09-28-2021 Canyonlands Island in the Sky and Dead Horse Point State Park

Photo taken from the Dead Horse Point Overlook at Dead Horse Point State Park

Waking to a morning of mixed clouds and sunshine, I knew that we might not have the right light for taking a photo of the early sun rising in the east and reflecting on the underside of Mesa Arch.  The image of sun on the underside of the arch is used to advertise Canyonlands in many places.

Just for fun, I inserted a screen shot below of only a tiny portion of the photos that show up for a google search of Mesa Arch images.

Located on the east side of the uplift called the Island in the Sky, Mesa Arch was a must see for me on this visit to Canyonlands

We left at 7:30 this morning, an hour later then yesterday, but still early enough to beat the worst of the crowds, I hoped.  Our first destination was the Mesa Arch trail but we planned to view the rest of the easily accessible viewpoints at the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands.

I have been to Mesa Arch a few times in the past, and even 25 years ago the trail could be crowded.  Especially at dawn, there are often hordes of photographers with tripods set up to capture the famous light on the underside of the arch.

My soil survey boss, and good friend Eva, walking across the arch in 2000

Chere decided that the steep parts were not fun and waved to us when we reached the arch

The short half mile trail out to the arch is “moderately easy”, but there are some stairs and a few steep areas.  Still, there were many people on the trail walking toward the arch and many more walking back from the arch carrying their tripods.  Who knows if the morning clouds allowed them to get the famous light on the underside of the arch.

See the famous “Washer Woman” on the upper part of the photo?
This was as good as it got for me on the slightly overcast morning

The fun thing about Mesa Arch is that the drop on the mesa side of the arch is only 20 feet or so, but the drop on the canyon side is more than 1300 feet.  It is a dizzying feeling that triggers some intense vertigo if you are trying to stand anywhere near the top of the arch. 

Thanks to my lack of balance at this point, you can see me holding on to Mo for dear life in this photo. I realized later something I forgot about.  Take off the dang progressive lenses!  I remember this when trying to go down steep trails and steps and should have remembered this when I climbed up to a high point above the arch for the view.

Dan, Mo, and I had fun waiting our turn for photos at the arch, with most people being kind and thoughtful and not dominating the site for others wanting that same photo.

The Island in the Sky is bisected by a paved road that goes to the end of the mesa, with a “grand” view at Grand View Point.  I learned on this trip something I never knew after all my years traveling the Colorado Plateau.  Until 1921, the Colorado River didn’t start in the state that bears the same name. It began in Utah, where the Green River from Wyoming and the Grand River from Colorado met at the infamous confluence of the two rivers that can be seen from space in the google maps image below.

We planned to visit each of the scenic viewpoints that could be reached by car in Canyonlands.  We would then return to Dead Horse Point State Park on the northeast side of the plateau to view the iconic landscape from another perspective.

From our previous day visiting Arches, we knew that it was wise to get to the most important viewpoints first, knowing that the parking lots and trails were likely to be crowded.  When we left the Mesa Arch parking lot, we headed immediately for the most distant spot on paved road to the Grand View Point Overlook.

As expected, the parking lot was already full and one more time the handicap hang tag gave us access to the only open parking space at the overlook. The view from this site is breathtaking. 

A ranger working near the parking lot said that the overcast sky was actually a blessing for viewing the expansive landscape since bright sunshine often wiped out much of the detail in photos.

We returned to the main road and traveled northwest to the Upheaval Dome Overlook parking lot. What I had forgotten is that there is no view from this point.  Instead of hiking the steep, rocky trail to the overlooks, we settled at a nice picnic table to enjoy some snacks for lunch.  Later, we returned to the road toward the Green River Overlook where we were gifted with expansive views toward the west. 

The views from the Green River Overlook were awe-inspiring.  We could see the far northwestern part of the White Rim Trail, a 4-wheel drive road that is the destination of many a mountain biker and 4-wheeler enthusiast.

