• Spires of Cedar Mesa sandstone in Chesler Park (Needles District)

    Canyonlands

    National Park Utah

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  • Some unpaved roads are closed

    Recent rains have caused extensive damage to some roads in the Needles District and some of the roads into the Maze District. More »

  • Safety in Bear Country

    Black bears have been seen in the Needles, Maze, and along the Colorado River. Be alert and store food and garbage properly: in hard-sided, latched containers (or your vehicle) when not being prepared or consumed. More »

  • New backcountry requirements in effect

    Hard-sided bear containers are required for backpackers in parts of the Needles District. More »

Deserts

photo: Typical desert landscape in the Canyonlands area
Typical desert landscape in the Canyonlands area
NPS Photo by Neal Herbert
 

Canyonlands forms the heart of a "high" or "cold" desert called the Colorado Plateau. The arid climate of this area is caused by many factors.

Deserts form when weather patterns or geographic land forms create an environment where lack of water limits biotic productivity. Water may exist in an unusable form such as ice, or may be absent altogether. There are four basic types of desert: high pressure, rain shadow, interior continental and coastal.

High pressure deserts generally form at the middle latitudes (30 degrees) in each hemisphere where warm, dry air masses descend toward the earth's surface. Rain shadow deserts form in localized high pressure zones caused by warm, dry air descending from mountain ranges. The Colorado Plateau is also in the interior of a large continent, far away from significant water sources.

Because of the elevations throughout the region, with a mean of around 3,000 feet and peaks over 12,000 feet above sea level, the Colorado Plateau is also known as a cold or high desert. Though low humidity allows greater penetration of solar radiation, winter air temperatures frequently drop below freezing. In turn, summertime air and especially ground temperatures can reach levels lethal for many organisms. After sunset, the ground rapidly loses heat to the night sky and ambient air temperatures may drop significantly before dawn. Temperature fluctuations of over 40 degrees in a 24-hour period are not uncommon.

Canyonlands receives more precipitation than many other deserts: about 9 inches annually. August is generally the wettest month, as weather systems from the southwest bring brief, intense tropical storms. However, precipitation is highly variable both temporally and spatially. During a single storm, one area may receive significantly more or less water than a neighboring spot less than a mile away.

Did You Know?

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Desert bighorn sheep live year-round in Canyonlands. These animals make their home along the rivers, negotiating the steep, rocky talus slopes with ease. Once in danger of becoming extinct, desert bighorns are making a tentative comeback thanks to the healthy herds in Canyonlands. More...