The Colorado and Green rivers, cutting deep chasms through the red sandstone of Canyonlands, open up a wilderness of cliffs, canyons and stone formations. Surrounded by a great and solitary desert, isolated from civilization by a tortured and almost impassible terrain, Canyonlands is an ideal venue to enjoy the silence of nature, wonder at the powerful effects of erosion and ponder the geologic history of the earth.
At the heart of Canyonlands, the two rivers converge in a deep gorge. To the north of the confluence is the Island in the Sky. It is a cliff-lined plateau which is accessed only by a narrow neck of land connecting it to the north. A thousand feet below, its cliffs end in another plateau called the White Rim. Dropping from there to the river is a rugged country of canyons and cliffs. The river is about 3,300 feet below Island in the Sky.
The Maze District lies to the west of both rivers, and the the Needles District lies to the east of both. The Needles District is characterized by great pinnacles of stone left behind by the erosion of the higher plateaus. An additional discontiguous unit of Canyonlands lies further west called Horsetheif Canyon.
Canyonlands was designated a National Park September 12, 1964 and covers 337,570 acres. Visits in 1999 totaled 446,160. The elevation ranges from about 3,800 feet at the river to around 6,200 feet atop the mesas. Island in the Sky is accessed by Utah highway 131, which leaves U.S. Highway 191 north of Moab. The Needles District is accessed by Utah Highway 211, which leaves U.S. Highway 191 north of Monticello.
In ancient times a vast inland sea covered the Canyonlands area. The water level fell, and a flat, verdent valley remained. In flat areas, rivers deposit sediment carried from distant mountains, filling up their channels and turning them out of their banks into loops and turns. As the river continued to erode its outlet, the water level continued to drop, the river could no longer overflow its banks, and it was frozen in its looping pattern.
Ages later, the rivers have cut through 3000 feet of stone, while parts of the original seafloor remain as high mesas, no longer green and verdant, as the ground water level continues to drop. Between cliff tops and the riverbanks an unlimited variety of terrain is waiting to be seen and explored.