Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Day 3 Part 1: Arches National Park

When I drove down to Moab on US191, there is a few turns as you drive through the mountains that are part of the Arches National Park system, but at one point I took a turn, looked up at the startling canyon walls and saw a big recreational vehicle(RV) sliding up the side of the wall and I gasped.

Entrance road
I realized that to enter the park, you had to drive up on the side of the mountain! But I had gotten lucky that the hotel I had booked was literally 5 minutes away from the main park entrance. So on day 3, I steeled myself to drive the sheer cliff walls! (dramatic music)

Park Ave
Let me preface that I am deathly afraid of heights and even the hint of an edge of open space leaves me pale. If you go to google maps and look at the road that runs through the park, you’ll see it looks like a series of switchbacks, it looks like a cool road to drive if you like to drive on curves. I like to drive on curves but when you hit a curve and it suddenly looks like it’s about to take you over the edge, I get twitchy. My palms were actually sweating so much I noticed how slippery my steering wheel had gotten. I would have loved to shown photos, but I was clutching the wheel with both hands tightly and refused to go anywhere near the edge. It’s a failing of mine but I’m working on it.

Twisting roads
Arches National Park, by national parks standards isn’t very big, 76k acres vs 761k acres for Yosemite National Park. So you can take the drive through the park and finish it in one day. I took the drive, following the speed limit which was generous considering the road wound through the varied environments of the park. 

Unfortunately, there were aspects of the park that I couldn’t explore because of time constraints. The drive to Lake Powell in Arizona was a long drive; it took me fully 12hrs for the round-trip drive. So I didn’t set my alarm the night before. Then when I woke, I lingered in bed and barely got myself out of the room.

Upper Delicate Arch  Viewpoint - you can climb up there
So when I finally decided to go to Arches, it was 11am already. So my day began at almost noon and the sun was high and hot against the sky when I started at the first stop and went hiking. The ‘hiking’ was really just a walk, but because of the altitude and my inability to think at such high altitudes (ok, I was so excited about the place, I’d leave my car and start walking without bringing water-big no no), I was sweaty, panting and in pain and only went as far as I could go to get a good shot with my zoom lens.  I shorted myself some incredible views because I was unprepared.

Three Gossips, Sheep Rock & Tower of Babel
But then again, my best adventures are based on my inability to think ahead of time. Que sera sera, what will be will be. Some days I think I’ll be famous for being the idiot who had to tweet SOS because I went and did something stupid, but after the SOS there would be an LOL, because that’s basically what I do. I do something stupid then laugh because despite my stupidity, I’m still ok.

A view from the road
I’ve driven through quite a bit of the US, but I’d never been in Utah where if you have an ATV or a horse and want to go off roading or horseback riding through the back country, you are more than welcome.

That is fantastic and the song “Don’t Fence Me In” just absolutely rang through my head.  I like that unfettered feeling. Of course, other states may have the same policy and I’m only hearing about Utah’s because I actually stopped and talked to the locals.

Balanced Rock
I do have to note that considering how small the park it, it was incredible how the vistas change from almost one turn to the next. After the harrowing climb on the entrance road, you reach a plateau that looks like you’re driving on a flat plain. There were still instances of the odd rock formations because of the erosive damage of time and water, but then there are also fossilized sand dunes. You can drive through the park and be dazzled by the bright redness of some of the rocks then turn a corner and be blinded by the white blazing sun against the petrified sand dunes that look like were captured in mid wave.

I was surprised to learn that the park is open 24hrs a day but the visitor center has fluctuating hours depending on the time of year and I’m assuming, when sundown actually occurs. I stopped at the parking lot but there were so many people milling about, I decided to see the center after wards. I never did.

Fiery Furnace - you need a guide to hike there!
Instead I spent my time assiduously visiting or stopping at all the recommended stops and did some other stops because something caught my eye. It was perfect because even though it was a Sunday, the park wasn’t as crowded as other national parks I’ve been in. I was able to get to a parking spot, jump out(my film SLR hanging around my neck, a digital camera banging in my pocket and two cell phones on my hip), practically run to a spot, position myself, click click ok, one more for good luck, click, then back to the car before the air conditioned air faded to hot.

The tight entrance to Sand Dune Arch
It’s a really good reason why I travel alone, I’d have to stop and take a picture of my traveling companion if I had one. I don’t take a picture of myself! Although since my phone has a front facing camera, I’ve had some interesting results when I’ve tried to take my photo by myself, such as I look cross-eyed in most of them. So dear reader, you’ll have to forgive me my vanity because I’m not posting those photos.

The sun was relentless
Arches National Park is only one of several that are in such close proximity to each other that a week in Moab would have been much better than the one day I scheduled. As I type, I realized I shorted myself having only ONE full day scheduled for Moab.

Day 1 I drove down from Salt Lake City, finally arriving late afternoon, just in time to check in, eat dinner and pass out.

Day 2 had me driving from Moab all the way to Lake Powell, Arizona, which turned into a 12hr day on the road.

Thus Day 3, I lolled about in my room wasting my morning.

So I rushed through Arches National Park, but you couldn’t tell by the amount of photos I took.

I’ll definitely have to come back again.

It pays to keep your eyes open, stop and climb a rock.

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