Yes, that is Mt Ellen in the distance on the left side of the photo below, at the high point of the Henry Mountain Range.  Dan and Chere got a bit tired of me continuously pointing out Mt Ellen and I promised that this was the last time I would do so.

We drove back to the east side of the mesa for a great view toward the La Sals at the Buck Canyon Overlook. We could see virga, “streaks or wisps of precipitation falling from a cloud but evaporating before reaching the ground” in the distance. Rain was predicted on the mesa by noon, but for us, so far so good.  No rain while we were on our explorations of the Island in the Sky.

Dan and Chere at the Buck Canyon Overlook

We continued to the Shafer Trail Overlook.  There are actually two spots with parking where the Shafer Trail is visible.  We chose what appeared to be the less crowded site a bit south of the main overlook.  The Shafer Trail is a narrow dirt road with sharp switchbacks that descends to the White Rim Road that circles around the Island in the Sky on the White Rim Sandstone. 

We stayed a bit at this overlook, watching the tiny vehicles negotiation the sharp turns.  There were quite a few rigs traveling up and down the road and it was fun to watch them passing each other and bumping around the steep, sharp switchbacks.  I knew exactly how it felt, because I drove the Shafer Trail in my Dakota pickup back in 1997.  I only drove about 50 miles of the White Rim Road before my friend Shera said she had enough of all that rough driving, and we backtracked up the steep part of the Shafer Trail.  It was an experience I will never forget. The next three photos are grainy scans of photos from that trip in 1997.

We ended our day’s travels with a visit to Dead Horse Point State Park. The legend of Dead Horse Point originates around the turn of the 19th century when cowboys would round up the wild mustangs that roamed the mesa. It is said that a herd was driven down the neck of the peninsula, its sheer cliffs forming a natural corral, and the 30-foot-wide entrance was then fenced off with branches and brush.

This was to be our final shared day in Utah’s red rock country.  A friendly guy at the overlook agreed to take a photo of the four of us.  It was a fitting tribute to what has been a wonderful trip.

09-27-2021 Arches National Park

We rose before dawn to arrive at Arches at sunrise. We knew from following the Arches National Park website that arriving early is the only way to be reasonably certain there will be parking available at the several scenic viewpoints and trailheads throughout the park.

Arches is a moderately sized national park, covering about 120 square miles.  There are more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches within the park, many of them named and many more remain nameless. There are several well marked trails in the park, ranging from a few hundred feet at various viewpoints and several trails that link together for a total roundtrip length of 7.9 miles from the Devils Garden Trailhead.  The hike to Delicate Arch may be the most famous, with a total roundtrip length of 3 miles.  There are also back country trails that require a permit to hike, including the trails throughout the Fiery Furnace, a labyrinth of narrow sandstone canyons requiring canyoneering and extensive hiking ability to explore.

When we arrived at the Windows trailhead parking lot it was already nearly full.  My disability parking tag was to save us several times at the trailheads throughout Arches and Canyonlands.  Without it, we would have had to circle, wait, or leave and come back as is suggested in the park brochure to avoid clogging the parking lots. I found it rather amazing that at every single lot we visited there was a handicap space available.

We could see dozens of tiny people backlit against the dark arch by the morning sunrise and people were standing on cliffs and rocks with their tripods attempting to catch the fist morning light in an unforgettable photo.

We started up the trail in the cool of the morning with light jackets. Mo, Dan, Chere, and I hiked the loop trails toward Turret Arch first.  At that time of day, there were fewer people hiking around that area.

In the photo below I am again in my happy place, standing on slickrock, lit up by orange light.

Dan was pointing to the shadow of the pinnacle at the entrance of the arch.  I didn’t notice the photographers when I took the photo below, but they were everywhere.

After wandering around Turret Arch a bit, we returned to the trail toward the North Window.

The sun was rising quickly and the hordes of people who were there at sunrise had dissipated somewhat, with just a few people left crawling around the arches.

