The Shafer Trail at the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park is an iconic road that descends 1,500 feet (457 m) through a colorful, massive sandstone cliff. Its function has changed through the years; from a route made by Native Americans to access resources on the mesa top, to a trail for sheep herders moving flocks to better foraging in winter time, and then a road for trucks moving loads of uranium from the backcountry to market. Today, the Shafer Trail is a challenging, unpaved backcountry road for recreational users seeking the experience of a lifetime.
In May 1869, Major John Wesley Powell set out on a remarkable mission: to explore the uncharted canyons and waters of the Green and Colorado rivers. Powell, a geology professor and one-armed Civil War veteran, began the journey with nine novice oarsmen and four wooden boats. He ended the journey three months later with two boats, six men and detailed knowledge of a unique landscape that would capture national attention.
As they first entered the wilds of canyon country, Powell wondered in his journal, “What shall we find?” When Powell’s party reached this section of the river in July, he described a “strange, weird, grand region” of naked rock with “cathedral-shaped buttes, towering hundreds or thousands of feet, cliffs that cannot be scaled, and canyon walls that shrink the river into insignificance.”
Powell’s voyage opened a world of adventure and scientific discovery that continues today.
Canyonlands National Park is listed as the most dangerous park in the entire NP system. Why? Because in the summer time humans occasionally “overstay their welcome.” And pack not nearly enough water. You have been warned.
Which is one reason why late March is a great time to visit.