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The Island In The Sky

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Since I already have plans and permits to spend time in The Needles and The Maze districts of Canyonlands National Park this spring, I thought it would be nice to spend a little quality time on the Island In The Sky, too. I recently realized that I haven’t done very much hiking in this part of the park yet and I really want to start changing that. This time I was not looking to hike all the way down to the White Rim and then climb back up, so I decided to start with the Neck Spring Trail and a few other shorter trails. I’ll definitely be coming back for some longer hikes later this year!

I left work on Friday afternoon and headed to Moab where I grabbed some dinner and topped off my fuel tank before heading up to the Island In The Sky. I found a campsite outside of the park and went to bed early so I could get up for sunrise on Saturday morning. The temperature this evening was very mild and stayed that way all night. I slept very well. On Saturday morning I woke up about an hour before the sunrise and drove into the park. I didn’t have any specific location planned for this morning aside from knowing that I didn’t want to revisit Mesa Arch since it would be too busy of a place for me. As I was driving into the park I decided to head over to the White Rim Overlook and take my chances there. I left the trailhead just as the early dawn light was beginning to show and hiked across the slender peninsula to the very end where I waited for the sun to rise. The temperature was still very mild this morning but the sky was filled with clouds as a cold front was moving into the area. There was a very small gap on the eastern horizon that the sun did break through, but it was only for a very brief time. It quickly disappeared and would remain overcast for much of the remainder of the day.

The sun is just about to make a very brief appearance over the horizon from the White Rim Overlook.

White Rim Overlook

Sunlight strikes the cliffs of the Island In The Sky with Junction Butte off to the left.

Brief Island Light

Warm morning light on sandstone near the White Rim Overlook.

Light Up The Stone

Warm tones on the red cliffs and cool blue clouds above. A beautiful sight!

Light On The Cliffs

Overlooking Gooseberry Canyon after the sun disappeared behind the cloud bank.

Gooseberry Canyon

Looking down on the White Rim Road and Monument Basin from the overlook before hiking back to the trailhead.

The White Rim

After returning to my Jeep at the trailhead, I drove back towards the entrance of the park and stopped at the Neck Spring Trail near the Shafer Canyon Overlook. I crossed the road and then followed the loop as it passed by a couple of springs, frozen waterfalls and some old troughs. I even followed a few deer along the trail for a little bit. Though the sky was overcast the entire time, the temperature out was still nice for much of the hike. However, as I returned to the trailhead the wind began to pick up and the temperature finally started to drop.

Crossing the road at the beginning of the trail.

Trail Crossing

The first old trough that I passed which is located just below The Neck.

The Neck Trough

A small frozen waterfall just below an unnamed spring.

Frozen Water

After climbing back up onto the top of the mesa I passed another trough and wondered how they got the water up here?

Trail Trough

Trough View

My question was soon answered after hiking a little further and coming across the remains of a structure that was used to pump water from Cabin Spring below. There were some cable grooves in the sandstone above the structure.

Sandstone Grooves

After crossing the paved road a second time I stopped to admire the view of the Shafer Trail switchbacks below which I’ve driven down many times.

Shafer Trail Switchbacks

After finishing the hike I headed over to the Buck Canyon Overlook as darker storm clouds started moving into the area.

Buck Canyon Overlook

Then I headed down the road toward Upheaval Dome and hiked the short trail to the top of Whale Rock, a large outcropping of sandstone.

Climbing Whale Rock

The view from the summit! As I was coming back down from the top it finally started to snow a little.

Whale Rock Summit

On my way over to the Green River Overlook the sky finally let loose and I was in a full-blown snowstorm.

Heavy Snow

I parked at the Green River Overlook parking lot and read a book for a while until the storm started to die down a little. Then I returned to the Buck Canyon Overlook to catch the end of the snowstorm.

Island Snowstorm

This raven kept and eye on me as I walked over to the overlook and then returned to my Jeep.

Raven In A Tree

With the storm now over I returned to the Green River Overlook one more time and saw that all the snow was on the top of the mesa and never reached the White Rim level below.

Green River Overlook

At this point it looked like the overcast skies were going to stick around until after sunset and I considered leaving the park and heading back to town for dinner. However, on my way out I stopped again at the Shafer Canyon Overlook and the Visitor Center and saw some signs that there might just be a sunset afterall…

The Shafer Trail in the clouds.

Shafer Trail In The Clouds

I was able to see the La Sal Mountains again.

Visible La Sals

Since it was looking like there might be a chance for a sunset, I turned around again and headed out to Grand View Point so I could hike to the very end. I’m glad I stuck around and didn’t leave because there turned out to be a pretty awesome sunset!

A view of Junction Butte from the very end of Grand View Point.

Junction Butte

Here comes the sun again…

Here Comes The Sun Again

A beautiful view over Murphy Hogback to Candlestick Tower as the sun came back out and the clouds started to clear up.

Grand View Point Sunset

Light on the needles in the distance.

Needles Light

Beautiful scenes unfolded in front of me as I hiked along the rim.

Boulder Light

Much of the snow had already melted by now, but it was still holding on to the vegetation.


The melting snow filled up all the potholes nicely.


Following the Grand View Point Trail back to the trailhead as the sun continued to set.

Grand View Point Trail

The red cliffs of Hatch Point were glowing in the distance.

Canyonlands Sunset

Sunset over Monument Basin

Sunset Over Monument Basin

Canyonlands In Pink

Canyonlands In Pink

One last view of Candlestick Tower at dusk as I was leaving the Island In The Sky. It had been a great day and I think I experienced just about every season within a matter of hours!

Candlestick Tower

>> The Island In The Sky Photo Gallery


  1. elisa36251
    elisa36251 February 21, 2018

    Some great shots, as always, Randy! We got permits to backpack into Needles this spring, too. I need to pick your brain on where to find some of those arches you mention in your Lavender Canyon post….

  2. Randy Brown
    Randy Brown February 21, 2018

    Good stuff, nice colors, looks like you had fun. What you shooting with?

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