Sunday, May 26, 2013

Choose your adventure in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park

Moab, Utah, from above; most travelers interested in seeing the Great Gallery start here.
The best adventures are the ones you have to work for, so if you’re aching to have some fun far away from the office, consider visiting the remotely located “Great Gallery” in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. Although getting to the collection of ancient rock art requires quite the hike, travelers get to experience some of the most important pictographs in North America, as archaeologists still have questions about what the bizarre humanoid figures–one of which rises 7 feet tall–actually mean. After you’ve investigated the gallery, Canyonlands National Park and the city of Moab offer plenty of other sites to keep you busy. Check out these photos of the path to the Great Gallery, as well as some of its sister attractions.
To get to the Great Gallery, travelers have to drive 47 miles along a dirt road and then hike seven miles into Horseshoe Canyon. If you make the trek during the winter, you’ll likely be the only person in the canyon, which makes it easy to picture yourself back in time, walking in step with the ancient Native Americans, who archaeologists believe inhabited the area as early as 9,000 B.C. Whatever season you visit, remember to bring lots of water because the hike is strenuous.
As you hike toward the Great Gallery you will see a rock alcove that’s about 200 feet wide and 100 feet tall. The alcove also features ancient pictographs, but unfortunately modern people have damaged many of them by carving their names over the pictures, which is pretty disappointing to see, to say the least.
The Great Gallery measures about 200 feet wide and 15 feet high and consists of 20 life-size and humanoid images, the largest of which measures 7 feet. Although archaeologists have differing opinions on when they believe these pictographs were created, some argue it was after 1,900 B.C.
This panel is known as the “Great Ghost and Attendants,” with the large figure being the “Great Ghost.” While archaeologists don’t know what these chilling figures represent, some believe the Great Ghost is a picture of an ancient North American inhabitant wearing a buffalo robe. Conspiracy theorists, however, argue the Great Ghost is extraterrestrial in nature, which may be why the Great Gallery has been featured on the History Channels popular show “Ancient Aliens.”
A close-up of one of the figures in the Great Gallery.
Part of the Great Gallery; in the lower left you can see humans hunting animals.
There are several other attractions near Moab besides the Great Gallery, including the Mesa Arch above. It’s such a popular spot that as many as 75 photographers have been known to line up to capture its image during sunrise.
The 65-foot Delicate Arch is one of the most photographed arches in the world, and it’s featured on Utah license plates. Getting to the arch is easy and only requires about a 1.5-mile hike.
The arch has been photographed so many times that I wanted to get a unique perspective, so I used a 1-hour exposure to create star trails. The star at the center is Polaris, or the North Star, and you can see a satellite trail in the upper left-hand corner of the photo. I illuminated the arch with a flashlight.
Archaeologists don’t know the origin of this stone circle or its purpose, and park rangers don’t advertise it in any tourist brochures or visitors centers because they’re afraid of vandalism. It sits inside a remote canyon that some believe is the quietest spot in the United States, and when you rest here after the long and steep hike required to find it you can hear ravens flap their wings above you. You cannot see any roads or modern buildings from this spot, and the eerie silence makes it easy to believe that an ancient American Indian could walk up and sit beside you at any moment.
The Colorado River carved these canyons; this spot is adjacent to one of the Canyonlands National Park’s visitor’s centers.

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