The Park in a nutshell
... in addition to the Horseshoe Canyon detached unit.
Island in the Sky District, Maze District, Needles District.
Each destination within Canyonlands offers different opportunities for sightseeing and exploration.
There are no roads that directly link the districts. Although they may appear close on a map, traveling between them requires two to six hours by car. Most people find it impractical to visit more than one area in a single trip.
[See also: Data & Facts
with WebLinks to the park website and Downloadable PDF Maps]
Canyonlands National Park preserves one of the last, relatively undisturbed areas of the Colorado Plateau, a geological province that encompasses much of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Carved out of vast sedimentary rock deposits, this landscape of canyons, mesas, and deep river gorges possesses remarkable natural features that are part of a unique desert ecosystem.
The foundation of Canyonlands' ecology is its remarkable geology, which is visible everywhere in cliff profiles that reveal millions of years of deposition and erosion. These rock layers continue to shape life in Canyonlands today, as their erosion influences elemental features like soil chemistry and where water flows when it rains.
Known as a "high desert," with elevations ranging from 1.127 m - 2.194 m (3,700 to 7,200 feet) above sea level, Canyonlands experiences very hot summers, cold winters and less than ten inches of rain each year. Even on a daily basis, temperatures may fluctuate as much as 50 degrees.
The plants and animals in Canyonlands have many adaptations that enable them to survive these conditions. Some species are found only in this area. The diversity of organisms reflects the variety of available habitat, which includes lush riparian areas, swift rivers, ephemeral pools, dry arroyos, mixed grasslands and large expanses of bare rock.
Biological Soil Crust
The dirt is alive! A living crust called "Biological Soil Crust" covers much of Canyonlands and the surrounding area. Composed of algae, lichens and bacteria, these crusts provide a secure foundation for desert plants.
Biological soil crust is a living groundcover that forms the foundation of high desert plant life in Canyonlands and the surrounding area. This knobby, black crust is dominated by cyanobacteria, but also includes lichens, mosses, green algae, microfungi and bacteria.
Cyanobacteria, previously called blue-green algae, are one of the oldest known life forms. It is thought that these organisms were among the first land colonizers of the earth's early land masses, and played an integral role in the formation and stabilization of the earth's early soils.