Part 40:  Uncompahgre Plateau, CO to Anticline Overlook, UT


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The Trip

The night was cool and rainy on the Uncompahgre Plateau.  We were at about 9,000 feet so those conditions were to be expected.  The next morning was overcast and the threat of rain was on the western horizon.  We broke camp and headed south off the plateau toward Nucla, CO and the Dolores River Valley.  From there, we headed west toward Moab, UT

The photos below are what we saw.

The dirt trail ended in Nucla, CO and then we headed west toward the Dolores River Valley.  The valley was flanked by large sandstone cliffs.

Higher in the valley, the red rock walls were striated with white sandstone layers.

The sandstone formations created not only nice cliffs but isolated mesas as well.

We continued west past La Sal, UT where we could see the southern flank of the 12,000+ foot La Sal range.  Our original route was to traverse the La Sals, but the bad weather covered the upper reaches of the mountains in clouds so any views would be obscured.  As a consequence, we decided to travel around the range.

We hit US-191 and turned south.  Just beyond the La Sal Junction, Wilson Arch was visible from the highway.  There were plenty of tourists parked along the highway taking photos or exploring the surrounding area.

We continued south on US-191 and decided to go to the Needles Overlook viewpoint.  We were overcome by an urge to eat, so we stopped in the Windwhistle Campground and made sandwiches.  The camping area was nestled in a small side canyon that was ringed by the high sandstone cliffs.

Many of the corners in the cliff had developed overhanging alcoves.

Some of the alcove areas were attempting to form arches.  Note that there are two arch areas in the photo above.

It rained off and on during our side trip to the Needles Overlook.  I was concerned that the flat light would result in uninteresting photos, but it was just the opposite.  The spotty sunlight produced highlighted patches on the distant canyon walls.  The mighty Colorado River is in the inner canyon of the valley.  In addition to creating some of the most famous canyons in the U.S., the Colorado River is the primary source of water for the desert southwest.

The river vally was flanked by large cliffs and the Needles Overlook was on the lip of the canyon providing a great view of the inner canyon.

Side creeks to the main Colorado, usually dry, have left a labyrinth of narrow slot canyons referred to as "the Maze".

To the south the Abajo Mountains were capped by clouds.  In the valley below, a rain quall lashes the inner canyons with rain.  These squalls typically produce flash floods which result in the steep canyons that are typical of this area.

Alternating layers of hard and soft strata produce "hoodoos" that are common to this area.  Hoodoos are isolated pillars of rock sometimes assuming fantastical shapes.  From the Needles Overlook, this hoodoo was easily visible.  The "Needles District" of Canyonlands Park gets its name from the hoodoos that are plentiful in the area.

The erosion from the side canyons of the main cliff resulted in isolated fingers of rock many hundreds of feet in height.  As these fingers are eroded by water, wind and weather, hoodoos are produced.

To the north toward the central area of Canyonlands Park, rain is lashing the inner canyon.

The sheets of rain were clearly visible.  We were lucky, however, that the heavy rain did not fall on us.

We drove another 15 miles of dirt road to the Anticline Overlook point.  This overlook is on the southern rim of the canyon and allows visibility of the southern facing walls of the canyon, the La Sal mountains and the ridges of Kane Creek.  Above, the sun broke through briefly allowing patches of illumination to highlight the formations above Kane Creek.  The Moab Rim is on the far side of this ridge and Kane Creek is in the valley below.

To the north we could see the Colorado River and the potash mine that is at the base of Dead Horse Point.

An anticline is the geologist's term for a giant fold in the strata that produces a "hill".  Above, the curvature of the strata is clearly visible and the impact on the resulting land forms is apparent.  The theory here is that the river held its course while the land was uplifted allowing it to cut through the anticline.  Erosion and weathering produced the resulting canyon that is visible today.

To the east, Kane Creek canyon and the La Sal mountains are visible.  Note the trail in the canyon.  On previous trips to Moab with my 1300L Unimog, we have traveled on that road.

The main buildings of the potash mine are visible in the river valley.  What an awesome place to work.

This U-shaped set of cliffs were produced by oxbows of Kane Creek.  Later, the creek changed course and isolated this segment of rock.  Erosion and weathering produced what you see above.

On the dirt trail far below, a rancher makes his way into Moab.  Visible in the full-sized photo are a chest freezer and a cement mixer in the bed of his truck.  He was traveling very, very slowly due to the rutted road, but the noise of his cargo banging around in the bed was annoying, even several thousand feet above him.

The ridge between Kane Creek and the Colorado River produced some interesting formations.

Nice hoodoos were visible on one of the ridges.  Note the rock that looks like a vulture with a white collar.

We traveled south to a "minor" overlook to see more of the canyon.

From the minor overlook, the inner canyon of the river was visible with its river-side brush.

Thor enjoyed the view from the minor overlook as well.

We both love the area around Moab, UT.  In my mind, it is one of the most scenic areas in the U.S.  We were lucky that the weather cooperated with us as it did.  I would have preferred a bit more sun, but all things considered, we did OK.

We spent the night at a BLM camp south of the Anticline Overlook.  We had the whole place to ourselves.

Tomorrow, we continue south toward Monument Valley.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2012, all rights reserved.
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