Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Looking for America (3) -- Arches National Monument
We left Town Mouse and her friend when they said good-bye to beautiful Big Basin National Park and started on the next stretch of their journey, which was to take them to Arches National Park. As was their custom, they managed to get a little lost right at the beginning of the journey, but quickly recovered and continued on Highway 50 toward Arches. The drive was, again, hypnotic and amazing. The two listened to music, told some stories, and gazed in awe at the landscape that was unfolding.
They arrived at a motel outside Moab, Utah, somewhat tired and somewhat hungry and were not thrilled to find out that the place did not serve food -- you had to drive to Moab for nourishment. Fortunately, they were able to make a meal out of trail mix, fruit, cheese, and bread, and went to bed early, planning to get up at sunrise for the best photo opportunities.
They woke up shortly before sunrise, packed quickly, got in the car, and drove the short distance to Arches (without getting lost). And it was indeed an amazing place. Just seeing the rocks, painted red by the morning sun, was stunning.
And the first arch, Delicate Arch, was breathtaking even from a distance. They later watched a video of how these arches were formed at the visitor center, but it was still hard to believe they existed.
After Delicate Arch, the next stop was Devil's Garden, a canyon landscape with a 2.5 mile hike and several arches one could visit along the way. Properly greased up with sunscreen and with freshly filled water bottles, the two started out, enjoying the still reasonably cool weather.
The first part of the hike was flat, with a wide path to walk on and views of canyon and the desert vegetation, the Devil's Garden. At the end of that first part was Landscape Arch, a very wide arch that fairly recently lost part of the lower section, proof that Arches is still changing. It was good to see that many families, with small children and grandparents with canes, were able to walk all the way to this arch, and enjoy the landscape propelled by their own power, not an internal combustion engine.
Photos can't do justice to the arches. Defying gravity, huge slabs of rock hang in the air. Underneath, a decent-sized tree is dwarfed, looking like a toy.
But the explorers had more in mind. Throwing caution to the wind, they followed the signs toward the primitive trail leading to Double O Arch. This turned out to be a bit complicated because there was a trail called "Primitive Trail" and a second trail, also primitive but shorter, leading to the same destination. After walking the same 500 feet 3 times, it became clear which trail was which and the two continued on the primitive (not Primitive) trail, which was populated by a lot of hikers.
Regrettably Town Mouse and her friend were used to following the lead of a male, and here came their downfall: They followed a family of 4 just in front of them, who seemed to know the way. But the trail narrowed. "Are we on the right path, I wonder?" said the Town Mouse friend after a while. "Oh, look, here is another cairn, we must be on the right path." replied Town Mouse. Except, after a while, there were no more cairns and the family actually came back, proclaiming that the path had ended. So, the two searched a little longer. Clearly there were paths, but equally clearly there were no more cairns, so after about 15 minutes, the smart choice seemed to be a return to Landscape Arch. Imagine how surprised the two were when, upon returning to the steep climb, they found the actual path, quite wide, veered off to the left while they had veered slightly to the right. Shaking their head at their folly, they looked at their watches and decided yes, they could make it to Double O. And...
Yes! They made it! And let me tell you, it was not the easiest trail in the world, with some areas where a stout walking stick would have come in very handy indeed. Mr. Mouse would have been amazed that Town Mouse, who does not like steep drops, managed to gather the courage to climb up some of those boulders. At the Double O Arch, the two had a well deserved rest and enjoyed the view, then they turned around and hiked back to the car (meeting, halfway back, the family they had followed, who had obviously managed to get much more thoroughly lost and looked quite exhausted).
As the two drove on, the views along the way almost rivaled those at Arches itself. Canyons in red and gray, mountains with incredible rock patterns.
Soon, they started driving on Highway 70, with more cars and more towns. But they much enjoyed the drive over the first part of the Rockies, past mountain streams, forests, beautiful scenery everywhere.
Early in the evening, they finally arrived, happy to be safe but also glad for all the adventures. And, tired from all the travels, the went to bed dreaming of rocks, wide open skies, and another sunrise.
(Stay tuned for one more travel post with photos of flora and fauna of Arches National Monument.)