Blessed with endless skies and carved by eons of simply letting Mother Nature do her thing, Utah is a geological wonder, a true beauty—and a photographer’s dream. The Beehive State is where you’ll find the most astonishing formations with just-as-funny names: hoodoos, buttes, badlands, mesas, and more.
From deep canyons to soaring arches, flat-topped rocks and mazelike ravines, gullies, pinnacles and peaks, here’s a quick look at some of the state’s most spectacular spots to tag #butterfieldtravel!
Arches National Park
Home to the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches, this national park covers 76,518 acres of land; its most well-known feature is the Delicate Arch. Formed from Entrada sandstone from the Jurassic period, the freestanding arch reaches a height of 18 metres (60 feet). Perhaps the most recognizable image of Utah, it’s featured on the state’s stamps and license plates. Close to the Delicate Arch hiking trail, Ute Indian petroglyphs imprinted into the stone can be found, an important mark of past Native American peoples from the 17th through the 19thC. Also noteworthy is the Landscape Arch, which measures 93 metres (306 feet) across, making it one of the longest natural arches in the world. Alongside its arches are other varying rock formations and shapes including balanced boulders, darting pinnacles and sandstone towers known by colourful names such as The Organ, Tower of Babel and the Three Gossips.
Canyonlands National Park
The colourful and impressive Canyonlands National Park, signed into existence by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, is filled with the carved-out shapes of endless canyons, buttes and mesas as the Colorado River shaped it over time. With four distinctively named districts, you can find yourself exploring the ‘Island in the Sky’, the Needles, the Maze, or the combined rivers of Green River and Colorado River. The desert atmosphere and spectacular formations mean that no matter where you explore, this utterly fantastic landscape will leave you forever changed. American author Edward Abbey, who once worked as a seasonal ranger in Utah, called this spot “the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth” and you’re sure to agree.
The most popular district for visitors is the Island in the Sky mesa, where you can peer on sandstone cliffs more than 304 metres (1,000 feet) above the surrounding terrain. The second most-visited is the Needles district, characterized by sandstone spires, striated with various colours of rock. The Maze is the least accessible district of the park, extremely remote and with difficult roads and trails. In the Rivers district, above the Confluence, you will find people kayaking, canoeing or rafting in the calm waters; below the Confluence, where both rivers combine, is where world-class whitewater can be found for the experienced and adventurous.
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is defined by the Waterpocket Fold, a warp in the earth’s crust, likely caused by colliding continental plates (the same ones that created the Rocky Mountains). It is a rocky spine stretching for almost 160 kilometres (100 miles) from Thousand Lakes Mountain to Lake Powell, accompanied by rich red canyons, buttes and monoliths. The Fremont people first occupied the land around 500 CE and their legacy can be discovered etched in stone with Petroglyphs and painted pictographs. In the 1800s, explorers and Mormon pioneers arrived, bringing with them their skill for farming, they planted apple, pear and peach trees, resulting in what is now the Fruita Rural Historic District, a former community whose orchards still remain.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Despite its name, Bryce Canyon’s most famous feature is not a canyon at all, rather a naturally formed amphitheatre of red, white and orange hoodoos—rock pillars formed by frost weathering and erosion caused by streams and rivers—on the Paunsaugunt Plateau. While you will find hoodoos on every continent, Bryce has the largest number in the world. Early beginnings of human activity on the plateau remain a bit of a mystery to archaeologists, although artifacts from the Ancestral Pueblo and Fremont people from around the 12thC have been discovered. European Americans attempted to explore the region in the 18th and 19th centuries, however, it was difficult to reach. It was surveyed and mapped by John Wesley Powell in 1872, who kept many of its Paiute place names intact.
Dead Horse Point State Park
Covering 5,362 acres and with a high-desert altitude of 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) above the Colorado River, the vantage point from Dead Horse Point allows for expansive vistas of the surrounding and ever-changing, landscape. Dead Horse Point is said to have received its name from cowboys who would corral wild mustangs to the narrow neck of land onto the point, choosing the ones they wanted, and leaving others behind. (At one time, for an unknown reason, some of the horses were left trapped on the point and they died of exposure). The park is defined by its weaving canyons and rock layers shaped by over millions of years of erosion from lakes, streams, wind and ancient oceans. Moviegoers will also recognize Dead Horse Point, standing in for the Grand Canyon in the final scenes of the movie Thelma and Louise.