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Island in the Sky: Taylor Canyon & Upheaval Canyon

End of Trails at the Island in the Sky
Friday – Sunday, December 13-15, 2019

After I finished hiking all of the official trails in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park last year, I decided in November that I was going to do the same with the official trails in the Island in the Sky. At the time I had hiked most of the trails on top of the Island, but had not hiked any that went down to the White Rim. Well, after four more trips to the Island in the Sky over the past two months (Over the Edge, From West to East, Syncline Loop Trail) I have now finished that goal this weekend with the Alcove Spring Trail on Sunday morning. But don’t worry, just because I have now hiked all the official trails in the Island in the Sky doesn’t mean that I won’t be returning to this district of Canyonlands since there is plenty of backcountry to keep exploring! As a matter of fact, I already have permits for a trip planned in early February that I am looking forward to.

Last month I obtained camping permits for this trip so that I could hike the three trails that I still had remaining from Taylor Canyon and Upheaval Bottom. I was hoping that I would be able to hike the Alcove Spring Trail from the bottom to the top, but the weather forecast for the weekend ended up changing my plans. I was still able to hike the three trails, but not in the order I had planned. I left work on Friday afternoon and headed back to the Island in the Sky, as I’ve become accustomed to doing lately. However, instead of camping outside the park, this time I took the Mineral Bottom Road down the switchbacks to the Green River and then followed the White Rim Road to the Labyrinth campsite near the mouth of Taylor Canyon. The road was a little wet and muddy along the river, but it wasn’t bad at all and I saw no other vehicles or campsites after leaving the pavement. I was tired when I arrived at camp so I went to bed early. The full moon was out on this Friday the 13th in Labyrinth Canyon!

The temperature didn’t drop much overnight and it was pretty nice out when I got up before sunrise on Saturday morning.

Blue Hour Along The Green River

My Jeep at the Labyrinth B campsite before sunrise. This is a nice campsite along the river that I would stay at again.

Labyrinth Camp Morning

There was a little color in the sky over the river before the sun came up.

Labyrinth Canyon Dawn

Once the color in the clouds was gone I started driving to the end of the spur road in Taylor Canyon.

Taylor Canyon Road

At the end of the road I parked at the trailhead to get started my first hike. Not only was I hoping to finish hiking all of the official trails in the Island in the Sky this weekend, but the short spur road into Taylor Canyon is actually the only road in all of Canyonlands National Park that I had not driven before, so now I have also driven every road in Canyonlands, too! I completed two goals on one trip!

Taylor Canyon Trailhead

This is where my plans changed for the weekend. I was originally going to hike the Alcove Spring Trail today and then spend the night at the Taylor Campsite nearby, but the weather forecast was calling for rain and snow overnight and I was a little concerned about driving out on Sunday. Since I knew I could always hike the Alcove Spring Trail from the top of the mesa no matter what the weather did, I decided to concentrate on the two trails that would be easier to hike from the bottom today, and then I would drive up to the top of the switchbacks and check the weather again later to decided where I was going to spend the night. With that in mind I started the day by hiking the short Moses and Zeus Trail that loops around the base of these impressive sandstone spires.

Leaving the trailhead and starting my hike in Taylor Canyon.

Canyon Morning

The sun came out and the clouds were clearing as I came to this view of Zeus, Moses and Aphrodite.

Zeus and Moses

Taylor Canyon Wash

Taylor Canyon Wash

I found this one petroglyph of a sheep nearby, too.

Sheep Petroglyph

Starting my climb up the Moses and Zeus Trail.

Moses Trail

Looking back over the trail on the ridge with an expansive view of lower Taylor Canyon.

Moses and Zeus Trail

Looking the other direction up Taylor Canyon.

Taylor Canyon Below

Crossing a narrow ridge along the trail.

Knife Edge

Aphrodite came into view as I hiked along the southern base of the spires.

Broken Wall

When I reached the saddle I had an even better view of Aphrodite.

Aphrodite

As I followed the loop to the north side of the spires, they cast their shadows across the canyon.

Spire Shadows

Hiking below Moses, the tallest of the spires.

Below Moses

When I returned to my Jeep I drove back out of Taylor Canyon to a trailhead located in Upheaval Bottom. Here was the start of the Upheaval Canyon Trail. This shorter trail connects to the Syncline Loop Trail, which I had hiked last Saturday. I was just going to hike to the intersection with that trail and then return.

Following the trail along the big sandy wash in Upheaval Bottom.

Upheaval Bottom

Much of the hike just followed the sandy wash at the bottom of Upheaval Canyon, but the canyon did narrow up a little bit shortly before reaching the junction with the Syncline Loop Trail.

