Friday, November 9, 2007

Shafer Canyon Overlook

The "Island in the Sky" is the north district of Canyonlands National Park, an area carved by the Green River from the north and the Colorado River coming from the east. There is only a narrow neck, wide enough for a road, that lets you get out there.

This remote island is in southeast Utah near Moab, a little north of the entrance to Arches National Park.

Near the Visitor Center is the Shafer Canyon Overlook Trail, a short 0.4 mile round trip walk that serves as a lookout tower ranging from the 1000 ft. deep canyons to the three mountain ranges that are visible in the normally very clear air.

In the distance to the left is Dead Horse Point within the Utah State Park. Further and to the right is the Anticline Overlook Point in the Canyon Rims Recreation area. All these view points are spectacular.

The scary looking Shafer Trail Road leads down to the White Rim Road that circles around and goes on for miles, overlooking the Colorado and Green Rivers. The cap rock along the Shafer Trail road is Navajo Sandstone and the route descends through the red Kayenta formation and towards the Wingate Sandstone

The White Rim Road is popular with mountain bikers and for 4WD but seems too long for hiking. From the same parking lot for the Shafer Canyon Overlook, there is the Neck Spring Trail Head. The end of the Neck Spring Trail also has some overviews of Shafer Canyon from a different angle.

Slick Rock Trail

The Slickrock Trail is a 2.4 mile loop with several turnoffs to lookout points in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park in southeast Utah. It is a trail recommended as an introduction to the trails in these carved rock canyons. The trailhead is along the main scenic drive towards the west end.

Canyonlands is the area where the mighty Colorado and Green rivers converge upstream of Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon. The geology of this area has many layers, hard sandstones, and softer shales, and these have been carved into spectacular formations and canyons.

Besides the close up views of the carved rocks there are wider views of the surrounding area. The La Sal mountains to the east are often in view, providing a spectacular backdrop. Views of the Needles are back to the south. There is a small arch along the trail also.

Trails across rocky sandstone areas are often marked with small piles of rocks, known as cairns. Keep an eye out for these as wandering off the trails can lead to impossible places to cross.

The sparse vegetation of the slick rock areas is dominated be Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper Trees along with sagebrush and other shrubs. In the spring, there can be some colorful wildflowers. There are guides to the botany of the region along the short Roadside Ruins Trail and the also short Cave Springs Trail.

Chesler Park Trail

The Chesler Park Trail goes into the heart of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park in southeast Utah and if you are only going to hike one long trail in this area, this is one of the best to do.

I started at the Elephant Hill trailhead and hiked 3.2 miles to the north edge of Chesler Park, then continued on for one more mile through the Chesler area to the junction with the Joint Trail.

You can also start at the Squaw Flat campground trail head but the way will be longer by 2.0 miles each way. There is an extensive network of trails in this central part of the Needles District.
The main scenic attraction is the formations called the Needles, multi colored red and white sandstone, fractured by freeze and thaw, that stand like clusters of statues. The route to Chesler Park doesn't have has much scrambling over rocks as some of the other nearby trails.

Chesler Park is a large 960 acre meadow area, fairly lush with grass and sagebrush that is surrounded by the Needles. The hike up there passes through a Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper desert area that was very colorful with wildflowers following a fairly wet winter.

The trail descends into and crosses Elephant Canyon. At the bottom of Elephant Canyon there is a trail junction leading to Druid Arch. This is a good hike also but you would have to have a lot of endurance to go to Druid Arch and Chesler Park on the same day hike.

There were about 20 others hiking the trail on the spring day that I hiked, more in the afternoon than in the morning. It took me about four hours to cover the 8.4 miles that I hiked. It wasn't very hot, about 75 F. degrees (May), but it was sunny and I drank all of the two liters of water I carried, finishing the last gulp 15 minutes before the finish line.

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