Saturday, October 29, 2011

Visiting Arches and Canyonlands

Julie and I loaded up the dog and cat and headed to Moab for a week.  Moab is a town of about 8,000 full time residents, but it swells and shrinks with the flow of tourists. The three big attractions seem to be mountain biking, ATV riding, and the proximity to some incredible parks. 

It was interesting to see the locals.  Moab was definitely full of outdoorsy people, but they weren't the granola people from Portland or the athletes from Park City.  They seemed to lean closer to a variation of Grizzly Adams, who now mountain bikes, drives off road, and camps out of the back of his car. I saw one open garage with nine mountain bikes, a bike stand, a tool chest, and no space for a single car.

This was our first journey with the pets, and they did wonderfully well.  We plan to go back to Moab for another week in the spring, and they get to come back with us.

Julie and I got up one morning and did the sunrise trip into Arches.  The rock always glows with the warm morning light.  This formation is The Three Gossips.
Right across from the Gossips is a monstrous fin. They are definitely my favorite formation in the park.  Here's a nice explanation of how fins and arches get created.
This is the well known "Balanced Rock".  Ideally, I would have waited the extra 20 minutes for the sun to creep up into the little notch, but there were places to go and things to see.
There are 2500 arches in the park.  To count, they have to be at least 3 feet across.  Unless Julie is about 4 inches tall, this one counts.  This is one of the "Windows", right near Balanced Rock.
Julie is pointing to one we found that probably won't make the cut for another few millenia.

After a day in Arches, we went for a visit to Dead Horse Point State Park.  This park is right next to the vast Canyonlands National Park, which we visited the following day.  Both of these parks overlooked the huge carved out canyons of the Colorado and Green rivers.  It's amazing what 10 million years of erosion can do.
Both parks had some form or a "rim trail"  They allowed us to get in some exercise while having a nonstop scenic vista.   Because Dead Horse is a state park, Jasper got to hike along with us.  We also found a great map of hikes around Moab that Jasper can join us on during future visits.
The rocky landscape with little but brush and scrub doesn't provide an easy way to mark trails.  You quickly get used to looking for cairns.  A cairn is defined as a mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, but there is a much more interesting read here.  Most of the trail markers would be 3-5 medium-sized rocks in a simple stack.  Sometimes they got a lot more interesting and definitely required more time for creation.
When you lose the trail, you really appreciate finding the next pile of stones. 

Another day and we went back to Arches.  As we got into the park, you could tell that all 20% chance of rain was arriving.  Not great for most touring, but as a photographer, I have learned to hate clear blue skies.  They make the light harsh and add no interest.  Even though this was mid-day, the light on the stone was a lot softer.
But there were places where the clouds hadn't moved in yet.  Soft light, a bit of blue, and some big puffy white clouds starts getting more interesting.
The reason we went back to Arches was to do the ranger-guided tour of the Fiery Furnace.  This tour takes on a three hour hike through the furnace, a set of large, tightly packed fins.  It's a great trip and I definitely recommend it.  Sign up in advance, especially if you are going during any time close to peak season.

Of course, we were about an hour into it when it started to rain.  To their credit, they just keep right on going.  They said the only two reasons to call off a tour are lightning and flash floods.
When we came out of the fins and got back to the parking lot, God seemed to be parting the clouds a bit.
There aren't many trees taller than 10 feet in the parks, but there were some nice aspens growing down in a stream bed. For the few trees around, it was close to peak season.
Back to the outskirts of Moab, where we found a ski lift.  It looked like it was in great shape, but we never saw it move.  We talked to some locals and discovered it was part of some great tourist plan in the late 90s.  The idea was that you take the lift up to awesome views, mountain biking, rock climbing, and tourist shopping.  Unfortunately, it became a huge fight with the zoning and city council.  The lift hasn't run in years and there is nothing at the top to visit.  The latest news is that some rich woman was buying it and tearing it all down to "return it to its original state and give it to the Nature Conservancy".
We were staying in a condo on Williams Way, just a 5-10 minute walk from the core of Main Street. There are a number of condos for rent along this street and we definitely plan to stay there on our next trip.  Why?  Decent places at OK prices.  Convenient to town. Quiet.  And of course, across the street from the regional hospital, should that ever be an issue.

This vehicle belonged to people renting just down from us.  They had two other similar off-road monsters. If you like off road driving, or think you might, you won't find a much better place to visit than Moab.  You can rent little ATV's, somewhat mellow four passenger ATV's, serious dune buggies, Jeeps (both current and old army versions), and even Hummers.  Julie and I are a bit too much of the nature loving hikers to explore this seriously, but clearly we were in the minority.
I heard some people complain that restaurants in Moab were mediocre and touristy.  Thanks to reviews on Yelp, we had nothing but great luck.  I would happily recommend:
  • Breakfast and lunch:  Love Muffin, Eklecticafe, Jailhouse Cafe, Pantele's Desert Deli, and Wicked Brew
  • Dinner:  Desert Bistro and the Moab Brewery
I hope to catch a few days this winter when it snows down around Moab and the parks.  I'll hop in the car and go shoot pictures.  Like so many areas, this clearly looks very different in each season of the year.
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