Canyonlands National Park - Island in the Sky District

Views from Island in the Sky reach from the depths of the Green and Colorado rivers to the heights of distant mountaintops and above. They stretch across canyon after canyon to the horizon 100 miles distant. A broad, level mesa wedged between the Green and Colorado, Island in the Sky serves as Canyonlands' observation tower. From its many overlooks sightseers absorb over-whelming vistas of almost incomprehensible dimensions. Closest to the mesa's edge is the White Rim, a nearly continuous sandstone bench 1,200 feet below the Island. Another 1,000 feet beneath the White Rim are the rivers, shadowed by sheer canyon cliffs, and beyond them lie The Maze and The Needles.

Outside the park's boundary three jagged mountain ranges abruptly break the pattern of the flat-topped canyon landscape. To the east rise the La Sals; to the south, the Abajos; to the southwest, the Henrys. Rain that passes by the arid soil of Canyonlands keeps these mountains mantled in forests of pine and fir. On the Island, vegetation is much sparser. Open fields of Indian rice grass and other grasses and pinyon-juniper pygmy forests survive on less than 10 inches of rain a year.

Buck Canyon Mesa Arch Dead Horse SP

Coyotes, foxes, squirrels, ravens, hawks, and smaller birds share the food of these lands. Herds of cattle and horses once grazed these desert pastures, too; abandoned water troughs and fences are reminders of those bygone days. Rocky ledges that lead down to and below the White Rim are a favorite habitat for many of Canyonlands' desert bighorn sheep. From the Island mesa the sheep look like tan, fly-sized specks; only the sharpest observers will detect them. The many trails around the Island are good places to encounter wildlife, especially at dawn, at dusk, or during the cooler months. Trails also lead to striking vistas, arches, and other outstanding geological features.

Geologists would probably single out Upheaval Dome as the oddest geologic feature on Island in the Sky. Measuring 1,500 feet deep, the Dome does not look like a dome at all, but rather like a crater. How was Upheaval Dome created? One popular theory suggests that slow moving underground salt deposits pushed layers of sandstone upward.

Another more recent theory suggests that the Dome was created when a meteor hit. Whatever the origin of the Dome, the present-day landform of a jagged-edged crater is the result of erosion.

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