Canyonlands NP – Junior Ranger Style

August 2016 (better posted late than never I say….)

My 9 year old grand-daughter has discovered the joys of the Junior Ranger Program. Each NP park has it’s own unique version – and depending on the park – is more or less hands on. The best part – you get an awesome badge at the end – and there’s a different one to be earned at every park. She is seriously excited by the prospect of trashing her sister’s record of just one Junior Ranger Badge – and has already earned 2 (Arches and Capitol Reef). (A

The Canyonlands version – a bit like Canyonlands itself – is more of a look and see rather than a touch and do version.

There are crossword puzzles to solve, scambled words to desciper – and pictures of what folks in the park should and shouldn’t do. Best of all – the rangers take it as seriously as the kids do. Despite the massive number of visitors, the lines of folks waiting to ask their critical questions – the rangers stop everything when a kid with a completed Junior Ranger program book walks up. They carefully discuss each and every page with the kids – asking meaningful questions – and slowly reading their way thru the often hard to desciper handwriting of kids keen to be part of the National Park System. As a teacher – I’m truly impressed! And because Sophie is determined to get all the Junior Ranger badges she can – we’ve been talking to rangers in all the national parks we’ve visited – in depth!

Uniformly – they have stopped what they were doing to pay full attention to Sophie’s questions, to respond to her comments – to treat her as a desirable visitor! Impressive.

Back to Canyonlands. There are 3 different sections – Island in the Sky, the Mazes, and Needles. We are staying in a proper campground (ie: we have electricity) in Moab – and thus we’re pretty much equal distance (45 minutes one way, about 1.25 hrs the other) between the entrances to Island in the Sky and Needles. Mazes is not on our list of to-do’s. It requires 4 wheel drive Hummers to explore – not to mention an experienced guide – and several days. We’re skipping that.

Yesterday we did the drive thru the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands. Impressive is just about the only way to describe these breathtaking vistas. Hundreds of feet below us winds the Green and Colorado Rivers – the steep cliffs and rock plateaus left by the rivers either below our feet – or on the opposite side of the vista – or both! I’m glad for the log fences strategically placed to keep me – and my grand-daughter safe. But these are few and far between. More often the only thing between you and a hundred or more foot drop is the quality of your hiking boot soles! Grippy is the only way to go.

Today we decided to take the longer drive to the Needles section of the park – past an absolutely outstanding example of pre-historic Rock Art. Called Newspaper Rock – it’s a vast blacked section of rock covered by an overhang high above. The overhang acts as a shield, without blocking the view of the space. One of the talks we heard on this art suggested that perhaps they were used as signposts for other travelers – which explains their fairly strategic locations at river cross-roads. Maybe this is so – but the images themselves suggest other explanations – there are animal hunts including stickmen on horseback with drawn bows (considered to be later art since Europeans introduced horse back riding to the native americans). There are numerous hand and foot prints – the hand prints look fairly normal – but the foot prints more often then not feature 6 toes. Hmm – wonder what that was about?

The dark surface that serves as the “Blackboard” for this art is naturally occuring – a combined effort between mineral oxidation, primarily managanese and micro bacteria that capture the minerals holding it fast to the surface. The art is often (but not always) created by incising the images into the black surface. Over time, the art darkens as the oxidation and bacterial actions continue.

We all found this ‘art’ intriguing – and we’ve seen several examples – but Newspaper Rock is clearly top of the crop. Way cool – if you find this stuff intriguing.

After time spent admiring the art – we drove on past red pillars, towering cliffs, and a lovely stream bed packed with green plants to the Visitor Center. This one had a wonderful little ‘museum’ on the creating of the spires, mushrooms and factures that dominate the landscape outside. The short animation explaining how the red and white striping occured was absolutely worth seeing – twice! Blowing sand, alternating with red silt flowing off the rocks over several million years created the stripes. Then cracking of the earlier salt layer followed by 25 million years of erosion created the other wordly landscape. No wonder this area is used as “Mars” or “Other Space Planet” in so many movies. Clearly no props are needed to make this place appear strange!

We did a short walk – Cave Springs – that climaxed in a climb up two vertical ladders to the top of a rock dome. Fine – until a flash of lightening and a roar of Thunder made us realize that we were quite obviously the tallest things for miles around! To say that we scampered off the dome would be an understatement. We took shelter under a rock alcove for a few minutes – but the crackle of electricity right over our heads drove us out and we made a very fast headlong dash to the relative safety of the car. Nice rubber tires, nice rubber tires…

Like all the storms we’ve experienced here in the high southwest – this one was short and over quickly. We drove to several viewpoints – did some more (but less spectacular) rock climbing – and just enjoyed the views.

Our drive home in comparison was pretty bland – although the car crash in the campground made for an interesting finish for the day. Apparently someone washed their car at the carwash next door – went to drive the car out of the wash – and fainted. The car went over a ledge and down a fairly steep incline before hitting a tree. First responders got everyone out quickly – and the car was towed away within the hour.

Just another boring day ….

(Ok – quick interuption – I’m in a campground – with a pool. And a woman wearing an american flag bikini and talking on a cell phone just walked by. Welcome to the USA.)

Signing off – The Soup Lady

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