Arches, canyons and slickrock

When checked into the hotel in Moab after the visit at Mesa Verde National Park, it was around 3.30 PM and we agreed that we had time for a short visit to the Arches National Park, located just north of Moab. The national park has the largest concentration of natural arches anywhere in the world. The entire area, not just the arches, is one of the most impressive and exciting places I've ever seen. It is on my personal Top Ten List of natural wonders, together with Painted Desert in Arizona, Grand Canyon NP, Yellowstone NP and Redwood NP in the US of A. Number one, by the way is Jakobshavn Isbræ or Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland.  

Arches NP, Utah. A new arch is forming in the Windows Section of the natrional park.The park has a lot of viewpoints where you can park the car and look at the nature, and from many of these viewpoints, you can also go on short or longer walks. We stopped at a few of them, but going into the park, we only stopped at viewpoints at the main road. Among the stops we made were at Balanced Rock and Petrified Dunes. We saved the side roads and their stops for the return trip.

We continued until the park road ended at Devils Garden. Here we parked the car and went for a walk of about 1.5 miles into the valley behind the car park to see the park's widest arch, Landscape Arch, which is nearly 300 feet from side to side. On the way back we looked at a few more arches. Even at this time in the afternoon the temperature was still around 95 degrees, so along the way we emptied our  water bottles. We got back to the parking lot though, without dying from thirst, and then we started on our return trip.

The next stop was at one of the side roads. Here we looked at the Delicate Arch, the park's biggest icon, which is pictured on license plates from Utah. Here you have three choices. You can take a stroll up to the arch which stands on a ridge, a trip of around 45 minutes each way. It was too late in the afternoon to take this route, and we had not enough water left in our cooler. Another possibility is that which Dorte and I took in 2006, namely to go to the "upper viewing point." It is a walk of about one kilometer, which rises about 250 feet. Since Tim and I was already tired after our walks in Mesa Verde and at Landscape Arch, we chose the third option, namely to look at the arc from "lower viewing point." Here you don't have to climb at all, its just about a 300 feet walk from the parking lot. 

From Delicate Arch, we drove to our last stop on the tour at the Windows Section. The Windows are two large arches, North Window and South Window and we walked up to see those. I also walked halfway to Double Arch, which as the name suggests, is an arch with two openings. By then we had seen enough of arches, so we left the park with only a few more stops to take pictures.

When we were back in town was almost 19 o'clock, so we decided to find somewhere to eat. We had at one point seen a sign that advertised a restaurant with the interesting name Branding Iron, so we looked that up. It turned out to be a nice, but almost empty restaurant. The food, however, was really good, and here there was plenty of it and it was not particularly expensive. Then we went back to the hotel so we could get rested after a long day's enjoyment of the landscapes of southeastern Utah.

A visit to Canyonland National Park

View from The Needles Overlook, south of Moab, Utah.The next day, we were going to visit the southern part of Canyonlands National Park, and as we had to change our hotel, we packed our stuff and paid our bill before leaving. Back home we had checked the internet, and decided to take a sunset off-road tour in a hummer. The day before we had passed several tour providers, but as we did'nt know anything about any of them, we simply stopped at the first one we passed and booked the tour for the same evening. It cost us the tidy sum of $ 80 each but as it later turned out, is was worth every penny of it. Before we could get the ticket we had to sign a statement saying the tour was on our own risk, and if we were injured on the trip, we could not sue the company.

With the evening tour booked, we drove south along the same road but in the opposite direction of where we came from the day before. About 30 miles south of Moab, we left the highway to drive to the so-called Needles Overlook. 20 miles from the main road we came to a viewpoint from where we could look out over the area of ​​Canyonlands National Park, that is known as The Needles because of its many sharp and pointed rocks. From the viewpoint we also had a good view of the Colorado River, which here floated through a canyon that was not quite as deep as the Grand Canyon, but impressive just the same. We went for a walk in the area and enjoyed the countryside and also tried to walk on the slickrock cliffs, which are some very smooth, though not slick sandstone cliffs

Canyonlands is a relatively small national park (around 525 square miles), but as it is traversed by both the Colorado River and the Green River, it is divided into three separate and independent areas, and you can't drive between them inside the park, but have to leave the park for that purpose. The northernmost part is called "Island in the Sky" and the entrance to this part is situated about 25 miles north of Moab. The southernmost region is the "Needles Area", located about 40 miles south of Moab. The last area is "The Maze", located west of both Green River and Colorado River. This area is the park's most inaccessible area, and one of the most inaccessible areas throughout the U.S. and it is only possible to visit the area in 4-wheel drive vehicles with high clearance, on foot or on horse or mule back. When had completed our visit to the overlook, we agreed that we would go on south and visit the Needles area, which was what was closest. The Maze sounded exciting, but our Camaro was not exactly a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle, and we didn't have between 3 days and one week to spend, as a park brochure recommended.

