictograph panel is located in the detached Horseshoe Canyon unit and reached via a 3 mile hike into the canyon.