Canyonlands National Park (NP #42), Utah



Canyonlands National Park (map / wiki) got the best of me again.


I first heard about the White Rim Road two years ago when I visited Canyonlands National Park for the first time. It’s a 100 mile dirt road loop through the the lower canyon which makes use of the access roads for the now abandoned uranium mines from the 1950’s. I had been told by a park ranger that high-ground clearance was recommended, but that 4-wheel drive was the only serious necessity.

Back then, I only had a single day to spend in the park, so I shelved the White Rim Road adventure temporarily, eager to combine my love of off-road driving and national parks the next time I could make it back.


Shafer Trail (left) leads down into the lower canyon before becoming the White Rim Road.


A week ago (9/29/15) I rolled into Canyonlands early and well prepared.. or so I thought. 


I had gotten halfway through the backcountry permit process when the park ranger asked me for my vehicle make, model, color, and license plate number, and that’s when the whole ball of wax unraveled. She was adamant that I couldn’t take my lowish-ground clearance, all-wheel drive (*Not “4-wheel drive” ⇒ yes, there is a difference) vehicle through the treacherous labyrinth that is the White Rim Road. I tried to sweet talk my way around her rules, but it was no use. I wallowed in the most acute kind of smoldering, furious despair.


I’ve thought about it since then, and you know what!?


That lady can just go on being an nice woman who looks out for the best interest of the park’s visitors! That’s what!!


I still think I could have gotten by with my trusty rock-n-ready Honda Element, but considering the condition my car is in (I’ve needed new front suspension struts for 10,000 miles – since before I left to Alaska), and how tight my schedule is (I’m trying to be home by my birthday on October 16th), and how much a tow out of the canyon is (minimum $1,000 – not to mention the cost of fixing whatever I broke) it was probably best that I save that adventure for when I’m better prepared.


But shoot.. that was quite the let down.



Instead I did something of a re-run of my 2013 visit. I hiked out to the southernmost tip of Island in the Sky and then to Upheaval Dome while slowly reassembling my gumption and reluctantly dropping things into perspective.


The Island in the Sky trail carins hug the canyon cliffs for what may be the most scenic two mile hike in the whole national park system. This is facing back northeast.


This is facing south. That last plateau is the “Island in the Sky.” It and the butte I took this picture from on do not connect.


It’s a long way down.


All was not lost. I was able to get a permit to drive down into the lower canyon on Shafer Trail, but I had to detour onto the less aggressive Potash Road instead of continuing around the White Rim.


Potash Road, Canyonlands National Park.


One thing this trip has taught me is better patience.


If things don’t work out the way I expected, it’s more likely a failure of my expectations than a failure of anything else.

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