Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Magical Canyonlands National Park

I became interested in Canyonlands National Park while researching the setting for a dramatic scene in my soon to be released book, BEGUILING DELILAH (Romancing the Guardians, Book 6). Since the park is such a fascinating place, I want to share a little of what I've learned with you today.

Canyonlands National Park; photo in public domain

Located in southeastern Utah near the town of Moab, Canyonlands National Park is a colorful wilderness of canyons, mesas, buttes, arches and spires carved by the Colorado and Green rivers and their tributaries. The largest park in Utah, it was officially designated a national park by legislation and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on September 12, 1964.

The park is composed of four districts: Island in the Sky to the north, the Needles to the east, the Maze to the west, and the River district (the Green and Colorado.) These areas share a desert atmosphere but each is very different from the others. Author Edward Abbey described the Canyonlands as “the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth—there is nothing else like it anywhere.”

Rock formations in Needles district; photo by Jesse Varner; creative commons share-alike 2,5 generic

Although many people had never heard of this remote land when the park was established in 1964, prehistoric Native Americans hunted and lived in the area as early as 11,500 B.C. By 1000 B.C. their descendants hunted, gathered and grew corn, and began to establish permanent settlements. These people are known as ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi.)

Ruins of later Puebloan villages have been found in the Needles district, and rock art carved by ancient artists can be seen in all areas of the park. Newspaper Rock Recreation Site, on the road into the Needles district, is a popular example of such petroglyphs.

While the Puebloans and another group called the Fremont People cultivated crops in the canyon bottoms for many years, they abandoned Canyonlands in the 13th century A.D. A 20-year drought is believed to be the cause.

Fur trappers and explorers entered the region in the1800s. John Wesley Powell, a well-known geologist and explorer of the west, traveled the area by river in 1869 and in 1871, resulting in the first detailed geologic and topographic information on the canyons.

Around this time, Spanish vaqueros were herding cattle through the area and some small settlements were established to the west of the park. By 1885, cattle ranching was becoming a big business in southeast Utah, and cattle were beginning to graze in Canyonlands. Some of the ranchers’ descendants still raise cattle in the area.

In the 1950s and 60s, before Canyonlands was declared a national park, prospectors explored there for uranium deposits. Deep shafts were dug and some ore was found, but not enough to be worth the effort of extracting it.

Which brings me to Shafer Canyon. Built by uranium miners to transport ore extracted from the Triassic Chinle Formation, Shafer Canyon Trail is an 18-mile-long dangerous dirt track located in Canyonlands. The mining road followed the path of a large natural rockfall. A series of steep switchbacks with sharp turns, negotiating the trail requires extreme caution for auto drivers and mountain bikers. It's a favorite with Hollywood movie producers.
Shafer Canyon overlook; photo by Dsdugan; creative commons share-alike 4.0 international

A well-known point on the trail is Thelma and Louise Point, where the famous scene in "Thelma & Louise" when the two women drove off the edge, into the canyon, was filmed. The view from the overlook, 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. It’s a breathtaking panorama of Canyonlands' sculpted pinnacles and buttes. Numerous commercials and music videos have been filmed there.

Now here's a snippet from a scene set on Shafer Trail in BEGUILING DELILAH. No, it's not a western historical, but this setting is a spectacular example of our amazing western lands. The Navajo hero is trying to protect the French Guardian he went to Paris to find. They are being followed by her ruthless enemies.

They were at the top of a wide canyon. The view was spectacular, but gazing hundreds of feet down into the huge hole in the mountainous terrain stole her breath.
“This is Shafer Canyon,” Leon said. “Do you see the trail down?”
“Oui.” The dirt road winding into the depths along steep switchbacks and around sharp curves made her head spin. “Surely you cannot mean to drive down that,” she said in a strained voice.
“Yes, I do. I have driven this trail before, and remember we have four-wheel drive. We will be fine, but I know it is frightening for you. When you get too scared, close your eyes, okay?”
She didn’t try to answer as he started slowly down the narrow dirt path. There weren’t even any guardrails. Clutching the edges of her seat, she stared at the cliff face near them, refusing to look at the heart-stopping drop on the opposite side of the car.
Leon swore in Navajo, drawing her terrified gaze. “The fools are following us. I hoped they would get cold feet and turn back.”
“Wh-what will you do now?” She barely got the words out.
“Speed up, I guess.”
“What?! No!” She couldn’t believe her ears.
“I must.” Jaw set, he gave the car more gas and they shot forward down the steep grade, only slowing slightly as they rounded a hairpin curve.
“Sweet Danu! Protect us!” Delilah gulped, feeling the car fishtail before straightening out. Bracing one hand against the dashboard, she squeezed her eyes shut, expecting them to go flying over the edge at any second, to die on the rocks far below.
“Slow down!” she begged, heart in her throat.
“It’s okay. I know what I’m doing,” Leon insisted, somehow making it down another incline and around a second death-defying curve.
She cracked her eyes open as they headed down yet another switchback. Daring a glance back, she saw the SUV edge around the last hairpin turn. “Their driver is going much slower than you,” she said.
Leon gave a dry laugh. “Good. He’s got more sense than I thought.”
Perplexed, she braced again as he calmly negotiated a third dangerous curve just as fast as the first two. When they straightened out on the next decline, she asked, “You expected him to keep up with us?”
He shrugged. “I expected him to try . . . and fail.”
She stared at him aghast. “You thought they would go over the edge and be killed!”

Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and romantic suspense novels, all spiced with paranormal elements. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West  Begins” - with her husband and a gaggle of very spoiled cats. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged children.

Amazon author page: http://amzn.to/Y3aotC
Newsletter:  Lyn’s Romance Gazette http://eepurl.com/bMYkeX
Website:  Lyn Horner’s Corner 

Twitter   Facebook   Goodreads   Google Plus   Sweethearts of the West 


  1. Lyn, you know I enjoy your series. Hero and I have visited a lot of Puebloan ruins but never this one. I hope we can, though.

    1. Caroline, I'm so happy you like the Guardians series. I have never yet visited any Puebloan sites, but I plan to visit Canyon de Chelly. I've written about it in several of the books in this series, and book 8 will be set there for the most part. It's time to go see the canyon for myself!

  2. Wow, the snippet is great. In all our trips in and around the national parks, we never got to this area. Oh, how I wish we had. It's fascinating and frightening, too. The power of water is amazing, isn't it?
    You novel is no doubt good. Your writing is fast and strong and moves the reader along.
    Well, done, and congratulations on this release. The cover is wonderful, too.

    1. Thank you, Celia! Your praise is music to my ears! Glad you like the cover. I think it's one of the best Kim Killion has done for me.

      Yes, the power of water is awe inspiring. Canyonlands is a proof of that.

  3. I almost fainted just looking at a picture of that road. Lordy! I would be paralyzed by fear, my hands clenched and frozen to the wheel.
    All these places look so untamed, completely wild and that makes me happy just to know these wild places are still there.
    I thoroughly enjoyed your article and those glorious pictures, Lyn.

  4. LOL Sarah, you should see some of the other pictures of Shafer Trail. They made my heart palpitate. Still, I would love to see those wild places.

    Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West!