In March 1883, the Denver & Rio Grande railroad joined with the Rio Grande Western railroad near Green River, Utah, providing rail transportation to southeastern Utah. This, combined with the removal of Native Americans to reservations during the late 1800's and early 1900's, nurtured the growth of farming and ranching communities such as Moab and Bluff. With the Utes removed to the Uinta Reservation, Mormon settlers reclaimed the abandoned pioneer community of Moab, and Mormons from the town of Bluff settled Blanding, Monticello, and La Sal.
The first Europeans to permanently settle southeast Utah
were ranchers. From
the 1880's until 1975, much of Canyonlands was used for ranching, and
features in each district of the park bear the names of these early cowboys.
Deb Taylor, Al Holman, John Shafer and many others grazed both cattle and sheep around what is now the Island in the Sky.
Don Cooper, Mel Turner, D.L. Goudelock and Joe Titus ranched the Indian Creek area until 1914, when their holdings under the Indian Creek Cattle Company were bought by a pair of brothers named Scorup and Sommerville. Headquarted at the Dugout Ranch, just outside the Needles District, the Indian Creek Cattle Company operates today under ownership of the Nature Conservancy.
The Biddlecomes, Ekkers, Tidwells and Chaffins are names common to the Maze, and A.C. Ekker continues to ranch inside the Orange Cliffs Unit of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area today. In addition to cattle, the rugged country around Canyonlands harbored cattle rustlers and other outlaws. Robbers Roost, a mesa top west of the Maze, served as a secluded refuge for Robert Leroy Parker (Butch Cassidy), Tom and Bill McCarthy, Matt Warner and others.
Due to the rugged topography of the Canyonlands area, much of it was accessible only by foot or horse until the Uranium boom of the 1950's. With the growth of the country's nuclear arms program, the Atomic Energy Commission offered monetary incentives for the discovery and delivery of Uranium ore. Certain rock layers in Canyonlands contain Uranium, and prospectors built many exploratory roads on public lands in search of radioactive "gold". Many of these routes, including the White Rim Road at the Island in the Sky, are popular four-wheel-drive roads today; others exist as scars that are slowly revegetating.
In the 1950's and early 60's, Arches National Monument Superintendent Bates Wilson began advocating for the creation of a "Grand View National Park" in what is now Canyonlands. Wilson first visited the area by horse in 1951, and spent four years working on a National Park Service archaeological investigation of the Needles District. The Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, visited the area in 1961, and began lobbying Capitol Hill for a national park on what were then Bureau of Land Management lands.
On September 12, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed
Public Law 88-590 establishing Canyonlands National Park
PLANE - The closest regional airport is Grand Junction, Colorado, about 90 minute drive from Canyonlands.
CAR -The park is located about 15 miles from Moab, Utah, and is easily accessible off I-40.
Weather & Climate
Weather can be very hot during the summer, with temperatures over 100 degrees possible. Winters are generally mild, with highs in the 50s to 60s, and lows near freezing.
Visitor Center is handicap accessible.
Willow Flat Campground
Open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis. There are twelve sites with tables, fire grills and vault toilets. The 1 mi/1.6 km access road is unpaved. Firewood and water are not available. Maximum group size is ten people, with a limit of two vehicles per group. Sites are $5 per night.
The Island in the Sky overlooks canyon country from a high mesa top over a thousand feet above the surrounding terrain. The Island is the easiest district to visit in a short period of time, offering many pullouts with spectacular views of the other districts and other features along the paved scenic drive.
Hiking trails and four-wheel-drive roads access other spectacular views, geological formations, and backcountry areas for day or overnight trips.
The drive out to the end of the road to the "Grand View Point" takes roughly one hour from the turn off from route 191. The road winds along the high mesa, offering many viewpoints and turnoffs in order to gaze out at the vast canyons and beautiful vistas that make up Canyonlands.
The Island is a challenging place to backpack. The landscape below the mesa top is a mixture of talus slopes and vast basins without any reliable water sources. Some routes lead below the White Rim Road to the rivers, but river water is silty and difficult to purify. All overnight routes involve a descent of over 1,000 feet, except the Murphy Point zone. Backpackers must camp at-large unless traveling along the Syncline Trail where there is a designated site. A permit is required for all overnight trips.
There are 17 designated trails found in the Island in the Sky District. They range from the short "Grand View Point Trail" that goes for 2 miles out to the end of the mesa to a 10 mile trek on the "Whilhite Trail". Please check the Visitor Center for information on all trails before setting out on hiking.
The name Moab is found in the bible and stands for a land just short of the Promised Land. When Mormon settlers came through this area in the 1800s, they found a similar location as described in the bible. With the Green River flowing through the Moab area, the area is a uniquely green, fertile area compared to the surrounding areas.
Moab today is found within Grand County and is home to roughly 5,000 year round residents. The economy now revolves almost completely around tourism and Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. This was not always the case, Moab became one of the centers for Uranium Mining during the Cold War. This has left some areas dessimated by the Uranium mining, with areas that are now part of the Super Fund lists.