Monday, August 14, 2017

Return to Arches

The road to Devils Garden is open! We won't miss it after all.

Photo © by Judy Wells.
Again we are out early. The drive gives us a look at a different terrain, more arches and fascinating rock formations.
Photo © by Judy Wells.

Once we hit the trail trees provide blissful moments of shade for the curving trek up through canyons narrow and wide.

Photo © by Judy Wells.
The surface shifts from rock to sand which means Landscape Arch is just ahead.

Landscape Arch. Photo © by Judy Wells.
A rail fence has been built to keep visitors from getting too close or underneath. Landscape, with a span of 290.1 feet, is fragile, only 6 feet at its narrowest point. In recent years three chunks - 30, 47 and 70 feet - of Entrada sandstone have fallen off. Experts are divided on whether or not that weakened the structure, giving it less weight to hold up or taking away strength.

We consider ourselves lucky to have seen it intact. Actually, we feel fortunate to experience Arches and are loath to leave.

The Gossips. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We photograph formations we may or may not have caught already and more closely examine the exhibits at the Visitor's Center and see the film a second time.

We had heard that a scenic road loops from the south side of Arches, up into the La Sal Mountains and then back into Moab. Always ready for a road adventure, we drove on.

Photos © Judy Wells.
The views of the red canyon walls were humbling, and it’s hard not to stop and just stare.

Rafters on the Colorado. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The river runs alongside and soon we spied groups of rafters. In the heat of the day, this activity looked appealing.
Photo by Debi Lander.

Photo © by Judy Wells.
We continued driving, passing ranches and small farms and lots of fascinating rock towers.

Photo © by Judy Wells.
But, when we followed directions and made a turn, we came to a sign stating the road was closed for repairs.  Dang, we were just starting to get into the cool mountain air. 

We returned to Arches when most of the visitors were leaving but some like us were arriving for sunset. This time Debi headed to the Windows and I went to Turret.

Windows at sunset. Photo© by Judy Wells.
Think I got the better of the deal. The light on Windows was extraordinary and view through Turret was intriguing, especially when someone wandered up to stand under the massive rock and was dwarfed by its size.

Dwarfed by the Turret. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The relatively flat slickrock made going from one viewpoint to the other easy, but as sunsets go, this one was a dud. No clouds for dramatic effect.

Not a very dramatic sunset. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We returned to the car, sat for awhile hoping for darkness then headed to Park Avenue to wait for the stars to emerge. Unfortunately, we mere met by hordes of hungry mosquitoes ready for dinner. We swatted and slapped, saw the stars and decided to leave the biters before we came dessert as well.

Sad to leave this red rock country tomorrow but its images will stay in our memories forever.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands

Even if you’re not into photography, you need to consider getting up before dawn when staying in Moab, Utah. The canyon formations jump like fiery blazes; in fact, you almost need sunglasses. It’s impossible to ignore the power of Mother Nature.

The rock canyon walls blazed in fiery red at dawn.
Photo @ Debi Lander

The Good Girls rose early to hit Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands National Park at sunrise. But, when we arrived at the Dead Horse parking lot, there were no other cars. Hmmm? We surveyed the scene and realized that although the vista is dramatic, it's not the best place for sunrise shots.

 Judy surveys the scene near the entrance to Dead Horse State Park.
Photo @Debi Lander

Back in the car, we headed toward the famous overlook at Dead Horse Point. Now, this spot on the Rim Walk offers all the majesty we'd wanted. We were standing 2,000 feet above the gooseneck bend in the Colorado River.

Stunning morning views from Dead Horse Point.
Photo @Debi Lander

The horizon looms 100 miles away, and with a blessed clear morning, we were overwhelmed by the vastness of the rock real estate and inhospitality of the region.  Hard to imagine ancient Puebloan people ever lived here. The spellbinding location offers a sweeping panorama any time of day; don’t miss it thinking it’s just a State Park.

A closer look at the bend in the river.
Photos @ Debi Lander

We didn't see hikers on the trail. Who would want to make the climb back up?
Photo @Debi Lander

Still following the morning light, we skedaddled out of Dead Horse and hurried along to Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands is divided into four districts carved by the Green and Colorado rivers and offers broad overlooks at Island in the Sky, rambling trails in The Needles to deep remoteness of The Maze.

We stopped at the Island in the Sky region’s Visitor’s Center for a map, but the center itself was still closed.
Arriving at Canyonlands: Island in the Sky area.

We again used the Arches and Canyonlands Gypsy Guide App and found it picked up signals better in this region. We’d listen to facts about the park in between directions to the next stop.