Upheaval Canyon Narrows

Here’s a view of the sign at the junction with the Syncline Loop, which was my turnaround point today.

Syncline Loop Junction

Hiking back down Upheaval Canyon.

Upheaval Canyon

As I was hiking back through Upheaval Bottom I noticed this large arch in the cliffs high above. I later learned that this is called London Bridge Arch or Buck Mesa Arch. I like how you can see the shadow of the arch on the cliff behind it.

London Bridge Arch

Back to the White Rim Road.

Road

At this point I started my drive back up to the top of the mesa where I would have cellular signal and could get an updated weather forecast to figure out my plans for the rest of the weekend.

White Rim Road

Stormy clouds over the Mineral Bottom Road.

Mineral Bottom Road

When I was able to check the weather, I found that the forecast was calling for a 60% chance of rain and snow overnight, and I believed it based on the darker clouds I was seeing in the sky. I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to spend the night down at the Taylor Campsite, and instead I would camp outside the park on the top of the mesa and hike the Alcove Spring Trail from the top. It was still early so I decided to head into Moab for an early dinner and then return to the Island in the Sky in time for sunset, just in case the sun did come out again.

As I drove back into the park I stopped at The Neck for this view over the South Fork of Shafer Canyon with the La Sal Mountains hidden in the clouds.

View From The Neck

I made a brief stop at the Buck Canyon Overlook.

Buck Canyon Overlook

The edge of the Island in the Sky.

Along The Edge

Then I drove over to the Green River Overlook to see what the view looked like from there.

Green River Overlook

I decided to hike to the top of Aztec Butte and hoped the sun might come out… It didn’t.

Aztec Butte

One of the granaries along the Aztec Butte Trail.

Aztec Granary

The sun never made an appearance this evening, so I hiked back down from the top of Aztec Butte and drove outside the park to find a place to spend the night. The temperature was dropping fast and the wind was picking up.

I slept pretty well overnight and woke up about an hour before sunrise so I could start hiking as soon as it started to get light out. It was cold, overcast and windy out this morning, but there was absolutely no rain or snow overnight! I guess I could have spent the night in Taylor Canyon, but it was too late for that now…

I started hiking down the Alcove Spring Trail as it was just starting to get light out.

Morning Descent

My first view of the massive alcove that contains the spring that the trail is named for.

Alcove View

Descending the trail below the alcove into Trail Canyon.

Alcove Spring Point

Since the sky was overcast for my entire hike I didn’t take many photos along the way, but as I neared Taylor Canyon and Zeus and Moses, I spotted this ‘Kilroy Was Here’ inscription from 1964.

Kilroy Was Here

After reaching the junction with the Moses and Zeus Trail that I had hiked on Saturday morning, I turned around and hiked back up Trail Canyon.

Trail Canyon Wash

Trail Canyon

Climbing back up the trail to the big alcove.

Below The Alcove

This old metal box was sitting near the trail. You can actually see where the Alcove Spring Trail descends in the background of this photo.

Alcove Spring Trail

Here’s a section of the trail that was blasted into the sandstone.

Blasted Trail

One last look at Alcove Spring as I climbed back up to the top of the mesa.

Alcove Spring

Finally, I reached the Alcove Spring Trail trailhead and had completed my goal of hiking all of the official trails in the Island in the Sky! I was really hoping to hike this one from the bottom this weekend, but since the weather forecast had changed my plans, I guess I ended up hiking all of the trails is this district of the park from the top of the Island to the bottom and then back up again!

Alcove Spring Trailhead

>> Taylor Canyon & Upheaval Canyon Photo Gallery

5 Comments

  1. goquesting
    goquesting December 17, 2019

    Some awesome shots in here. I love a good hiking quest!

  2. David
    David December 17, 2019

    I was eagerly checking to see if you were going to hike these this last weekend. O figured those were the ones that were left. Some shots of areas you don’t see as often, so this is a public service too!

    When I was looking at the park brochure map to follow along with your last posts I noticed there is actually an official trail shown going the entire length of Salt Creek in the Needles. Have you hiked all of that? Or did you drive it (I assume at one point it was a 4×4 trail even if it’s now closed to vehicles).

  3. David
    David December 17, 2019

    Nice! I will have to go back and read that post!

    If you haven’t already done all the official trails for the Maze and Horseshoe Canyon, those will be significantly smaller challenges to complete.

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat December 18, 2019

      I’ve hiked most of the trails in The Maze, but have a few left there. It’s going to require another couple day trip in the future which probably won’t happen for a while. The main challenge for the trails in The Maze is just getting to them! It’s not as easy to just drive there for a couple weekends like it was for the Island in the Sky.

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