This is the North Window, and as you can see with temperatures warming rapidly, Dan no longer needed a jacket.  We then backtracked to the trail that went up to the South Window.

The light in this photo below on the South Window is what Mesa Arch in Canyonlands looks like on the underside if you get there at the right moment.  The moment doesn’t last long.

I hiked up the slickrock and Dan got my photo

Dan then hiked up as well to hand me the camera so that I could get a shot to the east through the window.

Notice the tiny guys on the rock face opposite from where I was standing.  They were no longer working with their tripods and seemed to be simply enjoying the view.

By the time we returned to the parking lot at 8 it was completely full, with cars circling, tour busses coming and going, and hordes of people starting up the trail.

One of the most famous trails in Arches is the 3 mile round trip hike to the northern side of Delicate Arch. I have hiked this trail a few times and the views are magnificent.  The side road that leads to the Delicate Arch trailhead also continues to the Upper and Lower Delicate Arch viewpoints.

The main trailhead at Wolfe Ranch was completely packed with cars lining both sides of the road.  We continued toward the Upper and Lower viewpoint trailhead, and arrived just after another big tour bus.  Due to the lack of parking at the Delicate Arch trailhead at  Wolfe Ranch, we saw folks in hiking gear parking at the lower viewpoint trailhead and hiking along the road half a mile back toward the Delicate Arch trailhead so as not to miss the hike.  I can only imagine the crowds at Delicate Arch.

A photo of my friend Laura at the base of Delicate Arch in 2000

When I hiked with my friends Laura and Eva to Delicate Arch in 2000, the skies were dreary, and the trail was very windy and cold.  Even on that cold windy day 21 years ago, the trail was somewhat crowded. All that hiking and I didn’t get very good photos.

The view from the lower trailhead is less than impressive unless you know what to look for

After checking out the lower viewpoint, Dan, Mo and I hiked the short, moderately difficult trail to the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint.

There was a bit of climbing involved, but the view from the top was slightly better than the view from the lower viewpoint, and of course, I loved seeing all that slickrock up close.

I zoomed in with the camera for this view above of Delicate Arch from the Upper Viewpoint.  The string of tiny figures on the left side of the arch are hikers walking single file along a 2 foot wide ridge of sandstone as they approach the base of the arch.

We left the incredibly overcrowded parking lots and traveled back west to the main highway with a few more stops as we traveled north along the park road.

The trailhead at the beginning of the Fiery Furnace had a dramatic view of the complexity of the fins and ridges.  With no cell phone service it would be imperative to have a GPS of some sort to find your way through the crazy mazes.  Pretty sure Mark Johnson has photos on his blog of some of his crazy hikes in this area.

We continued to the end of the park road at the parking lot for the Devils Garden Trailhead.  It was getting close to 10 AM when we arrived and the parking lot was already full and the trail was crowded.  There were people everywhere, including bus loads of tour folks.

I have hiked into the Devils garden back to Double O Arch and enjoyed seeing Landscape Arch.  Geologists say the arch is very close to breaking so it is worth the hike to see it before it happens.  We didn’t hike far on this day.  With so many people on the trail, it wasn’t very inviting.  The nice bench at the beginning of the trail did turn out to be a delightful place for people watching.  Many, Many People!

I enjoyed the peachy glow cast on Dan and Chere along the vertical sandstone wall at the beginning of the trail.

Dan also attempted to get a photo of Chere and I in the narrows, but as is often the case, the bright light and dark shadows make photography very challenging.

The moon showed up beautifully in the blue sky against the red rocks along the Devils Garden Trail

Returning along the main road, we stopped at Skyline Arch.  The interpretive sign was fascinating, showing an image of the arch before a big rock fell out of it in 1940.

Continuing along the main park road we passed trailheads and scenic viewpoints that were packed to the gills, with cars circling and competing for non-existent parking spaces.  It was good that we left so early in the morning to see the park before the crowds took over completely. 

