WHICH WAY TO ARCHIES?
On Monday we decided to head to Arches National Park. After a couple of breakfast burritos, we were on our way to Moab. We had been warned about the hordes of tourists weíd encounter, but we were still overwhelmed at the visitorís center. It was like a big sale day at Walmart in there. There were crowds of people, most speaking in a variety of languages. We found out that the ranger-led hike into the Fiery Furnace was booked for the next two days, so we had to drop that from our agenda. We couldnít get out of the visitorís center soon enough, and it was a relief to be back on the main road into the park.
We drove up a huge hill and stopped at the Park Avenue trailhead to view the rock formations. We hadnít planned to hike the trail, but we did walk to the first overlook to get a good view. From there we moved on to Balanced Rock, The Old Block, and a fallen piece from The Old Block, called Chip. We stopped at a couple of other overlooks that werenít too memorable before arriving at the trailhead at Devilís Garden. Here we found an immense parking lot, with a boulevard for a trail heading towards Landscape Arch.
We followed the footsteps of millions, but took a short side trail to view Tunnel and Pine Tree Arch. Once back on the main path, we arrived at Landscape Arch after about 30 minutes. It was certainly impressive, and looked quite fragile because itís so thin through the middle. They say that Landscape Arch will collapse one of these years, so go today if you havenít seen it. From there we passed Wall Arch, which was neat but rather hard to photograph since it was directly overhead. At this point our walk turned into a real hike. We climbed over slickrock and some boulders before arriving at a junction. We took the side trail out to Navajo and Partition Arches. Navajo was nice, but I really liked Partition. Partition was really two separate arches side by side. Through the opening was a great view of the desert looking out towards the Colorado River.
We returned to the main trail and climbed across a narrow fin of rock. The views were spectacular! I was only expecting arches on this hike, so this was a real bonus. We thought about having lunch there, but the ledge was narrow and there were still many other hikers around. We continued on, and soon arrived at Double O Arch. This one was also a twin arch, with vertical openings. This one was easily my favorite of the day. We climbed through the bottom opening and over rocks to a great vantage point. From this side the view was even better. In the distance we could see the narrow vertical spire of Dark Angel. I tried to convince Christy that it was the Washington Monument, but she didn't believe me.
After lunch, we continued our hike on the primitive loop. All of a sudden everyone disappeared. It was a little longer to return by this route, and there werenít many arches along the way. For us, this was quite pleasant. We had seen enough arches for one day, anyhow. It was nice to walk through the desert and enjoy some quiet. We also were treated with some great views of the snow-covered La Sal Mountains. All too soon though, we found ourselves back at Landscape Arch. After a final look, we returned quickly to the trailhead. It had been a hot, dry, 7 mile hike, and we were both looking forward to the cold cokes waiting in the cooler.
On the way out, we stopped at the Delicate Arch overlook. It was a distant vista, but it was nice to get a preview of the next dayís destination. From there it was on to Moab. We werenít terribly impressed with Moab itself. It seemed to be nothing more than a collection of motels, campgrounds, gas stations, and fast food restaurants. We did find a grocery store though, and a shop with excellent ice cream. From there it was back to Dead Horse Point State Park. Until now, we had neglected to drive out to the overlook at the end of the mesa. I knew this was a highlight view, so we headed that way for sunset. The vista of the curving Colorado River below the cliffs was indeed spectacular. We stayed for awhile, and attempted to take some photos of the sunset. There were several folks there with professional looking equipment. We were amused though when they left as soon as the sun disappeared. 10 minutes later the sky was ablaze with color as the setting sun lit up the clouds from below. On the way back to the car, a desert fox ran across the path in front of us. We tried to get his picture, but it was just too dark. On the drive back we passed him again, and also saw another mule deer.
We returned to camp, and grilled steaks and potatoes for a late dinner. Afterwards, another desert fox visited our camp. He was definitely curious, but shy enough to keep a reasonable distance. We made sure we cleaned camp well that night before we went to bed.
Today, we saw 7 chipmunks, but only 6 lizards.
THE SIERRA LA SAL
Christy and I got up extra early Tuesday for a special breakfast. We drove back out to Dead Horse Point to watch the sunrise. We found a nice rock with a view where I could set up the stove. From there we took turns making pancakes and taking pictures. The view we had the night before was nice, but the early morning light made the vista incredible. The sun rose behind The La Sals, and the colors of the canyon walls changed each minute.
After a pleasant breakfast, we had some work to do. We broke camp (how we hated to leave) and drove back to Arches. We had hoped to hike the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail on the way, but we decided that we didnít have time. Christy was looking forward to seeing dinosaur tracks and fossils, but we agreed to save that for another trip. We arrived at the Delicate Arch trailhead to find only a few cars. Apparently we were ahead of the crowds.
