Dan and Hannah Hike Whale Rock and to Upheaval Dome in Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Do you remember the scene at the at the end of “Thelma & Louise” (1991) where the car sails out into the canyon? Well, it was filmed in Canyonlands National Park?

Even though Louise (Susan Sarandon) wonders at the start of this clip if they are at the Grand Canyon, they are not. Click on this three-minute link of that scene.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66CP-pq7Cx0

Returning from hiking the windswept Grand View Point trail (Click here for that blog.), Hannah and I with our daughter Molly, her hubby Tip, and our grandsons, Owen and Max, lunch in our Toyota Sienna mini-van as we drive to Whale Rock, a favorite hike of Hannah’s and mine from five years ago.  This one mile, 100′ of elevation gain trail leads up the side of a sandstone dome, ending with broad views of the Island in the Sky section of the park. There are indeed steep drop-offs.

Whale Rock from a distance in Canyonlands National Park
Describing what we have in store for ourselves this mid-April afternoon.
Whale Rock from the trailhead
Atop Whale Rock
Our ever-enthusiastic traveling party (Molly, Hannah, Owen, Max, and Tip)

Molly at the far end of Whale Rock with the park road in the distance

With three short hikes at Canyonlands in the books this mid-April 2022 Tuesday, we head to the final ranger recommended hike – the Upheaval Dome.

Finding a parking spot next to a compact car with Nebraska plates, I see intertwined rings chalked in white on the side window with “just married”  written on the back window. Turning to the couple in their mid-20s, I ask them if this is their car.  The smile and nod it is.  We learn that they were married four days ago on Friday, April 15 in Nebraska, the very date his parents and his grandparents were married.  Tradition! (Sing that word as if you are Teyve in Fiddler on the Roof.)

Hannah smiles at them and says, gesturing to us two, This is what 50 good years of marriage looks like (Our 50th anniversary is July 1, 2022).  That’s my girl.  The new bride then asks what bit of advice do you have for us? 

My two cents:  If you have kids, be sure to attend to the two of you.  Do not sacrifice your relationship as a couple for the kids.  Kids will be better off if your relationship is strong.

Hannah adds,  Remember why you first fell in love with the other one

If you are, were, or will be married, what would be your advice be to newlyweds?  Please respond in the comments section below.

Sandstone trail greets us as the path to the Upheaval Dome begins as Max hydrates from his Camelback

As we head out from the trailhead on our 1.6 mile roundtrip hike to canyon overlooks, I spot a guy with a Mothman tee shirt.  Who wouldn’t ask what is Mothman? 

He explains it’s a Big Foot-type phenomenon in southeastern Ohio in the 1960s, exactly  when Hannah and I were students at the College of Wooster in northeastern Ohio.  I had never heard of Mothman.

He said check it out on Google, and we did.

On November 15, 1966, two young couples from Point Pleasant, West Virginia (on the Ohio border) told police they saw a large grey creature whose eyes “glowed red” when the car’s headlights picked it up. They described it as a “large flying man with ten-foot wings.”

(From a faithful reader of this blog, my buddy Scott, I learned Mothman (2002)is a movie with Richard Gere. See Wikipedia comments about this sci-fi thriller.)

Carrying on, we hike to the overlooks to wrap up our day in Canyonlands National Park. 

Upheaval Dome

We hike to the promontory at the upper center of the picture

Our always willing family up for a photo op

Canyonlands delivers. Don’t miss it!

Re: MothmanSupernatural thriller focusing on a journalist whose wife experienced a strange moth-like vision immediately before she was killed in a car accident. Two years later, driving to an interview, he suddenly finds himself hundreds of miles out of his way in the remote town of Point Pleasant, where there has been a proliferation of Mothman’ sightings. His research concludes that the visions are omens of disaster.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Mesa Arch and Grand View Point in Canyonlands National Park, Utah

A full kitchen and dining table for six in our VRBO at Rim Village in south Moab gives Max a chance to shine with morning scrambled eggs. 

