I woke up early on Black Friday. Not to hit the malls but to carve out my camping spot in Canyonlands. Canyonlands and Arches have become increasingly popular with dirt bikers, climbers, hikers, ATVers, mountain bikers and day trippers. Hence lodging, even outdoor lodging, can be hard to come by.

Knowing this, I beelined for the Willow Flat campground in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands. I had never been this far north in Canyonlands, and it was a pleasant surprise. Hithertofore I had spent my Canyonlands time in the Needles District. While the former is known for its canyons, the latter is known for its druid-like rock formations. It was time to get up close and personal with the canyons.

I had bought a regional Canyonlands/Arches pass for $25 on Thanksgiving. These passes are good for a year and can be used not only in the Moab area but also at Hovenweep National Monument (a dark horse favorite) and Natural Bridges National Monument.

Up close and personal I did get.

Island in the Sky is a mere 32 miles from Moab. The road in is flanked by buttes, giving you a sense you are driving somewhere protected. I lost radio and cell reception as I approached the Visitor Center. The sign going in tells you–no water, food, gas, or wood is available. That’s not exactly true. I bought four gallons of water at the Visitor Center for six bucks.

The Willow Flat campground is the only car camping in the park. The rest of the sites are backcountry, which my weak back will not allow me to do (well, not yet anyway), and require a permit. I set up camp (about a quarter full) and strolled down to the Green River Overlook, a mere .2 miles down the way:

A hazy Green River Overlook

A hazy Green River Overlook

The rain had dissipated but moisture was omnipresent, and well, ominous. The druids were indeed closing in on me. After setting up camp I had a few hours of daylight left. Although a ride was still out of the question, I wanted to hike and explore. I drove back to the Visitor Center and asked for some advice.

On the way to the Visitor Center I passed the Shafer Trail, which is the start of the White Rim Trail when ridden clockwise. The Shafer Trail, I later found out, had been closed because a car had slid into the side of the canyon. Good thing that car slid into the canyon side. Take a look:

Shafer Trail

Shafer Trail

Yup. But wait, there’s more:

A road, Canyonlands-style

A road, Canyonlands-style

The road snakes down and eventually skirts the White Rim, seen toward the top of this picture:

Road to White Rim

Road to White Rim

Besides the Shafer Trail, I also visited a few points along the road back to my new home at Willow Flat. I pulled off at one area and even though I’ve got severe anxiety about heights, I hugged the butte wall and made my way out to the edge:

Vertigo View

Vertigo View

Here’s the view from Vertigo Point, as I aptly named it. Notice the heavy clouds over to the east, hovering over Arches and the Manti La Sal mountains:

Looking east from Island in the Sky

Looking east from Island in the Sky

A safer alternative was Mesa Arch, filled with daytrippers. Here’s the arch up close:

Wispy clouds over Mesa Arch

Wispy clouds over Mesa Arch

Canyon shadows and the Back of Beyond section of Canyonlands can be seen through the arch’s frame. Pretty impressive.

Looking through Mesa Arch

Looking through Mesa Arch

One more look through Mesa Arch. Check out the needles to the left.

Needles and canyons through Mesa Arch

Needles and canyons through Mesa Arch

My last stop of the day was Upheaval Dome. Meteorite possibility. Or maybe aliens?

Upheaval Dome

Upheaval Dome

The jaded SheSpoke thinks it looks like strip mining. The hike to the first overlook is short, well-marked (notice the cairns toward the upper-left corner), and family-friendly:

Stairway to Heaven?

Stairway to Heaven?

Stairway to Heaven?  Definitely.

Stairway to Heaven? Definitely.

I made it back to the Green River Overlook (and my home for the next two days) in time for sunset.

Sunset at Green River Overlook

Sunset at Green River Overlook

The overlook was a like a Nikon convention: tripods, bundled-up photographers, and oohs and ahhs. It was pretty special. One more look:

The Green River Overlook overlooks the White Rim and the faroff Needles District

The Green River Overlook overlooks the White Rim and the faroff Needles District

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