|Looking South from Grand View Point Overlook on Island in the Sky
This vision came to mind when I was clinging to the edge you are seeing above, in company with the ant sized persons standing in the upper right of the picture. What were we seeing, when looking beyond and below this impressive red precipice? Precipice is the right word for it, since it is sloping down for almost half a kilometer, before ending in a flat basin of White Rim Sandstone (actually, the color is more brown-like) that stretches many kilometers to the South.
About halfway into that basin, a mighty river, the Colorado, has cut a meandering deep valley into the White Rim Sandstone, called The Loop. At the opposite side, you can barely glance, in the mist, a wall that must be about the same height as the one we are standing on top of. Further out, plateau upon plateau is filling the void, with the odd higher mountain or two towering over it all.
|Colorado Meander ("The Loop") South of Island in the Sky
How did this immense region of flatland upon flatland, situated at an average 2 kilometers above sea level, come to be? That expanse is something of an anomaly in the geologic scheme of things. It consists of a single, very (many kilometers) thick block of Earth crust that has remained remarkably stable over the eons (the past 600 million years), with very little disruption like faulting or folding of rock layers; this in stark contrast to all surrounding regions in America.
About 30 million years ago, this whole block, essentially flat, was lifted some 3 kilometers upward, by forces still uncertain. It was raised as a unified "table", albeit with a slight upward tilt towards the North. The main rivers already existed before that and could resume their eroding tasks with a vengeance at the increased altitude. The result we can nowadays admire as an immense region of flat tablelands at differing altitude, interspersed with canyons and wide basins; all caused by eroding streams, helped by their friends the wind, rain, snow, ice and sand.
|Rim of Island in the Sky
And we were not disappointed. The view from up there was extraordinary, as already described above, and the Ranger was busy preparing his lecture.
|Ranger and hikers at Grand View Point Overlookt, Island in the Sky
He had nine companions with him, five of which made it to the end. One of the others, an Englishman, had enough early on and went on to more mundane things. The three remaining, experienced trappers and hunters all, gave up towards the end of Grand Canyon, fearing that they would not survive the rapids they saw ahead of them. They hiked out of the canyon, never to be seen again, whereas Powell forced the remaining narrows successfully and arrived at his destination, the Virgin River, unharmed two days later.
|Ranger acting out Powell
For us weaklings, just looking DOWN one of those slopes causes you vertigo, not to speak of climbing them with one hand in your pocket! This is a man of dedication for you! He also preserved many views of his trip for posterity in remarkably well made pictures.
|Looking down Cataract Canyon Courtesy: Bancroft Library
Enheartend by these tales, we rushed onwards to our exploit of Upheaval Dome (Bubble or Trouble?). Another outer worldly experience! But the day was far from over. Upon our return from this big "hole in the ground" we stopped at another view point on Island in the Sky, called Green River Overlook. I am mentioning this brief interlude since it provided me with a vista already documented from a slightly different angle in the previous post.
|The Anderson Bottom Rincon of Green River, seen from Green River Overlook
You may recall an earlier picture taken along the trail to Upheaval Dome (Bubble or Trouble?). It was taken much further North on this Western Rim of Island in the Sky, at a lower altitude, and heading the camera towards Northwest. Therefore it does not show the Anderson Rincon any longer, rather, a stretch of the river basin further North.
Time to leave Island in the Sky, you think? "Yes!", in a way. But on that same day's afternoon we had rushed on to a further hike – weren't we hardy? – that took place on a small side-peninsula, jutting out southward from the Island at its Northeastern end. It has a rather narrow start, being only 30 meters broad there, and has its end-viewpoint just on top of a very scenic loop of the Colorado. It is called Dead Horse Point.
|Hiking the Eastern flank of Dead Horse Peninsula
I invite you to double click on the picture below, so that you can get it at full size. In mid-afternoon, the "light is getting right" for landscape pictures and you can see far on this one. On the upper left you are looking at the La Sal mountains, which we could admire already in Arches National Park (A City Built on Salt), although most of the snow on top had melted away since. Speaking of Arches, you can just about locate it as the light brown piece of land on the upper left under the La Sal. Below it you can also discover the huge red wall (partly hidden by the tower located in mid-distance) we had to climb with the car to get up there from Moab.
|Looking North from Basin Overlook
But it is getting late in the afternoon, so let's hurry on the the main Viewpoint, which permits us a look straight down on the Colorado, as it is carving its curvy route through the wide plain.
|Colorado neck seen from Dead Horse Point
The road you are seeing is really a dirt trail, the White Rim Trail of fame. It circles all around the Island in the Sky – including its sidekick, the Dead Horse Peninsula – and mainly follows the winding courses of the Green and the Colorado. It was originally built by the State as an access road for miners, looking for promising stakes, but is nowadays a cult track for bicyclists and four-wheel drivers. If you feel the urge to go down there and join them, why not have a look at a famous blog describing a cycle tour along the road, with pictures and all. The picture below is borrowed from that blog.
|Cycling the White Rim Road Source: Anthony Sloan
|Shafer Canyon Overlook, Dead Horse Point
|Rim Overlook, Dead Horse Point. Island in the Sky in the background
But we are still humans and to us it is important to get a nice meal once the sun has set. Fortunately, there were only 20 minutes left to hike back to the Visitor Center, where our car was parked. In the mean-time the sun had already settled behind low clouds, and a beautiful mellow light was shining over the sagebrush and the pinyon pines we had to sidestep along the way.
|Hikers on Dead Horse Neck
|Pinyon Pine on Dead Horse Neck