the upheaval dome hike in canyonlands

This May morning, we’re on our way to Canyonlands National Park from Moab.  Heading south on UT 313, we drive past Navajo Rocks Mountain Bike Trails: Ramblin’ Big Mesa and Middle Earth, with biker access for Coney Islands and Rocky Tops. We drive through open range and rugged vistas.


along the drive to Canyonlands


open range on the way to Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park preserves some 337,598 acres of colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches and spires in the heart of Utah’s desert. There are two main areas in Canyonlands (along with two less accessible ones). Island in the Sky is closest to Moab, a drive 10 miles north and 22 miles south; it rests on sheer sandstone cliffs over 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain. Unfortunately, this is the only area we have time to visit while in Utah.

The Needles, which is accessed through an entrance 40 miles south of Moab, and another 35 miles west, is named for the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that dominate the area.

Today, we take the 34-mile round-trip scenic drive along the mesa top, stopping at the various viewpoints and taking several hikes along the way.

Our first hike is to Upheaval Dome.  The trail leads to two scenic overlooks along the rim of a three-mile wide 1,000-foot deep crater.


starting the Upheaval Dome Hike


Upheaval Dome hike

We stop at the first overlook at Upheaval Dome, which has mysterious origins.  It was possibly caused by a meteorite that created a big splash of minerals when it hit or a salt dome that originated from within the earth.


Upheaval Dome

One theory of Upheaval Dome’s origins, the salt dome theory, surmises that an inland sea covered the area 300 million years ago.  Climate change caused the water to evaporate, leaving a thick salt deposit behind. Layers of sediment built up over the salt and hardened into sandstone, pushing down on the salt until a bulge formed in the salt layer.  An upheaval dome appeared on the surface, which eventually eroded. If this theory is true, Upheaval Dome would earn the distinction of being the most deeply eroded salt structure on earth.


Upheaval Dome

The meteorite theory surmises that a meteorite with a diameter of approximately one-third of a mile crashed into this spot 60 million years ago. The impact created a large explosion, sending dust and debris high into the atmosphere.  The crater left behind was initially unstable and some areas collapsed while other spaces filled from below by rock and salt moving up into the sudden opening in the earth.  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.


Upheaval Dome

Was it a great upheaval or a meteorite crashing into earth that caused the crater? Scientists are now fairly certain Upheaval Dome was created by a meteor.

We continue our hike past the first overlook to the second overlook, where we can see some of Upheaval Canyon to the west.  Much of this hike is up and down over slickrock.  A churlish wind is blowing red dust into our faces, eyes and mouths. I have to rinse out my mouth and spit out the water-sand mixture. It’s hot today, 85 degrees F, and I’m covered in a layer of sweat and my skin is sticky and gritty.

The Upheaval Dome Hike is about 1.8 miles round trip and takes us about an hour.

We pass Whale Rock as we leave this northwestern point in the park. This long sandstone formation looks like a giant beached whale that came ashore on the Island in the Sky.


Whale Rock

Of course, I had to get my sticker and cancellation stamp for Canyonlands National Park. 🙂


Cancellation stamp for Canyonlands National Park

*Thursday, May 10, 2018*


On Sundays, I plan to post various walks that I took on our Four Corners trip as well as hikes I take locally while training for the Camino de Santiago; I may also post on other unrelated subjects. I will use these posts to participate in Jo’s Monday Walks or any other challenges that catch my fancy.

This post is in response to Jo’s Monday Walk: Cotherstone and the Teesdale Way.