What is Canyonlands National Park?

Jacob Queen

Canyonlands National Park is located in the southeastern section of Utah where the Colorado River and the Green River meet. As the name would suggest, the area is known for numerous canyons and other diverse geological features. This landscape was created over thousands of years as erosion from the two rivers and their smaller tributaries cut numerous channels into the earth. Canyonlands National Park covers approximately 527 square miles (about 1,365 square km) of land and is one of the more popular national parks in the state of Utah.

The Colorado and Green rivers offer rafting opportunities.
The Colorado and Green rivers offer rafting opportunities.

The park is generally broken up into four main districts with boundaries based on the paths of the rivers. North of the place where the rivers connect is the Island In The Sky, which is a mesa positioned well above most of the terrain. South of the Colorado River is the district called The Needles, which was named for the appearance of the sandstone pillars that are common in the area. West of the rivers is The Maze district, which is considered by many to be the most difficult terrain in the park. The areas of the two main rivers and the large canyons that surround them are also counted as a single, separate district.

Coyotes might be seen in Canyonlands National Park.
Coyotes might be seen in Canyonlands National Park.

One of the main attractions for some visitors to Canyonlands National Park is the hiking. There are numerous trails of different lengths and difficulties. The park also has campgrounds, mountain-biking trails, and many people enjoy rafting on the Colorado and Green rivers.

A man named Bates Wilson was largely responsible for initiating interest in creating the park. He was the superintendent of Arches National Monument from about 1949 through the early 1970s. Wilson discovered some archaeological sites in the southeastern wilderness of Utah, and started lobbying for the establishment of a national park. It took more than 10 years of advocacy; in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill into law that created Canyonlands National Park.

Much of the land that encompasses the park has been relatively devoid of human habitation over the centuries. The Native Americans and the early western pioneers considered the area to be a difficult wilderness in which to survive. Some parts of the park remain fairly primitive, with plenty of unpaved roads and terrain that hasn’t substantially changed in thousands of years.

Because the land is mostly harsh, Canyonlands National Park isn’t known for its wildlife diversity. As a general rule, only the most tenacious animals can survive in the area. Some of the larger wild animals that can be found are bighorn sheep, coyotes, mule deer, and white tailed antelope. There are also smaller animals living in the park that are well adapted to desert survival, including many species of rodents and reptiles.

Canyonlands National Park is located in the American West's "canyon country."
Canyonlands National Park is located in the American West's "canyon country."

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