Canyonlands & Four Corners Travel Guide - Introduction
Canyonlands, Indian Country, Plus a Taste of the Rocky Mountains
by Joseph A. Sprince - Photography by Gerald B. Allen
The Canyonlands & Four Corners Travel Guide is a resource for those planning a road trip to the American Southwest where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah converge. This diverse region offers some of the world's most spectacular canyon country and exotic natural artwork in sandstone, most famously at Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Monument Valley. Southwest Colorado offers some of the Rocky Mountain's finest high country in the San Juan Range, as well as the famed Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
The Ancestral Pueblo or Anasazi people reached the height of their civilization in the Four Corners region. Amazing artifacts can be seen in all four states, ranging from spectacular cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado to enormous pueblos at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. Today the Navajo, Hopi, and Ute tribes live in the area, offering their crafts to the public.
This guide offers descriptions of many points of interest, links to many references, travel itineraries, and suggested visit times.
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Introduction to Canyonlands and Four Corners
The Canyonlands and Four Corners area offer a huge diversity of scenery, recreation, and points of interest. The Colorado Plateau which covers much of the region once was the bottom of an inland sea. When the sea disappeared, the remaining sand eventually became sandstone. Twenty million years ago, the plateau become uplifted. Since then, the power of wind, water, and gravity have sculpted the plateau into a strange world of sheer-walled canyons, mesas, monoliths, and other exotic formations which are unparalleled in the world. The canyons and mesas are often dotted with relics of the Ancestral Pueblo or Anasazi civilization which occupied the region for nearly a thousand years prior to the year 1300, then abruptly vanished. Southwest Colorado offers the great San Juan range, the beautiful western slope of the Rocky Mountains. Its Million Dollar Highway is one of America's finest scenic routes.
We'd recommend at least one week but preferably two to cover this region. If you are a newcomer to the area and have less time, the national parks of Utah will make the greatest impression due to their uniqueness. Most of the area is desert, so touring is more comfortable in late spring or early fall. The most convenient major cities from which to start would be Phoenix, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada. A road trip originating from these cities would make it easier to visit popular sites in northern Arizona (Grand Canyon, Painted Desert) or southern Utah (Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Lake Powell) en route.
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Southeast Utah offers perhaps the most spectacular canyon country in the region. The flowing Colorado, Green, and San Juan Rivers, and their tributaries have carved awesome canyons in stone, perhaps most famously at Canyonlands National Park. The region teems with needles, goblins, goosenecks, hoodoos and every sort of natural rock sculpture. The world's largest collection of stone arches are found at Arches National Park. Stone bridges may be seen at Natural Bridges National Monument. The world's largest and most beautiful natural bridge is found at Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Four wheel drivers will find great adventures at Canyonlands National Park, including the White Rim Trail, infamous Elephant Hill, and the Maze. Ancient artifacts cover southeast Utah as well. The rock art of Horseshoe Canyon dates back thousands of years and is considered among the finest in the world.
Northern Arizona is home to some of the world's most famous natural places, most notably the Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon, and the Painted Desert which is best viewed at Petrified Forest National Park. World-famous Monument Valley sits on Arizona's border with Utah. Arizona also is home to great Anasazi cliff dwellings. Keet Seel at Navajo National Monument is widely considered to be the best preserved of all cliff dwellings. Canyon de Chelly National Monument features cliff dwellings in an absolutely gorgeous canyon. At the nearby historic Hubbell Trading Post you can see beautiful Navajo rugs and other native American crafts. For additional information, be sure to review the Northern Arizona Travel Guide.
The canyonlands of far southwestern Colorado houses thousands of Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites, most notably the world-famous cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park, one of the region's "can't miss" destinations. The nearby Ute Mountain Tribal Park offers guided tours of more great cliff dwellings and other sites in a far more rustic setting. Heading northeast, the canyons quickly give way to the San Juan Range, the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, with peaks reaching elevations of greater than 14,000 feet (4,300 meters). The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is perhaps the nation's most popular tourist railroad. Daily trips between the two towns transverse the beautiful canyon of the Animas River. The spectacular Million Dollar Highway connects the towns of Durango, Silverton, and Ouray reaching an elevation over 11,000 feet at Red Mountain Pass. Each town offers great mining history and many mountain recreation opportunities. The town of Telluride is famous for its outstanding ski resort and offers year-round recreation and great scenery.
- New Mexico
New Mexico is noted for its ancient Indian sites as well as its modern pueblos which are generally clustered in the valley of the Rio Grande River near Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The most famous ancient site is Chaco Canyon National Monument where the Ancestral Pueblo or Anasazi civilization reached its greatest height. The canyon features 13 greathouses - or pueblos - plus countless other sites where thousands of people lived nearly a thousand years ago. Another great point of interest is the ancient and modern pueblo of Acoma, believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited town in America, dating to perhaps the 1200's.
- Four Corners Monument
Located off of US-160, the monument denotes the only place in the United States where four states intersect at one point. They are Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Originally erected in 1912 (when Arizona and New Mexico became states), the current marker is done in granite and brass. Visitors may step onto the marker and attempt to position themselves in four states at once. The monument is managed by the Navajo Tribe. The site includes a demonstration center for Navajo artisans. Vendors are on-site selling native arts and crafts as well as food. Picnic and restrooms are available. An entry fee is charged. For more information, visit the Navajo Nation Parks' Four Corners Monument web site.
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Canyonlands National Park Favorite Jeep Roads & Hiking Trails
by David Day
Contains detailed descriptions of the jeep roads and hiking trails in Utah's largest national park, including instructions on how to find the park's indian ruins, cowboy cabins, and other points of interest. This book is profusely illustrated with 240 color and black & white photographs and 59 detailed trail maps. It also contains a primer on the park's geology.
Buy This Book!
Best Easy Day Hikes Canyonlands and Arches
by Bill Schneider
Fully updated and revised, this edition includes trail descriptions and maps of the author's favorite short hikes in the two parks. All hikes included in this little book, with one exception, do not have steep hills, are on well-defined, easy-to-follow trails, and take hikers into some of the most scenic sections of the park.
Buy This Book!
Calf Creek I by Gerald Allen
Waterfalls in the desert. Gorgeous large format print.
Buy This Print!
The Canyonlands region of southeastern Utah features Arches and Canyonlands
National Parks. This area of Canyon Country has its own unique look, featuring
many arches, windows, fins and other erosional oddities. This is due to the
soft Entrada sandstone which predominates here.
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