Before long, we arrived at the trailhead to Mesa Arch, a pothole arch that spans across the mesa’s edge. It frames a fantastic formation that looks castle-like. The audio guide told us, “A pothole arch is formed by surface water that pools on the sandstone behind the arch, slowly eroding the rock.”
Mesa Arch spans 50 feet and sits at the edge of a vertical cliff.
Photo @ Debi Lander

We followed the 0.7-mile round-trip loop trail to the landmark, but reaching it took about 10-15 minutes.  The trail is uneven and slippery. Fortunately, we were still early enough to see the arch magically illuminated by the sun.  The iconic stone arch spans 50 feet, and I carefully sat down at the top of a 500-foot vertical cliff.

Debi lives on the edge. Photo by Judy Wells.
For me, this was one of the most memorable moments of our entire trip. 

Sit down and enjoy the spectacular view!
Photo @Debi Lander

The view in the oppsoite direction from under Mesa Arch.
Photo @ Debi Lander

Mesa Arch makes a terrific photo op, and if I return, I’ll go there first thing in the morning and stop at Dead Horse later.

The walk back to our car was hot and sunny making us glad we had started early and brought our own water.

Canyonlands holds a plethora of photo ops.
Photo @ Debi Lander

View from Grand Point.
Photo @ Debi Lander

We pulled in to more outlooks for views and photos before reaching Grand Point Overview. It’s aptly named because it is indeed grand. This section of the park is reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, except the gorge does not drop as deep, and the walls of the canyon are farther from the river.

A telephoto lens lets me get a close-up.
Photo @ Debi Lander

We moved on to Upheaval Dome, which is, surprisingly, a crater. The dome is upside down or the sunken area. We also passed Whale Rock, and while it caught our fancy, Canyonland’s Moby Dick was impossible to photograph from stops along the road.  Apparently, kids like to climb on the ridge or the whale’s back. On this hot day, we didn’t see any.

Whale Rock- can you tell?

We drove slowly back to the Visitor’s Center and went in to watch the movie.  Compared to the fantastically educational and artistic film at Arches, we were somewhat disappointed. Nonetheless, it proved interesting.

Canyonlands Close-up.
Photo @ Debi Lander
Overall, as with all National Park sites, Canyonlands is worth a visit, especially if you are into hiking. Another option is to drive the nearly 100 miles trail, the White Rim Road.

Note: There are no restaurants or snack facilities within the park, so be sure to bring your own food and water. Budget conscious, we picnicked on cold lasagna leftovers from dinner the night before.

This lady helped us see the petroglyphs on the wall.
Photo @ Debi Lander

Since it was just lunchtime, we decided to drive along Potash Road. We’d been told about some prehistoric rock art just a few miles down. Thankfully, there were others around to point out the drawings. The sun bakes the rock wall in the afternoon and creates glare.  Once you accustom your eyes, you discover many primitive figures.  Judy and I felt they were extraordinary and highly recommend a stop.   
Potash Road Petroglyphs.
Photo @Debi Lander

Ancient Rock Art, a real treasure.
Photo @Debi Lander

Note: Potash Road is narrow, running between the cliffs and the Colorado River. Vehicles of rock art gazers and rock climbers share the shoulders. 

Can't resist adding a look back at Mesa Arch!
Photo @ Debi Lander

Monday, July 24, 2017

Arches, HooDoos and Fins

North Window, Arches National Park. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Our first morning in Moab we made a beeline to Arches National Park. First stop, the Visitor's Center.

Judy at the center. Photo by Debi Lander.
Even at this point the red rock formations are breath-taking and we can't wait to see the "stars" but we stick to our routine; watch the introductory film and swing through the gift ship.

Debi checks out the exhibits while the real thing waits outside. Photo by Judy Wells.
Well worth it. It is the best film we have seen in our visits to national parks and now we actually understand how arches, the rarest of geological formations, develop. Water is the architect and if all conditions are perfect, it seeps into crevasses and weaknesses in the sandstone, expands and contracts with the weather and after centuries and eons an arch is formed. Ironically, the same forces that form an arch also destroy it.

It's an arch if over land, a bridge if over a body of water.

We also picked up a new catch-phrase, Don't bust the crust. You see it on signs all over the park because that crusty, blackish stuff you see on the ground is known as "biological soil crust." A mixture of bacteria, mosses, lichens, fungii and algae, it is essential to other plants and in preventing erosion. It is so fragile that one step can wipe out years of growth, a very important reason to stay on the marked trails and paths.

