Dead Horse Point is connected to the plateau by a narrow neck, 30 yards wide, with cliffs falling away 2,000 feet on each side. One story goes that cowboys once drove a herd of wild mustangs onto the point and then fenced them there with branches and bushes across the neck. They chose the horses they wanted and, for unknown reasons, left the fence in place. The remaining horses died of thirst with the Colorado River in view 2,000 feet below, and that was the origin of the name.

The panorama above shows some of the view from the point. The brown-colored Colorado River, bordered by green trees, is visible at several locations.

This is desert up here at 6,000 feet. The pinyon pine and Utah juniper provide very little shade. Canyonlands National Park is located on the same plateau, several miles to the southwest. Arches National Park is lower in elevation, about 15 miles to the northeast as the raven flies.

Ravens were our buddies. They were talkative, social, and almost always around. Our only conflict with them was that they wanted to eat our garbage and we wanted to keep them from littering the park. Lizards, cottontail rabbits, violet-green swallows, and black-throated sparrows are also common in the park, and we even saw a few kit foxes.

Once again, we volunteered at a state park in order to spend time in an area we wanted to learn about. And, as we did in Washington state last year, we worked as camp hosts.

We chose Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah because a friend said it was “awesome” and because the average temperatures for June and July were below those for Idaho’s Bruneau Dunes State Park, where we were in 2013. Well, June this year was unseasonably hot! It was a dry heat, but hot is hot. Then on the 4th of July we had a spectacular all-night thunderstorm. The rest of July was a bearable, dry heat. By the way, out there even the rain is often dry. The word for rain that evaporates before reaching the ground is “virga”. The scenery is awesome!

Our travel was delayed by two weeks due to problems getting our Moving House repaired from problems that arose in 2012 and from our accident last summer. But eventually the repair shop was able to get the needed parts from the manufacturer and was even able to solve our refrigerator problems as well (by replacing the old one). We missed a chance to spend a few days at Zion and we were a week and a half late getting to our jobs at the park in Utah. A lot worse things could have happened.

Dead Horse Point seen from Canyonlands National Park,
4 1/2 miles southwest. The La Sal mountains are distantly visible.
Dead Horse Point seen from the Colorado River

Gail on the trail on the west rim of the park

Us at the Neck, Canyonlands in the background

Al with the ruins of two small, 1,000-year old Native American
granaries near Aztec Mesa in Canyonlands National Park

Prickly pear cactus blossom

A kit fox stared at us from its den

Compacting trash in the dumpster to foil the ravens

The remnants of a 60-million year old meteor crater or something else? Eugene Shoemaker and a colleague found evidence that this Upheaval Dome at Canyonland National Park was caused by an ancient meteor strike; other geologists think a buried salt dome caused it.

At Warner Lake in the La Sal Mountains east of Moab.
At 9,200 feet, much more comfortable than in Moab

At Landscape Arch in Arches National Park

Moab is a center for outdoor adventure: whitewater rafting, mountain biking, off-road vehicle driving, wilderness camping, etc. Our own adventures mostly involved hiking along desert trails. In the Fiery Furnace section of Arches National Park we did follow a ranger, jumping gaps and bracing hands and feet on one rock wall with our backs against another to slide along a crevice. And we took an all-day white-water rafting trip on the Colorado River through Westwater Canyon near the Colorado state border.

In Westwater Canyon. The black stone is the same
Visnu Shist formation as at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

Scene from our rafting trip through Westwater Canyon

Without a ranger to guide us, we would have been lost
in the many narrow canyons and tall fins of the Fiery Furnace

Mountain biker (not one of us) in Dead Horse Point State Park

The region in eastern Utah is not just filled with scenery and thrills. It is also a place with a deep history. We saw the tracks of dinosaurs who lived here long before mammals came to dominate the world. We saw petroglyphs scratched into cliffs by Native Americans. We saw structures built by Native Americans a thousand years ago. We looked into a ranch house that housed a pioneer family.

