Today, the road climbs high and turns rough as you approach the plateau area. Softer sand has blown away, leaving flat layers of slickrock, with sharp edges like shelves or stair steps, mixed with softball-size stones. Vegetation is limited to scattered clumps of brush and thick, hearty grasses.
We'd driven about 8.5 miles when a long hill brought us to the edge of a sharp cliff, which allowed us to look straight down to the Colorado River. The river is 1500 feet below. Be warned: the dramatic view may leave you feeling dizzy.
Continuing on, we took a sudden turn to the right and followed along the rim of the cliff. You'll be tempted to check out the river, but the road demands your complete attention. The view looks into the heart of Canyonlands National Park.
We followed the four-wheel-drive road for about 10 miles until we landed between Dead Horse Point State Park and the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands. At a rough section of the road, 11 or 12 miles in, you'll find a sign listing the fees for Canyonlands. After a series of switchbacks through the hills finally leading to a "T" intersection, a sign notes that Musselman Arch is four miles away and the visitor's center is 5.6. This section of road to the visitor's center is rough, with places where the slickrock has cracked and splintered. We were glad to have our F-350 equipped with tough 10-ply tires.
The canyon rim appeared about four miles ahead of us, rising 1500 feet above the plateau. The road climbs steadily upward until reaching the bottom of the cliffs. The Shafer switchbacks zigzag from the canyon floor to the rim.