Explosions in the Sky: Canyonlands Thunderstorm!

Canyonlands Thunderstorm

Canyonlands Thunderstorm (click to enlarge)

One of the things I love most about road tripping through Utah is the abundance of free campsites! I passed through the Moab area on a beautiful spring weekend – the height of tourist season, every hotel, motel and campground said “No Vacancy” – and yet I had no trouble finding awesome, free places to camp each night. My grand total for lodging for 9 nights on the road: $0.

The absolute best campsite I had this past week – possibly one of the best I’ve ever had – was at the Canyon Rim Recreation Area, BLM lands overlooking Canyonlands National Park, south of Moab. The two official campgrounds were full, but I had the entire Needles Overlook area to myself! On my way out out to the overlook/ picnic area (which is signed no camping) I spotted a slew of unpaved roads snaking off through the trees, towards the drop. I left the pavement and followed one of these roads to where it dead ended next to a fire ring at the edge of the mesa.

My sweet free spot overlooking Canyonlands

My sweet free spot overlooking Canyonlands

Right after I parked, I heard thunder in the distance and soon the most incredible storm system I have ever witnessed swept down through Canyonlands in a dramatic procession of cumulonimbus thunderheads called a “squall line”. Up on the rim, I barely got wet! Utah, this is Love.

Canyonlands Squall Line

Canyonlands Squall Line

Best seat in the house!

Best seat in the house!

A few drops on the rim, deluge down below

A few drops on the rim, deluge down below

Rain in the Desert!

Rain in the Desert!

The Edge of the Storm

The Edge of the Storm

Thunderstorm D.O.G.

Thunderstorm D.O.G.

Aftermath: A Full-Circle Rainbow at Sunset!

Aftermath: A Full-Circle Rainbow at Sunset!

For more on free camping check out my previous posts: Boondocking 101, How to Find a Sweet Free Campsite and Leave No Trace. Also check out my other raging storm post: Explosions in the Sky: Pawnee National Grasslands. These are some of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken and thus it bears repeating: please don’t steal my photos! If you’d like a print, please contact me at theblondecoyote@gmail.com. Thank you! M

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Teardrop Trailer, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Explosions in the Sky: Canyonlands Thunderstorm!

  1. Andrew McAllister says:

    That is a great area. I have a few posts about the needles overlook too. I found some great camping areas near the old Theosophist compound and hope to camp there later in the season. Love your posts and travels.

  2. MrsBoardwell says:

    amazing & v dramatic pics, love!

  3. westerner54 says:

    Wonderful. Next best thing to being there is seeing your photographs first thing in the morning. Thanks.

  4. todd says:

    Do you know the band, Explosions in the Sky? If not, you really must look them up for the next time you have this happen. They are one of my favorite bands; all instrumental, mostly guitar rock, but they have a powerful ability to make any moment seem cinematic. I can imagine looking at this view with their music blasting in my ears as an opening scene in a fantastic movie!

    Beautiful images!


  5. heidikins says:

    Gorgeous photos! (Also, it makes me smile to see Andrew McA. commenting here too, I love his Utah photography!)


  6. cozybegone says:

    It’s like watching a outdoor movie but ten times better…STUNNING!

  7. Claire says:

    Beautiful! I camped at Muley Point in Utah many years back, and witnesses similar thunder/rain storms. Such a great experience.

  8. Absolutely STUNNING! I cannot imagine that feeling of peace.

  9. David Sands says:

    Thanks for the great photos! Hope to make it out there some day.

  10. Karolyn Cooper says:

    Amazing photos.

  11. susank456 says:

    Stunning photos!!!!

  12. Andy says:

    There is nothing like nature in all it’s working to give us a sense of diminishment and insignificance. Like you said-best seats in the house.

  13. vishnevats says:

    Wow! I am just bowled over by the photos. What an experience that must have been. I love your blog. You take me to such wonderful places. Thanks.

  14. tinycamper says:

    You really did have the best seat in the house. Your photos are powerful.

  15. We were in Moab last fall for an amazing thunder storm experience. Watching the water flooding down over the rocks was really something to remember. Later that day, we camped near Needles and saw rainbows over the cliffs. I was so glad we hadn’t called off our trip based on the weather report.

  16. Allison says:

    Simply awesome! You’re lucky to have such a great seat for the show!

  17. AMAZING SHOTS!!! Moab is a gorgeous, unearthly place. I can’t wait to go back.

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