Gail points to one sauropod footprint in a trail at Copper Ridge,
maybe made by a camarasaurus 150 million years ago

A three-toed theropod footprint at Copper Ridge,
possibly made by an allosaurus. Car keys give the scale of the fossil.

Puzzling images left on the shore of the Colorado River
during the Archaic cultural period 6,000 BCE to 1,000 BCE

Newspaper Rock bears images spanning over 2,000 years. Navajo call it
“Rock That Tells A Story”, but no one now knows what the story is

Detail from Newspaper Rock

More detail from Newspaper Rock

Ruins of a food storage structure built on the banks
of the Colorado by Fremont Culture people about 1,000 years ago

Ranch house lived in by the Wolfe family about 100 years ago.
Now in Arches National Park.

This region is also rich in movie history. John Ford started it by filming the movie Wagon Master near the Colorado River a little northeast of Moab. He returned the next year with John Wayne to film Rio Grande. Since then many westerns have been filmed here in whole or in part. A few are Cheyenne Autumn, City Slickers II: The Search for Curly's Gold, and the recent The Lone Ranger. Some of the many non-westerns filmed here are The Greatest Story Ever Told, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Galaxy Quest, and Mission Impossible II.

In the center of this photo is Fossil Point, located between the Colorado River and Shafer Trail Road, as seen from Dead Horse Point. This is where Thelma and Louise took their final plunge, not at the Grand Canyon.

Check out for more about movies made near Moab, including at Dead Horse Point State Park.

While at Dead Horse Point State Park, we took a multi-day side-trip to Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado. Mesa Verde preserves the ruins, some reconstructed, of Native Americans who build elaborate stone apartment dwellings nestled into the sides of cliffs. They had originally farmed and lived on top of the mesa, but about 1,190 CE they began moving into the cliff dwellings. Why? For defense? To use more of the mesa top for farming? No one knows. Then around 1,300 CE, they abandoned their homes and moved south, where they became the ancestors of the modern Hopi, Zuni, and other pueblo dwelling peoples. Again why? No one knows.

Cliff Palace, one of the most famous dwellings

At Long House, we got to crawl into rooms

Mesa Verde also has petroglyphs
The line illustrates a journey by Native American clans.

A ruined, unreconstructed tower on a point
across the canyon from the petroglyph site.

Our first stop on our meandering journey home from Utah was Rocky Mountain National Park. On our first day there we were met by our friend Ed Wells, who took us on a tour up to the Alpine Visitor Center (11,796 feet above sea level) and back down. He also gave us advice about other things to see and do in the park. During the next three days, we hiked in different locations and then we bid a fond farewell to the park.

Gail and Ed at Chasm Falls along the Old Fall River Road

A pika near the Alpine Visitor Center. Cute little guys.

At Bear Lake, on our way to Emerald Lake

At Ouzel Falls

After Rocky Mountain National Park, we meandered our way home again, visiting family and friends across the midwest and taking in a few sights as we went. We made stops in Minnesota, Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

In Minnesota we visited with Gail's brother and his family and with Bill & Julie. Bill was Gail's supervisor when she worked at the University of Minnesota. Al gave a version of his presentation on Fire or Ice: The Ends of our Earth at Coffman Condos. One highlight of our time in Minnesota, was that Al was contacted by “new” relatives, 3rd cousins living in Minnesota and one was able to attend Al's presentation.

Gail's brother, Guy, and Gail after dinner at The Bungalow

Al with his new-found cousin, Mike

We crossed the border to Ontario (don't bring eggs when you cross) to take part in a reunion of cousins descended from five Swedish brothers and sisters, most of whom arrived in Canada early in the 20th century. (Our Minnesota cousins are descended from the uncles of that generation.) We met in Kenora on beautiful Lake of the Woods for an active two days.

Sadly, due to injury and other health issues, not all the cousins were able to participate as much as we wanted to see them. This photo shows some of our group standing on the steps of Kenora’s city hall. When our grandparents lived here, this building housed the post office and our grandparents surely climbed these steps many times.