Reluctantly, knowing how many clutter our cabinets at home, we buy water bottles; there are is no food or beverage service in the park and it is already getting hot.

Arches' Park Avenue. Photo © by Judy Wells.
It is also getting crowded. It takes two passes to find a parking spot at the Park Avenue viewpoint. So named because the towering cliffs reminded someone of Manhattan's skyscrapers, we ooh and aah like everyone else as we take photos.

 Wanting to know more than brief info signs can relay, we buy and download Gypsy
Guide's audio tour of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. It is a good buy although using it as a directional guide is frustrating as signals fade in and out.

Fins, the formations that can produce arches. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We are equally awed at Courthouse Towers viewpoint, vowing to return when light is better and traffic less to see and capture formations like the Three Gossips.

Petrified dunes. Photo by Judy Wells.
Petrified Dunes remind us that Arches went through several periods as an inland ocean.

Balanced Rock makes a good landmark. Photo by Debi Lander.
Spotting Balanced Rock ahead tells us the turn to Double Arch and the Windows is near.

Double Arch is a visitor favorite. Photo © by Judy Wells.
This is the largest and most crowded parking area of all and again, we need two circuits before a spot opens up. If you see nothing else, don't miss these. We  began with Double Arch, perhaps the most spectacular formation in the park. It is massive, on a scale you can't imagine until you stand at its feet.

Looking up. Photo by Debi Lander.
Many climb up into it. Debi did, I didn't and we both came away in awe, our cameras filled with astounding images.

North and South Windows. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Turret. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Across the parking lot are our second favorites, North and South Windows and Turret Arch. I head for Windows, Debi to Turret. It's a trek up endless steps to Windows, but these, too, are massive. Turret is easier to reach and at first glance, isn't that impressive but once there, the view is spectacular. You can see both Windows at once plus several hoodoos.

Wolfe Ranch. Photo by Judy Wells.
We tear ourselves away and head to Fiery Furnace and Delicate Arch. Fiery Furnace lives up to its name; cliffs block any stir of air and reflect the sun back at us across a wide canyon. We stop at what is left of Wolfe Ranch, the house a wounded Confederate veteran and his eldest son built, the corral and a storage cellar along Salt Wash, now Creek, on 100 otherwise arid acres in the late 1800s. They left 10 years later.

Salt Creek. Photo by Judy Wells.
Ute Petroglyphs. Photo by Debi Lander.
We cross Salt Creek and head up to a cliff to see Ute petroglyphs carved in the 17th century then headed on to the Delicate Arch viewpoint.

Delicate Arch. Photo by Debi Lander.
Hot, tired, thirsty and hungry, we decide to settle for a distant view instead of hiking up a long, steep trail across slickrock and rubble.

La Sal Mountains, Photo by Judy Wells.
We understand how the first Spanish explorers of this region refused to believe that in such a hot place snow could exist atop the mountains just south of here. They decided it must be salt and the local natives obligingly showed them salt deposits at the range's foot. Thus the name of the range, La Sal, salt. It is snow though, and they form a scenic but teasingly cool-looking backdrop.

The road to Devil's Garden, also on our list, is closed for construction. With a combination of disappointment and relief, we head back to Moab to spend the steamy afternoon like the animals here do, resting in a cool place.

After showers and respite, we walk through Moab and treat ourselves to a superb meal of lasagna and wine at a popular Italian restaurant. The food was a lot easier to digest than the amazing sights we have witnessed of what Nature can produced and the National Park Service is working to preserve.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Hummer Tour Through Hell's Revenge

Mike, the driver announced, “Here we go,” and our vehicle began jostling up a red rock fin at a 30-degree grade, but it felt more like vertical. The Good Girls and fellow passengers bounced in the seats like bobblehead dolls. Scaling toward the summit, the sides of narrow path dropped to reveal a miraculous rock canyon below. Astounding, and we had just begun our off-road Sunset Hummer Tour of Hell’s Revenge in Moab, Utah.
Mike takes the controls of the Hummer. Photo by Debi Lander.

“Never fear,” said Mike, “This Hummer can pass through deep ditches and traverse large dirt mounds without suffering any front or rear end damage. It can scale a 60-degree slope, but we’re only planning to encounter a 40-degree rise.” Thankfully, our tour made no attempt to climb the infamous Escalator or Hot Tub trails in the park. 

The Red Hummers have no trouble maneuvering through the park.
Photo by Debi Lander.