These lovely ladies are called the Three Gossips

I have so many photos of the views in all directions along the main park road, but this post is much too picture dense already. If you care to see more of the 100 plus photos I took in Arches National Park on this visit, simply click on the picture below and you will be taken to my SmugMug gallery where all the photos reside.

09-26-2021 Blanding RV Park to Moab KOA

Dan is a very friendly guy.  When we first arrived at our site at the Blanding RV Park, he struck up a conversation with another camper who stays there for a month at a time and loves it.  The guy told Dan about a place to visit in Blanding that wasn’t particularly well known. 

Blanding RV Park was roomy and rather pleasant

It was just 3 miles or so to the Five Kiva Ruin according to his directions, although Google tried to take us on a different road to the west side of the ruin.  If we had trusted Google we would have traveled many more miles and still wouldn’t have been able to easily see the ruin.

Five Kiva Ruin hasn’t been protected.  There are no rangers present to control access at the ruin. There is a trail going down the cliff side and up the other side to enter the ruin.  It has been vandalized over the years, but from our viewpoint on the east side of the canyon it looked wonderful.

The drive north to Moab was only 75 miles and we enjoyed the early morning time to visit the ruin before departing for our next camp.  Dan hiked down the trail a bit but toward the bottom it got lost in rocks and brush so he decided against attempting to get closer to the ruin.

Along the road to the ruin is a view of a natural bridge on the opposite side of the small, narrow canyon.  The bridge is parallel to the canyon and doesn’t cross it so it a bit difficult to see in the morning light. Look closely at the photo above in the upper right, the bridge is the lighter colored rock toward the top of the photo and the opening behind it was eroded by water to create the bridge.

Returning to our camp, we were packed up and on the road by 11.  The highway is decent between Blanding and Moab, passing through the tiny town of Monticello.  When traveling in Utah if one is interested in beer or wine it is important to know that neither of those items can be purchased in a grocery store, or on a Sunday anywhere. We stopped in Monticello at the state liquor store on the way back from the Needles on Saturday and found the wine and beer selection to be sadly limited.  If you want good wine or dark craft beer, bring it with you to Utah.

Before long we passed the turn to the Needles and the beautiful La Sal mountains dominated the sky to the northeast.  The highest peak in the La Sals is more than 12,000 feet high and is the highest point on the Colorado Plateau.

The salmon pink slickrock formed in Navajo and Entrada sandstone forms lovely domes and soft eroded shapes that dominate the landscape as the highway approaches Moab.

We saw a scenic turnout at Wilson Arch, a dramatic window right next to the highway.  The parking area was filled, and there were quite a few people crawling up to the arch on the short trail.  It was a pretty introduction to our next few days which would be dominated by many arches. 

We arrived at the Moab KOA RV Park just after the official 1PM check in time.  Our sites were in the upper newer section of the park, with some young trees, sites that were well spaced, and a random occurrence of cement patios.  We happened to get a site with a cement patio. Because of this piece of luck, the four of us ate most of our meals at our patio.

Dan’s labradoodle, Sophie

Our experience at the park was quite pleasant, with the highway noise only slightly tiresome in the early evening.  The people in the part of the park where we camped were considerate and quiet.  Most had some form of ATV with them, or a high clearance vehicle of some kind.  Others had both, in addition to their electric bikes.  I never heard any noise or partying during the entire three nights we camped at the park.

View from the La Sals in the east from our site

A moment of serendipity happened while we were in Moab.  I received a text message from an old friend from my life in Coeur d Alene almost 20 years ago.  Joan and her husband, Gordon, had just arrived in Moab and knew from my blog that we were there.  In addition, another friend had also arrived in Moab at the same time. Patty and Les and Joan and Gordon were camped in the same park and planned on spending a few days together in the area. 

Sue, Joan, and Patty

We set up a time to meet and I drove to their park for a short visit.  It was great seeing them.  None of this was planned, and it seemed amazing to me that all of us ended up in the same place at the same time.  Small world for sure.