With its colorful name and panoramic views of chiseled canyons and layered plateaus, Dead Horse Point - a cousin to the Grand Canyon's rimside vantages - can justifiably claim to be one of Utah's truly spectacular state parks.

Although the Colorado River doesn't cut quite as deep here as it does into the Grand Canyon to the south, some 275 million years of earth's geologic history are revealed from the park's viewpoints. The chasms and picturesque vistas boggle the mind. Traces of the Colorado River - especially the looping Goose Neck - are visible 2,000 feet below, as are segments of the Shafer Trail, crossing the terraces in a climb to, or descent from, Canyonlands National Park.The history of the West, too, is captured on this edge of the mesa just outside Canyonlands.

"Legend says that early cowboys herded wild horses out on the point and blocked the small entrance" - a slim 30-yard-wide neck of rock - "to make a corral," notes a display in the park's museum. There, the mustangs were roped and broken. The best were kept by the cowboys or driven east to be sold. The unwanted ones, called "broomtails," were left behind.

"One such band of culls," goes the story, "was left to die in sight of the water they could never reach."

Hence, Dead Horse Point.

The viewpoint came into its own in 1954 when a new road almost halved the travel distance, previously a 70-mile round-trip jog over unimproved back roads. In 1959, the site was declared a state park and access was improved even more. Today, U-313 leads directly from U.S. 191 to Dead Horse Point (a 36-mile round trip), with an offshoot leading into Canyonland's Island in the Sky district.

Dead Horse Point State Park includes a visitors center and museum, a 21-unit campground, picnic spots, several spectacular viewpoints and a rim trail.

A $5-per-car fee is charged at the park's entry station. For more information, call Dead Horse Point State Park at 435-259-2614 or write Dead Horse Point State Park, P.O. Box 609, Moab, UT 84532-0609. For advance camping reservations, call 322-3770 (which becomes an 800 number outside of the Salt Lake area).