When returning from Canada to the U.S., produce you've purchased in Canada may be confiscated by the U.S. border guards. The apples and bell pepper were gone, but we were allowed to re-import the lettuce, produced in the U.S.A. and sealed in plastic.

We stopped at the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan for just one day. We should spend more time there in the future.

At Manabezho Falls on Presque Isle River in the Porcupine Mountains

Lake Superior at Porcupine Mountains in the evening

The next stop was our annual get together with the Minn Clan, a group of former co-workers from the University of Minnesota. This year we assembled in Calumet, Michigan, on Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula and site of a famous 1913 catastrophe, when someone falsely shouted “fire” in a hall crowded with the children of striking copper miners. This area is also renowned for lake-effect snow. One winter they had over 390 inches of snow, almost twice as much as Buffalo, New York's, record.

Gail and Julie searching the beach of Gitche Gumee for agates

When looking for agates, Lolly found a fossil

Wood Duck near the Apple Blossom Trail

We spent a whole week in Iron County, Michigan, trying to relax but still keeping busy. Al gave his Ends of the Earth talk at the Iron County Historical Museum. We attended the End of Summer Blues Fest in the tiny village of Alpha. It featured good local artists like the Flat Broke Blues Band. We ate the unique pizza of the Riverside Pizzeria twice, once with Al's brother and sister-in-law, and once with Gail's schoolmate, Sherry, and her husband, Val, Al's schoolmate.

This brings us to a couple of “It’s A Small World” stories. Al and Gail grew up about 250 miles apart, in Iron River, a small town in Michigan near the border with Wisconsin and in Genoa City, a smaller town on Wisconsin’s border with Illinois. They met and married. Unlikely as it might seem, theirs was not the only marriage between these two towns. Sherry, a schoolmate of Gail's, married Val, a schoolmate of Al's. Improbable? Well, just listen to the next one. Al attended college in California and lived in a student house with 17 classmates. One classmate, Ken, was from California. Ken's cousin married a sister of Margee, Al's grade school and high school classmate. We all were in Iron River this August.

Gail and Maija with one of the painted cows in New Glarus, Wisconsin
Our last stops were Madison, Wisconsin, and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

From our base in Madison, we visited New Glarus, home of a Heidi festival and the New Glarus Brewery. We also visited Ten Chimneys, the farm estate of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, great stage actors from the 1920s through the 1950s. We toured the remodeled Department of Astronomy and talked with Jay Gallagher and Jeff Percival, formerly grad students while we were there, now staff members at the University. We had a four-hour lunch with Edith, daughter of the former Astronomy Department secretary, and friends Gil and Alana.

Our scheduling system (namely Al) made a mistake by planning our visit to Indiana Dunes during the Labor Day holiday weekend. The lakeshore was crowded with beach goers from Chicago.

The first two days we were in Madison were hot and humid, though it did get better later. And the day we were at Indiana Dunes was hot and humid. We longed for the drier and cooler days of the west and north.

Trying on a prop at Ten Chimneys

About to climb one of the dunes at Indiana Dunes,
easy compared with the trails in the Rocky Mountains

Here are a few more scenes from our summer.

Black-throated sparrow Looking through Mesa Arch in Canyonlands Dwarf evening primrose

The trail to Mesa Verde's petroglyphs

Northern whiptail lizard

Three ravens in conference

Cushion Buckwheat Flower
along the trail to Aztec Butte

One of many crossings in Negro Bill Canyon
(renamed Grandstaff Canyon in Oct 2017)

Violet-green swallow in Arches

Canyon & White Rim seen from Grand View

Whale Rock at sunset

Descending from the summit of Whale Rock

Emerald Lake, 10,080 feet high in
Rocky Mountain National Park

The measure of the Keweenaw Peninsula's
390 inches of snow

A superior Lake Superior sunset

Prepared by Albert Holm, 13 Sept 2015; updated 20 February 2024