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10/25/18 to 10/28/18 Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands

Highlights: Canyonlands National Park, Upheaval Dome, Dead Horse Point.

Campground: Electric Hookups only. Filled up fresh water tanks in Moab. Dump station and good (unheated) bath/shower facilities.

Great views from campground and proximity to views comparable to the Grand Canyon and Canyonlands, which is a short drive away. Also close to Moab and Arches. The downside is that the campground only had electric hookups. But they have good bathrooms and showers (unheated) and a dump station.

The view of the La Sal Mountains from our dinette window and campsite.

La Sal Mountains from campsite.

Writing this some two months after staying here, I can still say this is in our top couple favorite campsites. The campground is on a rise on a high plain overlooking the La Sal mountains to the south. Our particular site was the highest in the entire campground with our back in site put our dining room windows facing the mountains - allowing for an unobstructed view of the La Sal mountains. Which means that with the curtains open (which we can do here) we could wake up in the morning and sit up on our pillows and watch the sun come up over the mountains. What a sight!

One evening we had one of the most colorful sunsets we've ever seen.

I took this looking at the Henry Mountains while standing on the back of our pickup truck at the campsite.

Dead Horse Point:

As my good friend Shelly tells me: let the pictures tell the story. These are some photos from a few spots at the state park.

Views of the Colorado River are better here than at Canyonlands

Magic Light time! Later afternoon.

A vertiginous view of Shafer Road.

Sunset colors.

Colorado River Overlook.

People dot the West Rim Trail at sunset.

I love picking out the various geological strata. I believe this is the white sandstone layer. It really illustrates erosion.

This view from Dead Horse is looking at Shafer Road where it climbs toward Canyonlands' Visitor Center which is on the rim opposite center.

From this view of the La Sal Mountains you can pick out the blue ponds of the giant Potash plant


There is a nice visitor center with helpful staff and books along with several heavily used (ahem) portable toilets outside. Across the street is an unbelievable view of the canyons that give this park its name including views of the Colorado River and Shafer Trail Road – one of only a couple roads suitable for adventurous people unaffected by vertigo with high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicles.

This view is from an overlook on the road going into Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point State Park. In the distance is Arches National Park.


Grand View Point Overlook Trail. Note, Sandy and I did NOT sit on the edge of this or any other trail.

Shafer Trail Road hugs the rim of the canyon hiding the Colorado River

An fine example of the underlying soft layer eroding to corrupt a layer above it. Reminded me of tiles.

"The Totem Pole"

Mesa Arch is just steps from the park road.

The Green River Overlook was obstructed by clouds on our first day.

View of Canyonlands Needle Distract (our next destination).

Shafer Road drops 1,400 feet. Following is a video by a German couple driving the road. I saw their truck in southeastern Utah with “defender2travel” on it. I looked them up and found this.

The top search for Shafer Road on Youtube provided the following link. While the video is erratic, if you jump about half way through you can see the view from the switchbacks – which is pretty frightening.

Numerous other canyon viewpoints are on the scenic drive, though the first day we were there, clouds filled the canyons.

Shafer Trail Road from the Visitor Center.

The road above and on the canyon floor.

The road just above the S curves and a view of it once down in the canyon.The Colorado River is over the distant end of the road.

Yellow/green truck on the S Curves

The road is not very wide as you can see here.

Athletic soul! Didn't see other bikers while we were there.

Upheaval Dome: I can't express in words how cool this place was. Looking at the NP web site ( I found this description:

Upheaval Dome.

Canyonlands is a place of relative geologic order. Layersof sedimentary deposits systematically record chapters in the park's past. With some exceptions, these layers have not been altered, tilted or folded significantly in the millions of years since they were laid down by ancient seas, rivers or winds.

Upheaval Dome is quite a different story. In an area approximately three miles (5 km) across, rock layers are dramatically deformed. In the center, the rocks are pushed up into a circular structure called a dome, or an anticline. Surrounding this dome is a downwarp in the rock layers called a syncline. What caused these folds at Upheaval Dome? Geologists do not know for sure, but there are two main theories which are hotly debated.

Salt Dome Theory

A thick layer of salt, formed by the evaporation of ancient landlocked seas, underlies much of southeastern Utah and Canyonlands National Park. When under pressure from thousands of feet of overlying rock, the salt can flow plastically, like ice moving at the bottom of a glacier. In addition, salt is less dense than sandstone. As a result, over millions of years salt can flow up through rock layers as a "salt bubble", rising to the surface and creating salt domes that deform the surrounding rock.

When geologists first suggested that Upheaval Dome was the result of a salt dome, they believed the land form resulted from erosion of the rock layers above the dome itself. Recent research suggests that a salt bubble as well as the overlying rock have been entirely removed by erosion and the present surface of Upheaval Dome is the pinched off stem below the missing bubble. If true, Upheaval Dome would earn the distinction of being the most deeply eroded salt structure on earth.

Impact Crater Theory

When meteorites collide with the earth, they leave impact craters like the well-known one in Arizona. Some geologists estimate that roughly 60 million years ago, a meteorite with a diameter of approximately one-third of a mile hit at what is now the Upheaval Dome. The impact created a large explosion, sending dust and debris high into the atmosphere. The impact initially created an unstable crater that partially collapsed. As the area around Upheaval Dome reached an equilibrium, the rocks underground heaved upward to fill the void left by the impact. Erosion since the impact has washed away any meteorite debris, and now provides a glimpse into the interior of the impact crater, exposing rock layers once buried thousands of feet underground.

After reading these descriptions I had to see it for myself.

I hiked up to the dome and met a group of college students there studying it and taking notes. I asked a couple of guys if they decided on one of the two main theories of its creation. One of the guys was very accommodating and friendly. We discussed the pros and cons of each theory and he actually got me to change my initial leaning towards the salt dome.

College students thinking it over.

I hiked half way around the rim and took some photos that showed an interesting formation in the center that couldn't be seen where the students were. After, I hurried back and caught them before they left. I showed the same student my photos and he was really interested in it.

These are the shots I should the college student. They couldn't see this inner feature from their spot.

Looks like a caldera to me. But, that is not one of the options.

The trail around the rim goes along this edge. A person can be seen high on the rock to the left. I hiked to the edge of that for some nice shots of the Dome.

View of the Henry Mountains from a high point on Upheaval Dome. The Green River flows right to left in the canyon above.

Looking over the Dome at the La Sal Mountains.

I subsequently bought a book at the park about the geology of the Colorado Plateau that goes into depth on both creation theories. It seems that the most current leanings are towards the impact crater theory and I can see why.

While walking around the rim I could see so many variations in colors and formations. I noticed a rippling effect on the outer rim. I questioned the college student about this and he explained that these were created when strata (layers of rock) got pushed together they crumpled in the middle. He told me to imagine pushing a piece of paper from the outside edges towards the middle. It will wrinkle.

See the wrinkles on the walls of the crater. After the meteor struck creating the crater, the ground rebounded closing back in, causing the rippling effect.

Tell next time...

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