Our hearts pounded as we bravely smiled and nodded at one another for reassurance, but our driver never missed a beat, continuing with confidence. He began the descent of the steep sandstone hill nicknamed the Roller Coaster. I don’t know if I was more jazzed by the thrill of the ride or the wickedly wild landscape. 
A slow roller coaster to the top. Photo by Judy Wells.

Stopping for a look at the canyon below. Photo by Debi Lander.

Hummer Tours through Hell's Revenge. Photo by Debi Lander.

The Good Girls were headed to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, both near Moab, the adventure capital of Utah, Our juices started flowing as soon as we crossed into Utah. After the speed limit rose to 80 miles per hour, we encountered a warning sign along the highway, ” Eagles in the road.” What did that mean? A few miles later exit signs began to warn of “No Services”, begging the question of who would dare turn off?

At our age, we don’t go for extreme physical adventures, treacherous mountain bike trails or Class 4-5 white-water rafting. We settle for speed and automotive thrills and thought a Hummer ride would fulfill our needs. So, we signed up and purchased tickets for Sunset Hummer Tour from the Moab Adventure Center.
The path through the canyon is very confusing. Debi Lander.

Moab cozies up to the banks of the Colorado River between eye-popping red sandstone cliffs. The National Park gateway offers Mom and Pop type lodging, restaurants, and outfitters along Main Street. The surrounding scenery attracts millions to hike, bike, and camp around windswept rock domes, magnificent mesas and otherworldly rock formations that conjure up imaginary faces and places. No surprise that filmmakers have used the craggy region as a backdrop in films such as City Slickers, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and our favorite, Thelma & Louise.


So there we were gasping with excitement as Mike veered up and down the zigzagged trail. After about 15 minutes, we stopped, caught our breath, and took in at the blazing spires and valleys. The riders from all the Hummers in our group gathered to hear a geographical explanation of the canyon sliprock: outcroppings of smooth weathered sandstone - - great for biking but dangerous for hiking because you can lose your footing. The guide also pointed out some fossilized dinosaur tracks. How very cool. 
Fossilized Dinosaur Tracks. Photo by Debi Lander.

The groups returned to the vehicles to attack the craziest, most rugged section of the trail, venturing up seemingly impossible rises and then carefully easing back down. Thankfully, Mike proved his worth as a sure-footed driver. We stopped again for photos and a chance to test out echoes in the canyon.

Yes, the incline is breath taking!
Photo by Debi Lander.

Eventually, the group snaked up to a panoramic overlook, and peered down a gorge through which snaked the winding Colorado River. I sat for a minute to ponder the vastness of our country. This landscape speaks to visitors, teasing the timid who stand back in awe and taunting those who challenge its powerful pull.

Debi found the view thrilling! Photo by Debi Lander.

Judy found the slip rock slippery.
Shadows lengthened as we weaved along the paths to our sunset location.  Unfortunately, the cloudless sky muted the often dazzling sunsets. Still, the vista took on a golden glow. As the sky dimmed from warm afterglow to low light, the desert developed a somewhat creepy aura. It was time to climb back into the Hummers for a slow headlight light return trip.

Participants watching the sunset. Photos by Debi Lander.
The effect was better away from the sun. Photo by Judy Wells.

Darkened canyon after sunset.

We learned from Mike that eagles prey on the pririe dog villages on either side of the road and pause to dine on the highway. Their retreat (take-off for flight) is slow. Cars zipping down the highway at 80-plus mph need to watch out for these magnificent scavengers. And, by the way, no services means zero gas, food or lodging. These exits hark back to the time when uranium was mined in the area.

The Hummers dropped us back at the Adventure Center after a three-hour unforgettable excursion. A very walkable Moab made for a pleasant stroll to one of the family operated restaurants along Main Street. Eventually, we rambled back to our basic, but adequate and well-located motel - - the Bowen.

Watch the video for a taste of the adventure.

If you go: Getting to Moab.

From the East, we flew into Denver, leased a rental car, then drove over four hours to Grand Junction.  We left there the next day for Moab,  a one-and-a-half-hour drive. Grand Junction offers a regional airport and Moab a tiny one, but flights are more expensive. Flying into Salt Lake City, Utah is another option, requiring a three-hour drive.

The Hummer tour in the untamed landscape of Hell’s Revenge is not for the faint of heart, however, it appears to be safe. We saw no white knuckles in our group. We both agree that attempting to self-drive ATV’s or 4x4 Jeeps tours through the canyons is too much. Leave the driving to the experienced.

Disclosure: Our adventures in Moab and Utah, including the Hummer Tour, were self-funded.