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The White Rim: Airport Tower to Monument Basin

Friday – Sunday, February 5-7, 2021

While I had an amazing time supporting Diane and Jared as they biked the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park last October, I didn’t quite have enough time on that trip to get in all the hiking that I had wanted to do because they were riding faster than I had anticipated! Since I had a backpacking trip to The Needles last spring that was cancelled because of COVID and I needed to reschedule that permit or lose in the next few months, I thought it would be nice to head back on my own to the east side of the White Rim so I could make up the hikes I had skipped out on. Last year the weather for our hike from the White Crack to The Confluence in early February was very nice, so I thought I would head back the same weekend this year, too.

I only worked a half day on Friday and then left late in the morning to drive to Moab. I topped of my fuel tank in town and then headed down the Potash Road along the Colorado River to reach the White Rim since the Shafer Trail was closed. I stopped at a few overlooks and went on one short side trip along the way, but for the most part I took my time driving to the base of Airport Tower, where I had a permit to spend Friday night at the Airport A campsite. During the drive out to the White Crack last February I encountered a few patches of snow on the White Rim Road where it’s shaded on the north side of the cliffs between the Gooseneck Overlook and Colorado River Overlook, so I was surprised to find that section of the road free of snow and completely dry this time.

There were nice clouds above the canyon walls as I drove along the Colorado River this afternoon.

Sandstone & Clouds

A view of Jackson Butte from the Potash Boat Ramp as it started getting cloudier out.

Boat Ramp View

Since I had a little extra time today, I drove a short spur road below Pyramid Butte that went to an overlook of the Colorado River.

End of the Road

View from the Pyramid Butte Overlook.

Pyramid Butte Overlook

Following the Pyramid Butte Road back to the Potash Road.

Pyramid Butte Road

Pyramid Butte is visible in the distance from Thelma and Louise Point, which was previously known as Fossil Point.

Thelma & Louise Point

I was sure hoping these clouds would clear out just a little bit before sunset.

Clouds Over Canyonlands

Once I reached the Airport campsites I drove down the road just a little bit further and started hiking out to the point located between Lathrop Canyon and Buck Canyon for sunset.

Below Airport Tower

The clouds and light were looking nice as I followed the edge of the White Rim above Lathrop Canyon.

Following The Rim

Wandering across an expanse of White Rim sandstone. About an hour before sunset it started to get pretty windy out.

White Rim Wandering

When I reached the point I had a great view over the rugged landscape to Hatch Point.

Hatch Point Cliffs

The view over Meander Canyon to the Abajo Mountains was outstanding!

Airport Point View

Ledges in Buck Canyon.


Just as I had hoped, the light and clouds were very nice this evening!

View From the Edge

Canyonlands of Light

Canyonlands of Light

Colorado River Light

Although I couldn’t see the entire bend, you can still tell there’s a large bend in the river here.

Hidden Bend

Evening light over the Colorado River.

River View

Meander Canyon Sunset

Meander Canyon Sunset

Last light on the Needles Overlook.

Light on the Needles Overlook

A bit of color over the Blue Mountains as I hiked back to my Jeep.

Blue Mountain Sunset

I returned to my Jeep and then drove back to Airport A for the night. I had dinner and then read for a while before going to sleep pretty early. The sky cleared up after dark and the stars were bright, but it also stayed pretty windy out until sometime after I had fallen asleep.

I wanted to get an early start hiking on Saturday morning, so I woke up about an hour before sunrise, got ready and then drove over to the trailhead for the Lathrop Trail. The temperature out was pretty nice as it had only dropped down to 33 degrees, but as it started to get a little lighter out I could tell that something in the sky wasn’t quite right. It turned out that I was right and it was actually foggy out this morning. It wasn’t a heavy thick fog, but more of a light fog that seemed like smoke in the air.

Hiking through the light fog up the Lathrop Trail before sunrise.

Lathrop Trail

When the trail reached the top of the ridge, I walked to the other end and watched the sun come up.

Sunrise Through Fog

Light Fog in Lathrop Canyon

Light Fog in Lathrop Canyon

That’s Airport Tower on the left and I planned to hike along an old mining track that follows below the base of it.

Airport Tower View

Hazy Canyon View

Hazy Canyon View

There were nice views from the old mining road, even through the light fog.

Backcountry View

Along The Edge

Lovely layers through the fog.

Morning Layers

Canyonlands Fog

This is a view over the point I had hiked out to for sunset the night before.

Airport Point

Looking up for a closer view of Airport Tower.

Airport Tower

Hiking along the old mining road was a bit rougher than I had expected since there were a lot of rockfalls and washouts to cross. This washout was the end of the road for me.

Washed Out Road

There was a good view of Monster Tower and Washer Woman through the fog from this spot, though.

Monster Tower & Washer Woman

Foggy Island

Monster Rock

Monster Rock

After returning to the trailhead I decided to take a quick drive down Lathrop Canyon to the Colorado River. It’s been a long time since I drove down this road.

Lathrop Canyon Road

There was even a hazy view of Airport Tower from the mouth of the canyon.

Airport Tower Framed

It feels like just yesterday we were floating through here. I’m anxiously waiting to get back on the river in a few short months!

Colorado River Reflection

Looking up the river the other direction towards the sun you can see just how foggy it was down here. It kind of reminded me of the smoke we had over the summer.

Colorado River Fog

Next I hiked along an old faint road to the eastern edge of Monument Basin below Junction Butte and Grand View Point. The fog was finally clearing out by this point, but the wind had also picked up considerably.

Junction Butte

On the rim across from me I spotted a herd of bighorn sheep. It’s too bad I didn’t have my long lens with me!

Herd of Bighorn Sheep

For sunset I drove around to the western edge of Monument Basin and then walked along the rim for a while.

Monument Tops

Standing Rock

Standing Rock

Here’s a cool hoodoo I walked by.

Canyon Hoodoo

Monument Basin to the La Sal Mountains.

Monument Basin View

Following the rim back to my Jeep shortly before sunset.

Walking The Rim

I returned to my Jeep just after the sun dipped behind Junction Butte and then I drove back to the edge of Gooseberry Canyon since my permit for the second night was at the Gooseberry A campsite. Just like on Friday night, I had dinner, read for a while and then went to bed early. Thankfully the wind died down just after sunset this evening.

I woke up early again on Sunday morning and drove over to the head of the South Fork of Buck Canyon to watch the sunrise. The sky was clear this morning and the temperature had only dropped down to 32 degrees, so it never actually dropped down below freezing all weekend.

Looking down the South Fork of Buck Canyon.

South Fork of Buck Canyon

My Jeep on the White Rim Road as the sun illuminates the cliffs of the Island in the Sky.

White Rim Road Sunrise

Driving on top of a massive overhang at the head of the South Fork of Buck Canyon at sunrise.


I pulled out my long lens for a view of Mesa Arch from below as I drove by. If you look closely you can see people through the arch.

Mesa Arch From Below

I liked the three shadows cast onto the wall from Washer Woman and Monster Tower.

Three Shadows

Of course I made an obligatory, but quick stop at Musselman Arch on the way out of the park.

Musselman Arch

Driving through Shafer Canyon on the Potash Road after leaving Canyonlands.

Shafer Canyon

Shorty before reaching the pavement I spotted a couple more bighorn sheep right along the road and stopped to take a few photos. It was a good end to another nice weekend in Canyonlands National Park!

Two Sheep

Behind A Rock

Resting Sheep

>> Airport Tower to Monument Basin Photo Gallery


  1. mattpaynephoto
    mattpaynephoto February 10, 2021

    Nice set of images here dude, looks like a really fun trip!

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