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Running Across the Island in the Sky

By Ann Driggers


Now the high country has been shut down by snow for long distance foot travel I was jonesing to get out and stretch the legs. So this recent weekend I picked out a 20 mile loop of trails and roads that traveled through a small section of the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. My friend Holly agreed to throw in with me and mid morning saw us at the Upheaval Dome trail head setting out under glorious blue skies and in warm desert sunshine. Our route took us down the southern half of the Syncline Loop trail, through Upheaval Canyon onto the famous White Rim road, up Taylor Canyon and then finished with the last 6 miles on the Alcove Springs trail.

We chose the clockwise direction as I had read that the views were better and we would avoid the strong western sun by climbing up the east facing Alcove Springs trail at the end of the day. After a quick look (top picture) at the Upheaval Crater from which we could see where we were headed (a long long way away) we started on the descent: 

At times the trail was very rough and our first destination, top right in the valley bottom, seemed to be an interminable distance away:

Always the scenery was spectacular and the hardest thing about running was tearing our eyes away from the towering red canyon walls so that we didn't fall flat on our faces.

In Upheaval Canyon we found one lone cottonwood tree and we felt that it needed a hug. Which it did because it hugged right back as you can see by its arms:

On the White Rim Road for a very short section, it was funny to be running over the top of all the bike tracks as the White Rim is a loop I have ridden more times than I have run in the last month (six):

For the most part the roads and trails were in great shape, not too sandy, because of plentiful autumn rains. Still I had two rules on this run, in order to preserve my feet and legs for the long distance, - no running in deep sand or on pavement (there was a short section at the beginning).

About half way into the run at the 10 mile mark we turned off the White Rim and onto the Taylor Canyon Road. As I mentioned earlier this route was made up of sections of different roads and trails. Each was about 5 miles long so Holly and I would keep saying every time we reached an intersection "Off on another daily run!" since that is more my typical running distance. Really this 20 mile run was, for all intents and purposes, done off the couch. The last intersection with the usual poor views of sandstone towers, in this case Zeus and Moses:

And then we are off up the Alcove Springs trail which followed a sandy wash for over 4 miles:

We found a large cairn so we popped another stone on top and offered a prayer up to the canyon Gods to give us strength to climb the last 1,400 feet and 5 miles back up to the rim.

Eventually we reached the alcove for which the trail was named:

And shortly thereafter the trail really kicked up. I confess, walking happened here too, but it was hellish steep:

Before we knew it our desert adventure was over and we were back at the trailhead and ready to celebrate our awesome run across the Island in the Sky:


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