The trail started out easy, but soon we were climbing steeply over slickrock. Along the way we passed some spectacular wildflowers. One bunch was clustered in a narrow crack in the rock. After a little more than a mile, we saw Frame Arch in the wall above us on the right. We scrambled up and found a great view of Delicate Arch through the hole. After a couple of photos (it is called Frame Arch for a reason) we returned to the trail. A few yards later and we were standing below a breathtaking sight. Delicate Arch stood before us, right on the edge of a cliff. Beyond it we could see the snow covered La Sals. There were only a few people around, so we explored the area and shot half a roll of film. We stayed for awhile, until the crowds started to catch up with us. We probably passed over 100 people on the mile and a half hike back to the car.
It was still only late morning, so we headed over to the Windows section of the park. We had beaten the crowds to Delicate Arch, but we ran out of luck here. There were people everywhere! We hiked up to Turret Arch and The Windows. The arches were nice, but we were mainly concerned with finding a quiet place for lunch. We hiked The Windows primitive loop around the back of The Windows. The trail is only a mile or so long, but that word primitive scares away the tourists every time! No one was back there. We had a relaxing lunch, and enjoyed the view of the arches and the mountains. The view of the Windows was actually better from the back. The Windows are sometimes called The Spectacles, and now we could see why. The two arches looked like eyes, with the rock outcrop in the center imitating a nose.
After we returned, I jogged up to get a look at Double Arch. It was impressive Ė in fact it was probably one of the best arches of the trip. However, Christy and I were both getting "arched out". We were ready for a change in climate and scenery, so we decided to head for the mountains.
Before we left we ran into Moab one last time for last minute provisions. By provisions, I mainly mean ice cream. We stopped at a different shop, which proudly displayed some surprising political views. The walls were covered with posters advocating the removal of Glenn Canyon dam. Glenn Canyon was flooded back in the 60ís when the river was damned to create Lake Powell. John W. Powell led the first expedition to explore the Colorado and itís canyons. From his writings, itís apparent that Glenn Canyon was a special place to him. So they named the lake after him. Iím sure heís still spinning in his grave over that one. A video of the canyon prior to the creation of the damn dam was running on a tv. I was surprised but pleased that a local business would state their position on such a controversial proposal.
Christy wanted to do some shopping, so I left her and grabbed some more groceries. I picked her back up and we were on our way to the mountains. First, we drove up along the Colorado River. From there, we turned and drove up through Castle Valley. The rock formations here were every bit as spectacular as those in the national parks. The drive reminded me of photos of Cathedral Valley. As we drove, the snowy peaks loomed ever closer. Once we were out of the valley, the views back down toward the river were unbelievable. As we gained elevation, we left the desert and entered the forest. First there were pines, and then aspen. Finally we reached a snow covered aspen grove alongside the road. After days of hiking in the hot desert, we were ready to sit in a snow bank. I took some photos of Christy walking around barefoot in the snow before we continued our journey.
The road we followed wound through the mountains, but stayed mainly below treeline. At one point we came around a curve to find 2 wild turkeys in the road. From there we gradually worked our way back down towards Moab. Once we hit the highway, it was on to new territory. We headed south towards the Needles.
We drove on towards Monticello before making the turn towards the Needles section of Canyonlands National park. It was late afternoon, but we did take a few minutes to stop at Newspaper Rock State Park. Newspaper Rock is a well-known display of petroglyphs. We spent some time looking at the different etchings. My favorite looked like some type of monster or demon. There were also many wild animals, as well as hunters on horseback. We attempted to photograph the panel, but it is huge. Christy took 5 or 6 pictures to try to capture the whole thing.
From there we continued west to The Needles Outpost Campground. It is a private campground just outside of the national park. We had reservations, so we checked in with the very nice though mildly drunk owner. We picked up some firewood, and pre-paid for showers. Showers arenít cheap in the desert, since all their water is trucked in. For campers, it was $3 for 5 minutes. Luckily though, you could turn the water on and off, so that was reasonable. The owner suggested we double up to save water and money, but we politely declined.
We arrived at our campsite, which was outstanding. We had a great view over the Needles. The other campsites were a pleasant distance away. Behind us was a huge rock which Christy couldnít resist climbing. Later, we enjoyed a nice sunset, dinner of chicken creole, and a wonderful fire. Our $6 of wood was juniper, which creates one of the best smells Iíve ever experienced. I wish we had cooked over it.
Christy was changing clothes at the back of camp when I heard an odd noise. It sounded like the hum of electricity. This had just begun to register when I heard Christy say, "hey there little guy." (!) Before I could get a word out, she was doing this bizarre dance that looked like a combination of the funky chicken and the electric slide. Then, she was on top of the picnic table. "Christy, that sounded like a rattlesnake!" No verbal response at all, just gasping and pointing. It was dark, so I found my flashlight and went over to investigate. Rattle. Yep, it definitely sounds like a rattlesnake. I finally found him, curled up in front of our giant rock. Luckily for Christy, I knew exactly what to do. I found my camera and took his picture. Then, I waited for 15 minutes before he finally moved away. Sometime later that night Christy came down off the picnic table. Apparently she had mistook the rattle for a frog. She had never heard a rattlesnake before, but Iím sure she wonít make that mistake again.
Today, we saw 93 Oriental tourists, but only 86 Europeans.
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