The five national parks in Utah draw several million visitors from around the world each year to marvel at surreal scenery and create their own unforgettable experiences. A must-see is the sunrise over the towering depths of the canyons or perhaps at the famed Mesa Arch at Canyonlands National Park. Here you can explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Rivers divide the park into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing and adventure.
Canyonlands preserves the natural beauty and human history throughout its four districts, which are divided by the Green and Colorado rivers. While the districts share a primitive desert atmosphere, each retains its own character and offers different opportunities for exploration and adventure. Author Edward Abbey, a frequent visitor, described the Canyonlands as “the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth—there is nothing else like it anywhere.”
Though they appear close on a map, there are no roads that directly link the districts. Traveling between them requires two to six hours by car as there are few places to cross the rivers. Get directions. Most people find it impractical to visit more than one area in a single trip.
Canyonlands National Park preserves 337,598 acres of colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires in the heart of southeast Utah’s high desert. Water and gravity have been the prime architects of this land, sculpting layers of rock into the rugged landscape you see today.
In the early 1950s, Bates Wilson, then superintendent of Arches National Monument, began exploring the area to the south and west of Moab, Utah. After seeing what is now known as the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, Wilson began advocating for the establishment of a new national park that would include the Needles. Additional explorations by Wilson and others expanded the areas proposed for inclusion into the new national park to include the confluence of Green and Colorado rivers, the Maze District, and Horseshoe Canyon.
In 1961, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall was scheduled to address a conference at Grand Canyon National Park. On his flight to the conference, he flew over the Confluence (where the Colorado and Green rivers meet). The view apparently sparked Udall’s interest in Wilson’s proposal for a new national park in that area and Udall began promoting the establishment of Canyonlands National Park.
In September 1964, after several years of debate, President Lyndon B. Johnson established Canyonlands as a new national park. Bates Wilson became the first superintendent of the new park. He is often referred to as the “Father of Canyonlands.”
Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist who studied under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park when he was just 19 years old. Now, he’s creating iconic WPA-style posters for each of our National Parks. Click Here to learn more about his story and The National Park Poster Project.