Whale Rock Trail

excerpted from our book

Canyonlands National Park Favorite Jeep Roads & Hiking Trails
pages 68-69

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Aztec Butte, Canyonlands National Park     Whale Rock is a huge rounded dome of smooth, white Navajo Sandstone that lies half-buried in the sand about 600 yards west of Upheaval Crater. The rock is well named. Seeing it from the road it is easy to visualize Moby Dick breaking the surface of a calm sea, and it begs to be climbed by almost anyone who drives past. The hike to the top of Whale Rock is a fun and easy way to spend an hour. Morning is the best time because then the eastern sun makes for a great view across the top of Upheaval Crater.
      From the parking area the Whale Rock trail crosses the sand and slickrock for 0.4 mile before starting the 0.1-mile climb up the northeast side of Whale Rock. The Park Service has installed handrails on the steeper parts of the climb, but they arenít really necessary. The route is only moderately steep, and the elevation gain is only 170 feet. The best view from the top of Whale Rock is to the west, where you can peer across Upheaval Crater and beyond to Upheaval Canyon on the opposite side of the depression. There are also interesting views of Trail Canyon, 0.5 mile to the northeast, and Holeman Spring Basin, 0.7 mile to the southwest. But for me the most engaging panorama is to the north.
      Looking north from this vantage point it is clear that Whale Rock is but a small segment of a large concentric ring of uplifted sandstone that almost completely encircles the crater. The ring of rock looks strikingly similar to the outwardly radiating ripples of water that are always formed when a stone is thrown into a calm lake, and it isnít hard to imagine a similar event that once occurred here.
      Geologists theorize that Upheaval Crater was formed about 60 million years ago when a large meteorite, perhaps one-third of a mile in diameter, impacted the earth in Canyonlands National Park. Immediately after the collision a stupendous wave of kinetic energy propagated outward from the point of impact, and it was this energy as well as the collapse of the crater that formed the concentric ring of exposed sandstone we now see. The Whale Rock Trail offers an opportunity to climb to the top of the circle of stone and ponder the forces that formed it.

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