Right across the highway from Arches is another National Park: Canyonlands. I drive to the end of the road, walk out to a viewpoint and stand at the precipice in awe. Out below me is a vast valley flanked by mesas and cut with deep canyons.
Canyonlands is divided into three sections by the rivers that run through the canyons. The section I’m in is called Island in the Sky. From this vantage point, looking down into the canyons, the great expanse of the region comes into focus.
All the dramatic geological scenery exposes the forces of nature still shaping the world. There are short walks to beautiful Mesa Arch, made all the more lovely by the way it frames the valley floor below, as well as Upheaval Dome, which appears like a giant grey-blue sand dune surrounded by red rock mountains.
I liked the Island in the Sky area so much that I decide to drive down to the Needles area as well. And while I can see why it isn’t as popular (for one thing it is much more remote) there are great views of vast mesas and even petroglyphs to find in the sheltered eaves of the rock boulders.
And it was that remoteness that lead to one of the coolest camping spots I’ve had so far. The regular sites were full so I drove just outside the park boundary and down a dirt road to a marked primitive site. I nestled my tent underneath juniper trees growing around the base of an alcove in a rock grouping the size of a house. At night I climbed to the top of the rocks and watched the sun set over the mesas in the distance. Stars started to appear in the clear sky above and little bats fluttered by.