Scrambled eggs a la Max

Breakfast at N-4 condo in Rim Village, Moab, Utah (Five stars!) before we head to Canyonlands

As a Biblical name for the land just short of the Promised Land, Moab, Utah is no quiet western outpost.  There are many major chain motels, restaurants galore, four wheel adventure stores, Colorado river rafting and condos, condos, condos.  These getaway townhouses seem to be solely built for people like us looking for an outdoor vacation in eastern Utah. 

This mid-April 2022 morning we are off to Canyonlands National Park, 45 minutes north and west of Moab.

Dan, Molly, Owen, Tip, Max, and Hannah

No longer is Canyonlands the little sister to Arches.  Though we don’t need a reservation to enter the park as we did In Arches National Park, we have come at popular time of year – school vacation week in the Northeast, which includes Massachusetts where our grandsons, third grade Owen and second grade Max attend school and our daughter Molly rocks as a math specialist in an elementary school.

Asking the park ranger what she would recommend for hiking, she says our three signature hikes are Mesa Arch, Grand View Point, and Upheaval Dome.  We’ll hit the first two before lunch, and third at the end of our hiking day.

The desert landscape on the way to Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch is regularly used for advertising because of its spectacular-ness (see the end of this blog).  It’s a simple half mile with little elevation gain to the arch, which makes it uber-popular.  Perched at the edge of a cliff with vast views of canyons, rock spires, and the La Sal Mountains in the distance, Mesa Arch spans fifty feet across atop a 500-foot vertical cliff.

Mesa Arch
Magnificint Mesa Arch

9 AM at Mesa Arch (Tip, Max, Owen, Molly, Hannah, and Dan)
Mesa Arch is to the right of this map

Driving through to the end of the road in Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands, we have little traffic and no trouble finding parking at the trailhead for Grand View Point.  See the map below for the two other districts of the park with different entrances).

At the trailhead of the Grand View Point one mile trail with Owen, Max, Molly, Hannah, and Tip

With 15-20 mph winds buffeting us, we take the promontory trail between the canyon created by the Colorado River and the one created by the Green River.

The rocky sandstone trail to the promontory (in the distance) of the Grand View Point trail
Dan and Hannah away out West in Canyonlands National Park

Solid chunks of rock, three-layer cairns guide us between the canyons below for the one mile hike out. 

Owen and his Omi
The Grand View Point trail

From the viewpoint at 6,080 feet elevation, you can see distant mountains, canyons, basins, and the White Rim Road.

One grand view towards the Green River Canyon

Weeks after we returned from Utah, this image popped up on the DailyOM blog that I get for inspiration each day. The Mesa Arch!

Dan and Hannah Hike in Canyonlands National Park in Utah

With one full day of hiking under my belt without any left knee pain, I am giddy and ready to go for the gold in eastern Utah!  Prior to our hike, I’ll do my hammy stretches, take my Tylenol, and slip on my compression sleeve – a dream threesome of preparation.

Can map of five parks

Hannah and I have history with Canyonlands National Park.  In 1993, with our kids, Will (9), Robyn (11), and Molly (13), we drove cross country from Maine throughout the American West: putting up two tents each night (a tent for Hannah and me and one for the kids), we learned the inexpensive joy of hiking and Coleman stove cuisine.

Camping at Devils Garden Campground in the Arches National Park, we five took a side trip to Canyonlands National Park, hiked some forgettable mountainside of stone, and left without the Canyonlands making much of an impression on us.

Can 1 D and H at sign for Can

Let’s be real, we didn’t give Canyonlands a fair shake.  Today we are back to right that wrong; to make up for that dismissive disregard of this treasure of trails.

Can Currys

Think of the Canyonlands as the little brother Seth Curry, a successful pro in his own right for the Dallas Mavericks, but dwarfed by his two-time MVP, NBA champion rock star brother, Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors.   Though Canyonlands plays second fiddle, let me tell you, it’s a helluva stringed instrument on its own.  It is a national park on a modest scale, without the delays, long lines, and circus feel that comes with the Arches; its distinctive trails across stony landscapes rock the senses.  (You saw what I did there, right?)

Can 2D H tucked in rock

Hannah tucked away just off the trail

Arriving at the visitor center at Canyonlands, at 930A we meet a less than enthused ranger.  (Come on honey, fake it till you make it.  I get that you are probably recommending the same %#&*# hiking trails hour after hour, day after day; but choosing to be Debbie Downer? – how is that working for you?).   Despite her sullen demeanor, she does steer us to three of the park’s signature hikes.

