Shafer Canyon Road to Canyonland NP

Moab, UT

While staying in Moab, we have crossed paths with two couples we met before in our travels.  We met Amanda and Tim (check out their blog Watson’s Wanderings) a few weeks ago near Zion NP.  They were able to park their Airstream in a great spot in one of the campgrounds right next to the Colorado River and invited us over to enjoy a Happy Hour.  Also in the area are Nina and Paul (check out their blog Wheeling It).  We first met them boondocking in Anza-Borrego State Desert Park in southern California and again near Yuma, AZ  few months ago.  The six of us enjoyed a couple of hours sharing stories of full-timing while enjoying snacks and some adult beverages.

L-R John, Tim, Paul, Amanda, and Nina

The next day we planned to explore one of the hundreds of four-wheel drive trails in the area, as the weather prediction was for sunshine.  After waking the next morning to the sound of rain, we checked for an update and were surprised to find that the chance of rain was 0%.  Perhaps that was a typo and they missed a one and a zero, as it was raining fairly heavily.

But they made the same prediction for the next day and, as luck would have it, their prediction turned out to be correct.  So we set out for Canyonland National Park, taking a dirt road called Shafer Canyon Road into the park.  After a drive of about twelve miles on a nice paved road called Potash Road, the pavement ends and the dirt road begins.  At first the road is quite smooth.

The beginning of Shafer Canyon Road

One of the many balanced rocks in the area

Soon the road winds around the Potash Extraction Facility of the Intrepid Potash Mine.   The mine began as a conventional underground operation in 1965, but was converted in 1971 to a system combining solution mining to extract the potash and solar evaporation to re-crystallize the product.   A solution of water and salt is pumped into a mine, where it dissolves the potassium.  The brine mix is then pumped into shallow evaporation ponds, where a blue dye is added to aid in absorption of sunlight.  Once the water evaporates, the potash is scraped from the dry pond and sent to a facility for processing.

If you have a few minutes to kill, check out a Google Satellite view of the area as the deep blue of the ponds in the middle of a desert is quite striking.

We had driven up the road a few miles when we spotted a truck approaching from behind us.  Since the road is only one lane and the truck was going faster than us, we pulled over to let it pass.  As the truck neared us we realized that it was Amanda and Tim (see the beginning of this blog).  We only know about six people in the entire state of Utah so what are the chances that, in the middle of a barren wasteland with no one else in sight, we would met up with people we know!

Tim and Amanda continue up Shafer Canyon Road

We continued up the road, stopping at various points to check out the view of the Colorado River.

After a few miles we passed a sign informing us that we were entering Canyonlands National Park.  A short distance later we came upon another sign that is an example of “Bureaucracy Gone Wild.”  Remember, we are on a one lane dirt road going over some very rocky sections.  The road is limited to vehicles with four wheel drive and high clearance only.  The Jeep is in first gear and we’ve averaged about five miles an hour.  But now we find the speed limit is 15 mph!

Do they enforce the speed limit with radar?

Who could go 15 mph on a road surface like this?

The road continued to head deeper into Shafer Canyon.  At times we look ahead, but couldn’t imaging where the road would go!

We soon entered into a series of switchbacks going steeply up the side of the canyon.

At times the road was up against the canyon wall on one side, with a steep drop on the other.  Fortunately, we didn’t run into any on-coming traffic at this point.

looking back down at the switchbacks

We final came to a flat area near the top of the canyon where we stopped to enjoy lunch with a view.

We could also look back at the traffic on the switchbacks.  Do you see the three vehicles?

At the top of the road you enter the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands NP, a huge mesa with great views of the surrounding canyons.  We spent the rest of the day visiting some of the great viewpoints in the park.

Looking out from Grand View Point

Another shot of Grand View Point

The last stop of the day was a visit to Mesa Arch.  It’s a nice arch with a great view of the La Sal Mountains.

We were not extremely impressed with the Island of the Sky section of Canyonlands, when we compare it to other national parks like Arches or Zion, but the views from the canyon rims were super.

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31 Responses to Shafer Canyon Road to Canyonland NP

  1. I see that the cairn I put up near the narrow section of the road prevented you from experiencing my same fate! I love the switchbacks on the road!

  2. LuAnn says:

    Love those beautiful snow-capped mountains in the background!

  3. I think Utah might be the next Arizona when it comes to meeting bloggers. Cool.
    Spectacular views and I think we might not be able to drive this road with our CRV, so thank you for the drive. Just Beautiful

  4. I follow both their blogs. They are excellent writers.

    Those ponds are as blue as Crater Lake. Gorgeous!

    If you went 15 mph, you two would have no teeth left in your mouth. That is crazy!

    I saw no where in this post where the road was one way. What in the world would have happened if another car were coming towards you on one of those switch backs? Was there any where to pull off even a little to let someone go by you? I don’t see any.

    Island of the Sky is absolutely gorgeous! You two took some amazing photos. The one with you, Pam, is super! It looks like you can just see for miles and miles.

    The snow-capped mountains make me weak!

  5. Lisa says:

    Pretty awesome views! Wish we had a Jeep!

  6. We boondock just out of Canyonlands N. P. on the Dead Horse spur, and have biked those switchbacks many times…up and down. I think the “up” days are over tho :)).
    Box Canyon Mark

    • placestheygo says:

      Mark, we passed two bikers just before the switchbacks. They were really struggling and they weren’t to the steepest part yet. Not sure if they ever made it up. You are crazy!!!

  7. Janna says:

    Thanks for the tour–gorgeous country you are visiting!

  8. Gay and Joe Taylor says:

    That was some Jeep ride! The views are spectacular! Joe says our 2 week stay there might not be enough. The snow capped mountains thru the arch sure make for a beautiful photo.

  9. Amanda says:

    You guys are so on top of your blogging it puts us to shame. I am still trying to get out a post about last week, never mind what we did 2 days ago! Great photos and descriptions, and we agree that Canyonlands is not as impressive as Zion or Arches. In fact, this was one of those adventures where the journey was more exciting than the destination. We had a great time hanging out last week and are looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      We agree! We felt the same way about going to Dead Horse yesterday by way of Long Canyon road. The road was really nice but the park was just okay. You need to try this road. You drive under a rock that fell years ago and then go through a short slot area. Not a challenging road but fun.

  10. libertatemamo says:

    Cool shots!! Can’t believe that drive. I’m glad you did it so we don’t have to haha. Like Amanda I’m behind in my postings so the pretty pic of all of us is still not on the blog.
    We still seeing you guys tomorrow?

  11. Pam says:

    The scenes from the Jeep ride are beautiful but I am most envious of that spot for your happy hour. A campfire, a glass of wine, and a river view like that is hard to beat.

  12. Sue says:

    Once again, fabulous pictures. I can’t say which is my favorite! We enjoyed our time there so much and your blog and photos take us right back. Thanks!

  13. Erin says:

    Thanks for another great jeep ride. I love the last shot of the mountains through the arch.

  14. Joel & Diane says:

    We are fulltimers also and were curious about your internet speed and what a truckers antenna is. We currently have a verizon wireless card but downloading streaming video’s in very slow or nearly impossible. Any suggestions?

  15. Leigh says:

    Oh I wish we were at that happy hour!

  16. Kevin says:

    I agree Arches (my favorite park) and Zions might be more spectacular but you should give Island in the Sky another chance, the time you visit makes a big difference. Mornings are the best and most beautiful. Sunrise at Mesa Arch is stunning.

  17. Jerry and Carlene Francis says:

    Pam, we are at Dead Horse State Park. Do you think our Chevy trailblazer has high enough clearance for the Shafer Trail??

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