Syncline Loop Trail

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Canyonlands National Park Favorite Jeep Roads & Hiking Trails
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Upheaval Crater, Canyonlands National Park     The Syncline Loop trail traces out a loop around Upheaval Crater, an ancient crater on the edge of the Island in the Sky Mesa. The crater lies at the top of what appears to be a huge salt dome, and for many years geologists thought the depression was the result of a collapse in the center of the dome. The structure was called Upheaval Dome. New geologic evidence, however, has almost completely ruled out this theory, and now most scientists believe the pit to be an impact crater. Currently accepted theory claims that the crater was formed by a large meteorite or comet that collided with the earth some 60 million years ago.
      Midway through the Syncline Loop hike the path intersects the Upheaval Canyon Trail which leads into the center of the crater, and if you wish to extend your hike by one or two hours the trail into Upheaval Crater makes an interesting side trip (see page 82). But even if you choose not to walk into the crater, you should at least plan a lunch break near the Syncline Loop trail junction. The two trails meet in a very pretty area called Syncline Valley. There is usually water in the bottom of the valley, and the Park Service has also established a primitive campsite nearby for overnight hikers with back­country permits.
      Walk north from the parking area on the Upheaval Dome Trail for about 150 feet until you see a sign marking the junction with the Syncline Loop Trail. You can turn either way here, but I suggest you turn left and walk around the Syncline Loop Trail in a clockwise direction. This will insure that most of the best scenery will generally be in front of you.

Upheaval Crater, Canyonlands National Park     The Syncline Loop Trail stays on fairly level ground for about 0.8 mile as it skirts along the southern edge of the crater, but soon it begins a downward plunge that will eventually take you to the bottom of Upheaval Canyon. The trail is steep, but the scenic rewards are ample. Occasionally you can catch a glimpse of the Green River peering up through the twists and folds of the canyons below. Finally, after a descent of 1,000 feet, the Syncline Loop Trail reaches the bottom of a wash and then continues downward at a more gradual grade until it arrives at the bottom of Upheaval Canyon. When you reach the floor of the canyon you will find a sign marking the trail to Green River, three miles away. You should turn right at this junction to stay on the Syncline Loop Trail.
      A short walk upcanyon from the Green River Trail junction will bring you to the mouth of Syncline Valley, where you can usually find water. The Syncline Loop Trail then climbs about 100 feet to the rim of the shallow canyon where you will see a sign marking the beginning of the spur trail that leads into the center of Upheaval Crater. Again, this is an interesting side trip if you have an hour or two to spare. Inside the crater you will find a massive jumble of debris, including great piles of gray pulverized sand that were once a part of the White Rim geologic formation. It is this debris that has provided the strongest evidence to support the theory that Upheaval Dome was formed by a meteorite impact.
      From the junction with the Upheaval Crater Trail the Syncline Loop Trail continues north into Syncline Valley. Again, there is usually water along this part of the hike, sometimes in large pools. After less than a mile the lower part of Syncline Valley ends in a box canyon, and the trail begins following a steep and rocky route up the valley's north side. Some scrambling may be necessary at this point, but once you reach the upper valley the trail again turns into a pleasant walk. There isn't as much water in the upper part of Syncline Valley as in the lower part, but it is still a green oasis in the desert canyon country. The Syncline Loop Trail meanders for about a mile through the tamarisk and cottonwood trees, and then suddenly exits to the south through a large, unexpected break in the canyon wall. Hidden as it is from the outside world, Syncline Valley is the kind of place that would have made a perfect hideout for a band of outlaws at the turn of the century.
      Once you have climbed out of Syncline Valley through the narrow slot in the canyon wall you are back on top of the Island in the Sky. From there it is a relatively easy walk of about two miles through the juniper forest back to the trailhead and parking area

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