Can 1A trail to Mesa Arch

Trail to Mesa Arch

By the way, Hannah buys post cards afterward and they ask her if she would like to round up her purchase to the next dollar as a donation to the park.  How cool is that!  So, a sweet $0.83 goes to support what Ken Burns calls our National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

Can 1B Mesa Arch

Morning at Mesa Arch

Five miles down the park road, we find a spot at the modest Mesa Arch parking area for 18 cars.  At 945A, we have a short and sweet 0.5-mile loop hike out to the arch, bustling with families of preschoolers and foreign guests, often from Europe. At the start of the trail, we see a tube with Mesa Arch brochures for 50 cents each.  Come on, who has coins in this day and age!  Ah, but the park service is wise beyond its years.

First, no one has coins!   Second, the park is encouraging patrons to reach out to fellow hikers and treat one another by buying two brochures for a dollar, then giving one away!  Brilliant!  So, with my shiny greenback, I look for someone to approach the tube.  Within 60 seconds, three folks from North Carolina approach.  At this point, I swoop in and say, I have a dollar to pay for your brochure and ours.

Can 1C D by cairns at Mesa Arch

Cairn on the trail to Mesa Arch

And then they do the unexpected.  They don’t say, No, no; they don’t say, We couldn’t let you; they say, Thank you.  A simple thank you.  I love me some Tarheels.

The loop trail to Mesa Arch is well-marked with red stone edges bracketing the trail.  Since it is such a short trail, it draws hikers of all shapes and sizes.  It begins a trend of great, family-friendly hikes in Canyonlands National Park.

Check out the video.  


Can 2 H on trail to Upheavel

On the way to Upheaval #1

Jumping back into the car (we can be quite the enthusiastic couple, hence the jumping), we head to the second ranger recommendation; Upheaval Dome Trails #1 and #2, two miles of hiking over red rock trails and massive stone formations.  Guided by cairns (i.e., piled rocks directing hikers over stony landscapes), we look out over the Green River here in eastern Utah.

Can 2 H on trail to Upheavel 2

On the way to Upheaval #2

Twenty minutes later on the trail, a woman says, Are you from New York?  Seeing my ever-present Ithaca College white shirt, I say, I married a New York girl and our son works at Ithaca College; to which she replies, I work for legal services in Binghamton (NY) and we have an office in Ithaca.

Can 2B D and H with Suzanne

Hannah, Dan, and Suzanne in front of the Upheaval Dome

Brighter than many assume, I put two and two together and make the connection that our niece Lauren (married to my brother Richard’s kid, Jon) works for legal services in Binghamton!  It turns out Suzanne has worked with Lauren for years.

Cue the Disney music of It’s a Small World After All…  The mini-moral of this story is pick your hiking gear appropriately to make the most of chance connections.  By the way, I make that sartorial choice of white when hiking because white stands out in pictures in the wilderness.

Can 3A H at Whale

Hannah in front of Whale Rock

Hike #3 is not a cranky ranger recommendation, but it’s a winner.  A mile down the road from Upheavals 1 and 2, we are taken by the massive Moby Dick stone monolith – the appropriately named Whale Rock.  Hiking a short mile round-trip up the spine of the massive stone behemoth, we have another family hike in a family-friendly park.

Can 4A D at Grandview point

Grandview Point before a storm

Weary in the early afternoon, we push on to hike #4, the Grand Dame of Canyonlands, the classic Grandview Point Overlook Trail.  With the gray/black storm clouds building across the canyon, Hannah and I have another red sandstone trail over stony outcroppings, guided by cairns.

Can 4B H on Grandview Trail

Overlooking the canyon on the Grandview Point Trail

With the storms moving our way, we wonder if we’ll make the mile out and the mile back before the deluge.  Check out this video from Grandview Point showing the enormity and isolation of this area.

Hiking along with Lady Luck today, we make it back to our rented Nissan Altima ten minutes before the rain has her way, this eastern Utah summer afternoon.