Dawn at Mesa Arch at Island in the Sky, just one district in the vast outback of Canyonlands National Park.

SPECIAL REPORT Uncrowded and unforgettable

Kurt Repanshek

Dramatically eroded from 527 square miles of colorful southeastern Utah sandstone by the Colorado and Green Rivers, rugged and remote Canyonlands is a geologic wonder. The park is sliced into four districts, of which the Island in the Sky, an elevated mesa, is the most accessible - you can view the canyon floor 2,200 feet below through Mesa Arch, or gaze into Upheaval Dome from atop kid-friendly Whale Rock. How you explore the rest of this rugged park - by foot, mountain bike, or raft - will be determined by your stamina and sense of adventure.

WHERE: The Island in the Sky district is 35 miles southwest of Moab via U.S. 191 and State 313.

WHEN: Open year-round; the weather is best in spring and fall.

COST: $10 per vehicle.

SERVICES: There's a visitor center in the Island in the Sky district (435/259-4712). Limited camping on a first-come, first-served basis at Willow Flat ($5). Nearby Moab has a full range of motels and eateries; contact the Grand County Travel Council (800/635-6622 or www.discovermoab.com).

ACTIVITIES: The easy 1/2-mile round-trip hike to Mesa Arch, located on the eastern lip of the mesa, begins 6 miles south of the Island in the Sky visitor center. Bulbous Whale Rock - a towering sandstone formation longer than a football field that kids can scamper across - and its 1/2-mile access trail are a 5-mile drive west of the Mesa Arch parking lot.

CONTACT: (435) 719-2100 or www.nps.gov/cany.

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