We got to Canyonlands National Park in the early afternoon, after driving about 20 minutes from Moab to the park. On the road there, we saw a couple of “Livestock in the Road” signs, and were soon greeted by several cows crossing in the road in front of us. We were going slow enough to stop easily, but I imagine lots of tourists speed on this section of road because it is straight and lightly traveled. Don’t. On our way out of the park we saw several ravens making a feast of a calf that I can only imagine was hit by a car. Very sad…
Like I said in my last post, Canyonlands is divided up into three sections, and we were soon at the Island in the Sky Visitor’s Center. I got my stamp – yay! Got my postcards – yay! And endured the good natured teasing from my husband about my nerdly pursuits – boo! There is a short movie about the park, but we wanted to get started on a hike, so we skipped it.
The Canyonlands Visitor’s Center has more and better information posted than many other Visitor’s Centers about hikes you can do – level of difficulty, what you’ll see on the trail, etc., so we took advantage of that and picked out a couple that looked interesting. Really, there were so many good ones that I had to rank order them, knowing that I wouldn’t get to all the ones I wanted to do…
First up on the list was the Murphy Point Overlook Trail. This trail is a 3.6 mile roundtrip out and back trail on gravel and slick rock sandstone. Apparently this trail used to be a road, but the Park Service turned it into a trail in 1996. I couldn’t tell. Surprisingly, this is one of the less popular hikes in the park. I suppose because others lead to something more “dramatic,” like the hikes that lead to an arch, or a crater, or a Puebloan site. But we were going to see arches at Arches NP, and Puebloan dwellings at Mesa Verde NP and Chaco Culture NHP, so this hike to see the less “dramatic” was perfect for us.
At the beginning of the trail you pass by the remains of a turn of the century ranch owned by the Murphy brothers, who grazed cattle on and below the point between 1916 and 1920. You see cattle chutes and old fencing from a bygone era. Then the trail is a sand and rocky trail in a slight depression for awhile. It changes to a slick rock surface as you hike further out. About halfway to the overlook, you have the option of breaking off onto the Murphy Trail, which takes you on a much longer trail to the Murphy Hogback and the Murphy Wash. The Murphy Trail also looked interesting, but at 9 miles it would have been a full day hike.
The trail becomes a slick rock sandstone as you get closer to the overlook and the trails are marked with cairns – little piles of stacked rocks. After completing the mostly downhill 1.8 mile trip out to the Murphy Point Overlook, we were greeted with amazing views of Stillwater Canyon and the Green River. I feel like I have been using the word amazing a lot in this series of posts, but there is really no other way to describe it. Except maybe spectacular. Or stunning. Or perhaps awe inspiring… All those people who were looking for something more dramatic were really missing out!
The canyon below has a ledge (the Murphy Hogback) where the White Rim Sandstone juts out into the canyon because it does not erode as quickly as the shales that made up the layers on top. I couldn’t find any information on how deep Stillwater Canyon is, but the National Park Service website has information on a few of the Murphy trails that seem to indicate that the Murphy Hogback is about 1,000 feet down, and the river is about 2,000 feet down. Wow.
We hardly saw anybody on the whole hike – just three other couples the entire time, and we enjoyed sitting at the edge (not too close though) taking in the view. After being surrounded by people all day at Zion the day before, it was really nice to feel so alone! From the viewpoint, you can’t hear the road or anything artificial, so you can really just get lost in your own thoughts. I think this was one of Jon’s favorites hikes for the entire trip – and it was certainly one of mine. I even got Jon to pose for some selfies with me.
Have you ever hiked the Murphy Point Overlook Trail? What did you think?