States visited: 49!

visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800

Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Arches National Park

Due to lay-offs on Dave’s team this week and others vacations, he was unable to take a day off. Instead, we took advantage of his east coast finishing time (he's been getting up at 6:30 to start work before the kids surface - it's a tough beginning of the day for him, he is so NOT a morning person!) and left the camper to visit Arches National Park each day, Monday – Thursday at 3:30pm.

We started off at the Visitor Center and watched an amazing movie, depicting Arches and Canyonlands, which was made by the Discovery Channel. It was certainly one of the best movies we’ve seen at a National Park, even Nate was transfixed (usually he’s a wriggle-bum!).

From the brochure: Water and ice, extreme temperatures, and underground salt movement are responsible for the sculptured rock scenery of Arches National Park. On clear, blue-sky days it is difficult to imagine such violent forces – or the 100 million years of erosion – that created this land boasting one of the world’s greatest densities of national arches. Over 2,000 catalogued arches range in size from a three-foot opening, the minimum considered an arch, to the longest, Landscape Arch, measuring 306 feet base to base.

Today new arches are being formed and old ones destroyed. Erosion and weathering work slowly but relentlessly, creating dynamic landforms that gradually change through time. Change sometimes occurs more dramatically. In 1991 a rock slab 60 feet long, 11 feet wide, and four feet thick fell from the underside of Landscape Arch, leaving behind an even thinner ribbon of rock. Delicate Arch, an isolated remnant of a bygone fin, stands on the brink of a canyon, with the dramatic La Sal Mountains as backdrop. Towering spires, pinnacles, and balanced rocks, perch atop seemingly inadequate bases – vie with the arches as scenic spectacles here.

American Indians used this area for thousands of years. The Archaic peoples, and later ancestral Puebloan, Fremont, and Ute peoples, searched the arid desert for food animals, wild plant foods, and stone for tools and weapons. They also left evidence of their passing on a few pictograph and petroglyph panels.

We popped into Moab for dinner at Eddie McStiff’s to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary – a lot has happened in 13 years; still so happy with this man of mine – love you, Dave!

On Tuesday, we completed the beginning part of the scenic route, driving out past viewpoints (and of course, stopping at) Park Avenue, La Sal Mountains, Courthouse Towers and the Petrified Dunes. At Balanced Rock, we walked the easy ½ mile loop and marveled at the way the rock was hanging on top of its post.

We then drove out to The Windows Section. We hiked out to the Double Arch, a towering conjoined arch, opening up skywards. It was so imposing, particularly looking up through its windows. Again, the drop off on the other side of one opening was quite steep, as Jake kept saying all week: “A journey to certain death!” Thanks, Jake!

We took the paved hike out to nearby South and North Windows. North Window comes into view first and also gives a good view of Turret Arch, by walking around, you see the more secluded South Window. We stopped to eat our dinner here and were surprised that very few people continue on around the loop to this side; it was very peaceful. We decided to take the primitive trail back around to the beginning of the loop – certainly the road less walked! Of course, this is the kind of rock-climbing, unpaved trail the kids like best – any excuse to get up and down rocks!

We also saw a great number of cairns, these are the little piles of rocks (man-made), used to help mark unpaved trails. We saw these all over the Park on future hikes and the kids found them really interesting. I love that they’re learning about things they wouldn’t typically read about in books or learn in a regular school day.

On Wednesday, when we returned once again, we started out in the Visitor Center so the children could get sworn in again as Junior Rangers. The last few weeks, they’ve completed a couple of programs a week, so maybe our average will get back up to one a week after our big break from programs during our long stay in Florida.

We checked out the awesome views from Panorama Point before making our way to our destination hike point: Wolfe Ranch. It’s hard to imagine a family living here in such a remote area, but they did at the turn of the 20th century! There was a salt stream nearby that they diverted and made use of. The hut they lived in remains here still, hardly what we would think of as a ranch – it was far smaller than our camper!

Delicate Arch trail which begins here is hyped to be one of the most rewarding hikes in canyon country and it did indeed live up to our expectations. We would later check out the arch from the distant viewpoint, and the picture couldn’t even begin to compare with what we experienced up close. I’m so glad we took everyone’s advice and hiked the trail.

We have been using National Geographic’s: ‘Guide to the National Parks of the United States’ (this only contains the National Parks proper, not all of the other forts, seashores, memorials etc that come under the NPS umbrella) and it gives a fantastic description of the hike:

This delightful trail gains 500 feet in elevation as it traverses 1.5 miles of slickrock as smooth and cambered as the back of a whale. It tops out, suddenly and dramatically, at the foot of Delicate Arch, a must-see.

As nature writer Edward Abbey put it in Desert Solitaire, “If Delicate Arch has any significance it lies, I will venture, in the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out their ruts of habit, to compel us into a re-awakened awareness of the wonderful – that which is full of wonder.”

The hike begins on the grounds of the Wolfe Ranch, which include a weathered corral and a tattered log cabin, follow the bridge across Salt Wash to the cliff, where it is believed the Ute Indians left petroglyphs (we looked at these on our way back down). The Ute, who once roamed from the eastern slope of the Colorado Rockies to the canyonlands of southern Utah, perhaps camped here, probably trading with Wolfe for provisions.

The trail is ingeniously designed to hide Delicate Arch from view until your very last step. From the valley floor, the route threads by patches of cryptobiotic soil (this, we learned, is a special kind of soil that can take 250 years to regenerate if is trodden on and is a vital, living component of this area. It allows water through when the rains do come but then stops it evaporating or escaping, protecting this valuable resource from the sun and dry climate. It also holds the sands in place, minimizing erosion damage.) before reaching flat slabs of sandstone, where cairns mark the way. Juniper trees grow from cracks so small the trunks seem to emerge from solid rock. The final third of a mile is a teaser. As the path climbs, it hugs a sandstone fin, and then edges along a steep bowl that bars all view of the famous arch. The last few steps require some nerve, but you will be rewarded with a marvelous look at Delicate Arch straddling the edge of a slickrock basin.

Standing 45 feet tall at its highest point, Delicate Arch frames the La Sal Mountains some 35 miles away. Over the years other names have been attached to this famous arch – Schoolmarm’s Pants, Old Maid’s Bloomers, and Cowboy Chaps.

While we were gazing at the Arch, we were watching an Italian man complete a line drawing of this spectacle in his journal. Naturally, because we chat to everybody, we asked to look at it more closely. Caitlin was in awe, she is such a little artist, he was so gracious, told her that all it takes is practice….I think I’ll be looking for an art curriculum next year! He and his wife were on a 3 week tour of the National Parks in the area and wrote down our blog address, so if you’re reading, HELLO! We very much enjoyed chatting with you and admiring your beautiful artwork, thank you for sharing with us.

Thursday took us to the furthest point of the main scenic drive, pausing to look down into the multitude of fins at Fiery Furnace. We parked in Devils Garden and walked the mile out to Landscape Arch. We could see quite clearly where the 60 foot slab of rock had fallen off 19 years earlier. The trail no longer allows you to walk underneath the arch for fear that more of the arch may fall; it certainly looks fairly frail. As we walked up, we could hear some wonderful bagpipe music. Dave walked on a little way with the kids and they discovered a man busking in the mountains – the music was echoing around, it was beautiful.

On the hike back, we stopped to look at Pine Tree Arch – this was probably one of my favorites, simply because I could actually stand under it without fear, it was practically at ground level! On the way out, we looked through Tunnel Arch, high up in the rock.

I feel as though we really saw the majority of this Park by coming in four days, we were able to do more hikes this way and keep the children entertained, so it worked out well.

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