Friday, August 08, 2008

Canyonlands National Park - Island in the Sky

We requested a late checkout at the motel, we were given 1PM. Mike worked until about noon then we started to pack up the bikes. It was raining hard since morning and it didn’t look like it was going to stop. The rain was coming from the mountains to the west, the clouds were building right over the mountains and dumping all the rain on Monticello, while the sky to the east had many clear and blue patches.

Packing up and leaving Monticello, UT in the rain

We really enjoyed our stay in Monticello but now it was time we leave. We headed north on 191, the plan was to camp at Canyonlands Island in the Sky district located west of Moab and Arches National Park. We only had to ride about 95 miles today.

On 191 heading north toward Moab

Canyonlands National Park is huge and it has three districts. Island in the Sky is the most popular district. It’s named that because the park sits literally like an Island in the Sky, on top of a 1,500 foot mesa. The road through the park takes you to the many different scenic overlooks where you can see up to 100 miles of canyon stretch in front of you in any direction. The views at Island in the Sky are much different from the views at The Needles, there you are looking at the canyons from the canyon floor. The only district that we could not visit this time was The Maze, since it’s one of the most remote and inaccessible areas of the US.

On 313 heading towards Canyonlands N.P. Island in the Sky

From the paved roads you only get a small taste of what the Canyonlands National Park is, to fully experience the grandeur of this area you need to venture on the dirt roads and visit the remote areas that most people don’t get to see.

The rain had stopped about 15 miles out of Monticello and by the time we arrived in Canyonlands there were blue skies and puffy clouds as far as the eye could see.

Crazy twisties on Grand View Point Road in Canyonlands Island in the Sky

As we entered the National Park we were assured by the person at the gate that the Willow Flat Campground located in the park even though small (Twelve sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis) , doesn’t usually fill up. The reality was that we got the last campsite at the campground on this early Friday afternoon. And for the next two hours we saw cars drive through still looking for campsites. We got lucky and our site ended up being pretty good. Once we grabbed our campsite which cost $10, Mike rode back to the visitor center and store to buy some water.

Main road through Willow Flat Campground

When we left Monticello we filled up all our water containers but by the time we got to the park half of our water reserves were already gone. We were planning on doing some hiking today and tomorrow so we needed lots of water. The one thing that is difficult out here in the desert is drinking enough water, especially on the bike since water is so heavy. I’ve been carrying a 3 liter platypus and a medium sized water bottle and that barely lasts half a day.

Our campsite at Canyonlands - Island in the Sky - Willow Flat Campground

While Mike went to get the water I stayed at the camp site and was setting up the tent. By the time Mike got back to the campsite there were storm clouds starting to appear in the distance. It was close to 5:00PM now so we decided to have some dinner which consisted of peanut butter sandwiches. We decided to skip the our hiking plans, there was a storm brewing in the distance now and it was heading this way.

Local resident of the park

Since the campground was located near the Green River overlook, we went over there to check out the views. The storm was moving right over the canyon, it was an awesome sight. Then the lightening started and we decided to get off the rocks and head back to the campground. The rain started soon after. Mike made a shelter out of the extra tarp that we carry with us so we could keep dry. The rain only lasted about an hour and when it ended we again went to the Green River overlook. This is the best spot in the park for viewing sunsets, but there were too many clouds today, the sun was no where to be see.

Waiting under the tarp for the rain to stop

The road from the campground to the Green River Overlook

Just after we got tucked in to the sleeping bags we heard the rain start up again. We had waterproofed our rain fly before this trip, and we were hoping that this fixed the leaking problem we had in the past.

The rain didn’t last long and the temps didn’t drop too much, the night was cool and in the low 50’s.

Today's route 95 miles: 191 north to 313 to Canyonlands N.P. Island in the Sky

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