Friday, September 25, 2015

Canyonlands National Park: What to do with kids

Canyonlands National Park is ginormous. It's so huge it has three separate districts, each nearly 80 miles away from the other. We visited the Island in the Sky District, which is most popular due to its close proximity to Arches National Park and Moab, Utah. The Needles District is the Southern portion of the park and the Maze District is only accessible via off road vehicle. That is how primitive this park is, you can spend days and days in the park and only see a small sliver of its grandness. We spent about 6 hours in Island of the Sky and were able to complete two nice hikes, check out a couple of jaw dropping overlooks, and spend lots of time refueling at the Visitor Center. During our time at the park I couldn't help but notice we were the only people with children. No lie. We did not see another child the entire time. Even the park ranger made a comment about that. Hikers were cheering us on ("Go Family!") and giving our kids candy (as a reward for hiking 2 miles). Since kids must be such a rarity in Canyonlands, here's a fool proof way to make sure your little ones enjoy their trip.

Explore the wonderful Educational Tools at the Visitor Center and become a Junior Ranger! I'm probably sounding like a broken record by now, but of all the National Parks we visited Canyonlands had the most crucial Visitor Center. I think it is the only place in the entire park that has running water. We stopped three times during our visit. On the third and final visitor center stop Ben sat down with the big(ish) kids and spent a good twenty minutes exploring the hands on Educational tools they offer. They have dried pressed desert plants, animal track games, artistic info on how the soil grows, and -- of course -- a park movie detailing the geology and history of the area. I really think of all the park visitor centers, this one offered the best Educational resources.

Also (I'll repeat), purchasing an item or two from the visitor center is a great way to support the park. We found an Audobon book to help us identify life in the Southwest desert. Reid loved it!

And there is a lot of fragile life in this beautiful desert
*both photos taken while on GVP hike*

 Shafer Canyon Overlook and "The Neck" offer great views of deep canyon vistas. The scenic drive through Island of the Sky is basically a drive atop a small portion of the Colorado Plateau. You can see as much of the area as your eye allows. You are at the highest points of these intense canyons and there are few words that accurately describe the wonder of it all. The Neck of the plateau is a narrow passing, just big enough to fit the road. Here you can see both sides of the canyon surrounding the plateau. It is nearly impossible to get adequate pictures of the view, so you'll just have to enjoy this one of Ben and I, proving we were there. Though there isn't much to explore around The Neck, it is worth stopping. You can always take in more of Shafer Canyon outside your car than in.

Grand View Point marks the end of the scenic drive, but not the tip of the plateau. Though the view at GVP is magnificent, if you really want to reach the end of the Island plateau you'll have to take the two mile (round trip) GVP hike. We did it as a family, Ben carrying Nell; I Coraline; and Reid walking the entire thing himself. 
Well, except for these 100 steps, where Ben carried him.
Neither my words nor my photos will do the GVP hike any justice. Ben and I both considered this one of the best hikes of our entire National Park (and State Park) tours. Solitary. Dramatic. Vast. Breathtaking. The experience will remind you there is a God. He is Grand. You are nothing. And yet, you are unique and known to Him. And if you aren't spiritual, don't worry, the experience will still shake your soul.

We had a chat on hike safety before we went; don't wander away from mom or dad!

Just taking a bathroom break off the edge of the world.

I can't imagine what it must have been like to work for the Conservation Corps and build trails like this. Hiking these parks always reignites my patriotism. I'm grateful for this wonderful country and our desire to preserve these beautiful places and share them with anyone willing and able to explore their grandeur. 

The end of the hike requires some mild rock climbing. Ben and I took turns going up to the peak. I didn't quite make it to the tip top. My nerves just wouldn't let me (even though a kind French tourist was willing to hold my hand as I finished the last five steps of the climb). After Ben and I each took our turns, Reid decided he didn't want to make it all that way and not see the very top. So Ben took him back up. He was such a trooper to do this hike with us! And his pride was all the reward a parent could ask for. 

I wish there was a way to play the panoramic shots we took. It really is such an amazing thing to have a 360 view at that final tip of the plateau. The below photo was taken near the half way mark, and the mesa jetting out from the left is the starting point. You can kind of make out the trees, but what you can't see is the whole thing is crawling with tourists.

Mesa Arch is a must do hike. If there is any chance you are going to be in the park during sunrise, make it to Mesa arch for that spectacular moment. We were there closer to sunset, but it was still gorgeous.

This hike is a short loop that will only take 20 to 30 minutes of your time. There is no reason Nell (our 2 year old) couldn't have done it herself ... but she didn't. 

Though Reid doesn't look too happy in that photo, he did enjoy the hike. He didn't want to stop playing with this log and stick he found. I love when nature is my child's playground. 

He also had a lot of fun finding Crypto bacteria. It was something we learned about at the Visitor Center. The black tips on the soil is actual fragile desert life. Watch your step! 

Headed out of the park, there are a couple stops on the spur road. We tried to catch a gorgeous sunset at the Green River Overlook (the best spot for sunsets). But the sky turned into a dud and none of the clouds had any color change. It was kind of ironic, since all our park visits had been cloudless. We tried to catch the set in Capitol Reef and there weren't any clouds, and then when we tried again in Canyonlands there were too many. Still, baby and I had an intimate moment with the Creator of all this beauty. 

Seriously, what a sweet little trooper to let us drag her all over these vast spaces. While she and I enjoyed the last few moments of sunlight, Ben prepped the other two for bedtime. And they all slept quiet soundly for the entire 4 hour drive across Central, Utah.

We did not make it to Whale Rock or Upheaval Dome, but one of those three hikes is worth trying if you have the time. The Rock is slick but does have a railing to hold onto. The Dome has two hikes, one short and one longer, but both give you a fascinating look into a crater that was likely created by a meteor that struck Earth millions of years ago. The geology of that corner of the park (both found at the end of the spur road) is intriguing and sure to engage the young minds in your family.

I am so grateful we were able to make these park visits. While Coraline and I were enjoying our moment of peace at the Green River overlook a sweet woman reminded me that one day I'll get my body back. It was an interesting comment, one I know many women take offense to. But in that moment I knew exactly what she meant. She had once had three small children she stayed at home with and cared for each day. She knew what it was like to feel worn and stretched. She knew what it means to sacrifice your body for the needs of small, demanding children. She and I both watched each other in awe, admiration, and appreciation. Our bodies, and the tiny ones we are given to care for, are truly amazing.

1 comment:

Pa said...

I've always wanted to spend time in Canyonlands. Thanks for giving me a great tour.

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