April 2016 – The area around Moab, Utah, is teeming with exotic red rock canyons, towering natural stone arches, snowcapped mountains, exotic ancient rock art and exhilarating hikes that go through it all.
There is a joke that southern Utah’s landscapes are so spectacular that many places would be National Parks if they were located in any other state. But they get relegated to mere State Park or even lower status because they are located in Utah.
Dead Horse Point State Park is such a place.
Lying just 12 miles from Moab as the eagle flies across the canyons — or 33 miles as the roads go around them — Dead Horse Point State Park is tucked into a dramatic bend in the Colorado River that resembles some of the curves in its big brother, the Grand Canyon, a few hundred miles downstream to the southwest.
The overlooks at Dead Horse Point State Park are eye-popping at any time of day, but to watch the sunrise there is a magical experience. We snuck out in the pre-dawn hours and tip-toed around the edges of the canyon in the semi-darkness, passing endless wonderful, gnarly old trees.
One tree in particular kept drawing us back. It leaned over the edge as if wanting to take a closer look at the canyon.
Another stood watch over a bench at a viewpoint.
As dawn flirted with us on the horizon, the curves and contours of this magnificent canyon slowly began to take shape. Gradually, the wispy clouds in the sky took on the brilliant peach and orange hues of sunrise.
What a blessing it was to be there on a day when there were enough clouds to create a colorful sunrise!
All of a sudden, the sun crested the horizon over the mountains to the west, and it sent shafts of orange light across the canyon.
Then a few of the red rock peaks lit up in the distance.
If there is a place in this world to watch the sun come up, this is it. And what a spot for photography!!
Until this moment, we had had the entire canyon to ourselves, but we’d heard a car drive up and park. As the sunlight grew brighter, we noticed a person sitting out on a ledge and soaking in the miracle of a new day arriving in this special place.
Slowly, the sun’s rays lit up more and more of the canyon.
As the sun rose higher, the Colorado River began to reflect the orange cliffs in its depths. Magnificent!
As we watched the splendor before us, we were surprised to hear the squawking of Canada Geese in the distance. They seemed to be way over on the opposite side of the canyon to the west. They never did come into view, but for about 5 minutes we could hear the flock talking together as they commuted down the river and across the canyon from the west side of the horizon to the east!!
After the sunrise was over, we returned to our campsite where we noticed the most beautiful little blue bird flitting about out the back window of our trailer. He kept landing on the handlebars and shifting cables on our bicycles mounted on our bike rack. He seemed quite enamored of our bicycle bell!
Fortunately, he didn’t seem to be fazed by our movements inside the rig, and he settled down long enough for us to get a good look at him through the window and to get some really nice photos. We checked him out in our bird guide, and he was a Mountain Bluebird. How cool!
Then his little girlfriend stopped by. She was a real cutie too, with soft brown wings and a splash of Mountain Bluebird blue on her back! We never found out what these birds’ fascination was with our bikes on the back end of our RV, but they hung around for a very long time.
Where our visit to Arches National Park had been shared with a gazillion other visitors, and our visit to the town of Moab had been a little wild during Jeep Safari week, the utter calm at Dead Horse Point State Park was intoxicating. At twilight we snuck back to the rim of the canyon and got some shots of the sunset on the horizon with a tree in the foreground.
The sunrise at Dead Horse Point State Park is worth getting up for on any morning you are nearby, so we set our alarms each morning we were there, reminding ourselves as we groaned when it went off that it isn’t everyday you have a view like this within driving distance.
It was tough to climb out of our snug, warm bed to go stand at the rim of the canyon (in four layers of jackets) and wait for the sun to come up. But the beautiful photos and feeling of tranquility that reached across the miles and miles of canyon were well worth it.
One morning as I hiked across the huge, flat boulders towards the rim, I looked up and was astonished to find myself face to face with a white desert fox. I was loaded down with my camera, my pack, my tripod and my travel coffee mug, and I knew there was no way I could juggle it all and get his photo without scaring him off.
So, I simply basked in the moment, and talked to him softly. His ears perked up in my direction and he took a long look at me. I admired his bushy white tail, tipped with a little black tuft at the end. To my utter surprise, he sat down for a moment! Then he got up and trotted away in silence on velvet paws.
The sunrises at Dead Horse Point were sensational, but that private moment with the desert fox in the dim pre-dawn light was extraordinary.
Inspired by the professional videographers we met at Horsehoe Bend in Arizona, I set up a timelapse sequence on my camera to show the shadows retreating from the red rock canyon walls as the sun rose. What fun!!
For those with limited bandwidth, this video is 19 MB and 20 seconds long.
Dead Horse Point State Park is a fabulous place for outdoor lovers of all kinds to visit, and for RVers especially.
There is a campground with electrical hookups within the park (no need for solar power!) and loads of other campground options nearby (links below). In early April there were few people, if any, at the rim at dawn, but we have heard the place can be very busy at sunrise later in the season.
We enjoyed the sunsets at Dead Horse too, but the sunrises were most magical for us.
The best viewpoints at dawn are to the west of the main overlook. Simply follow the paved trail heading to the right of the parking lot, and then cut across the rocks to the rim at whatever point looks appealing to you.
It’s all wonderful!
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More info about Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah:
- Official Website for Dead Horse Point State Park
- Camping at Dead Horse Point State Park
- Campground Map and Site Sizes for Dead Horse Point State Park
- RV Parks and Campgrounds Near Moab
- Location of Dead Horse Point State Park in relation to Moab, Arches NP and Canyonlands NP
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