Canyonlands – “the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth”

It’s been a long time since my last blogpost, in which we visited the Lena Delta in Siberia’s frozen North. This time round, we are looking at a place that could hardly be any more different. Today’s journey will take us to the hot and dusty Canyonlands National Park in the US, a place described by author Edward Abbey, a frequent visitor, as “the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth”. After reading the story behind this amazing satellite image, you may find some new inspiration how you can bring the essence of this extraordinary American landscape into your own home.

Canyonlands National Park is in the American state of Utah. The colourful landscape of the park has been eroded into numerous canyons, mesas and buttes (small hills with flat tops and steep or even vertical sides). In particular, the park has been shaped by both the Colorado River and the Green River, with the confluence between the two rivers located in the centre of the park.


The two rivers divide Canyonlands into three areas, each with its own character. Island in the Sky, an extensive mesa, is located in the north of the park, between Colorado and Green river.

(sunset view from top of Island in the Sky, photo by Jacob W Frank / NPS)

The Needles district is located east of the Colorado river and is named after the red rock pinnacles which dominate this area. These pillars of rock have been exposed over time through the erosion of the softer sandstone surrounding it.

(the Needles district, photo by Neal Herbert / NPS)

The Maze, located west of the confluence between Colorado and Green river, is the area of the national park which is most difficult to access. Indeed, it is considered one of the most remote and inaccessible places of the US.

("Chocolate Drops" in the Maze, photo by Kait Thomas / Wikimedia - 2014)

History & Culture

Native American groups of hunter-gatherers roamed the area where the national park is located today as early as 8,000 BC. Little in terms of artefacts or lasting structures remains from those times. However, these early nomads left intriguing rock art, some of the best examples surviving until today on the cliff walls of Horseshoe Canyon, a geographically detached part of the Canyonlands National Park.

(The Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon, photo by Dmitri Lytov / Wikimedia - 2007)

About 2,000 years ago, the hunter-gatherers started to rely more and more on domesticated animals and plants for food, growing maize, squash and beans and keeping dogs and turkey. Traces of the Ancestral Puebloans can be found across the national park, but mostly in the Needles district.

For early European explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Canyonlands were more of an obstacle rather than a destination. In the early 1800’s, trappers who were searching the western rivers of the US for beavers and otters succeeded in finding a route between New Mexico and California, today known as the Old Spanish Trail.

The first settlements in southeast Utah were developed through efforts by the Mormon church. In 1855, Mormons set up a mission in today’s Moab. After conflicts with a local tribe, the Utes, Moab was abandoned. In 1878, settlers returned and established a permanent settlement. Today, Moab is a recreational hotspot and serves as a popular launching point for visitors to the Canyonlands National Park

In the 1950’s, America’s nuclear arms programme created an increased demand for uranium. To encourage mining in the uranium-rich but inaccessible canyon county of Utah, the government offered monetary incentives and built more than 1,000 kilometres of road. Although the output in terms of uranium remained meagre, the roads built made many of the park’s numerous natural sights accessible for the first time. By opening canyon county to travel, the miners blazed the trail for the creation of a national park.

Despite its long history and amazing natural scenes, the Canyonlands National Park is relatively young. In 1961, Secretary of the Interior Steve Udall was travelling to a conference at Grand Canyon National Park. While flying across the confluence between Colorado and Green river, he was shown the potential building site for a new dam. However, where others saw a great place for a dam, he saw natural beauty worth protecting. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson established Canyonlands National Park as a new national park.

The National Park Today

Today, Canyonlands serves as a popular destination for hikers, mountain bikers and backpackers. The landscape has also featured as the backdrop of many movies, such as “Mission Impossible”, “127” and several John Ford movies.

Another interesting fact is that – similar to our motif “Chott el Jerid” – Canyonlands has a connection to Star Wars (something I only discovered through doing the research for this blogpost). While the salt pan of Chott el Jerid in southern Tunisia provided the backdrop to the scene of Luke Skywalker’s home on Tatooine (Episode IV), the course for the pod races (Episode I) were animated based on Angel Arch, a landmark in the Needles district.

(photo by Adam Birken - 2009)

The Motif

Canyonlands was one of our first initial motifs. The satellite image depicts the Colorado river, just above the point where it meets the Green river. What makes this image special to us are the strong, red colour of the rock, the steep cliff walls of the canyon as well as the snake-like shape of the river, winding its way through the rock. The attentive observer will even discover the bright green spots of vegetation along the water, as well as the different layers of the rock. The shadows along the top of the cliffs add an interesting effect to the image. In fact, I personally like the image so much, the poster beat off competition from some of the other images in our web shop and made it on the wall of my kitchen.

(poster "Canyonlands" in my own kitchen)

I hope you enjoyed reading this blogpost and also fell in love with the Canyonlands National Park. In case you ever have the chance to visit the national park, I would highly encourage you to visit the Colorado River Overlook in the Needles district of the park, just east of the Confluence. And if you do so, make sure to send us a nice photo!

If you would like to receive notifications on new blog posts in the future, please make sure to subscribe to our mailing list!

And finally, if you would like to bring a bit of the flair of the Canyonlands into your own home, you can find the motif both as poster or premium print in our shop.


Satellite Image (c) eoVision / DigitalGlobe

#USA #river #Canyonlands #Utah #satelliteimage

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