We therefore drove the 20 miles back to the  highway (U.S. Route 191) and another 10 miles or so further south. Here again we left the main road and continued the approx. 30 miles to the area's Visitor Center. The road to the park was very interesting and varied, from rocks and desert, to prairie with cattle and along rivers and other waterways, there was a lot of green vegetation with many poplars and dogwoods. Along the way we saw a sign to Newspaper Rock, but we decided to wait to explore this place until our return trip. We proceeded to the entrance to the park where we once again showed our annual pass, and then we entered the park and drove to the local Visitor Centre, where we bought water, because the cooler was empty, and also looked at the exhibition on the park.

Rock formations in Canyonlands National ParkThen we followed the "main road" around the Needles district, but only where 2-wheel drive was permitted, and we stopped several places to "walk" and take pictures. The first place we stopped was at a viewpoint from which you could see the Wooden Shoe Arch. This is a pretty little arch, and the hole and the formation of the rock gives the impression of a giant clog.

Next stop was at Potholes Point. Here we here we took a walk for about one mile to look at the many "potholes". They are small depressions in the sandstone cliff where water is collected during rainfalls. During wet periods these potholes are filled with life, but when we were there, they were completely dried up and we saw only a few scattered trees and some cacti.

Last stop was at Slick Rock viewpoint where we took a walk of about 2.5 miles on the smooth rocks. From here we could enjoy the view of Big Spring Canyon together with a French family who were the only other people we saw in the area, but for one cyclist, who we had overtaken somewhat earlier in the day. On the way back we followed a very small, and as it turned out very winding dirt road. This we followed for about 6 miles, and we repeatedly had to be edging us past the oncoming traffic (two cars). At the end of the road was a ravine, where we took a few pictures and then we drove back. On the way back we stopped briefly at some small Ancestral Pueblo ruins, and we left the park for this time.

On the way back from the park to the highway, we stopped at Newspaper Rock, formerly a state park, but now classified as a State Historical Monument. Here is a hillside covered in "rock paintings", petroglyphs. Actually they are not painted but made by scratching the dark surface, so the lighter rock Newspaper Rock. Notice that the feet have six toes!underneath are becoming visible. According to a sign they were made sometime between the year 1 and year 1300 AD. It surprised us somewhat, since among others there were drawings of horses, and these did not live in North America at this time. After we got home, I have read that some of the images are made in the so-called Navajo-time, ie the period after the Navajos came to the area. This happened around 1400 and the Spaniards brought horses to North America around 1540, so these drawings must be more recent than that. In addition to the horses, a quantity of images showed animals, from deer and bison to something that most of all reminded me of beetles. As with carvings in Bornholm, Denmark and Simrishamn, Sweden there are also plenty of sun symbols and then a large amount of feet, besides drawings that must depict mythical creatures with human bodies, long tails and very small heads. It is interesting by the way, that many of the depicted feet have 6 toes. Had it been a single one, you might think that it could be a drawing error, but as many as there is, it must be assumed to be deliberate. So maybe some of the people doing the "drawings" had 6 toes, or there a reason behind that we do not understand today. For good measure, I better add that there also were feet with both five and four toes. After scraping the surface of the drawings again begin to darken when exposed to the weather and the color can then be used to decide if not the actual age of each drawing, then at least which of the drawings are the oldest. Here it is noteworthy that the 6-toed feet are among both the oldest and the younger drawings.

When we had finished "reading the news", we returned to the highway road and drove back toward Moab. Along the way, we made one stop to switch drivers. We did this at "Hole'n the Rock". This is a house or an apartment, carved directly out of the rock. The property has approximately 4,000 square feet (14 rooms), and is carved out of the sandstone cliffs by the Dane Albert Christensen, and was inhabited by him and his wife Gladys until his death in 1957. She lived in and developed the house further until her death in 1974. They are both buried in a niche in the mountain in the garden outside their home. On the rock wall is a carved portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt made by Albert Christensen.

When we got back to town, we continued further north and around 12 miles to the east along Utah Route 128 next to the Colorado River to our "new" hotel. Why we only stayed here one night and not both nights is a long story, but it all meassured up to my bad memory of when we were goint to get to Moab.  At the front desk we explained the very cute young lady, that we had made a booking error, and thus only had to use the room for one day, as we had to be in in Salt Lake City the day after. She changed our reservation to 1 instead of 2, nights and then we got our room key after she had told us about the hotel's own Wild West movie museum, their winery, restaurant, etc. The room was as we expected, with king size bed. We knew because it was the only available room, when we booked from back home, so we were prepared for it. On the other hand, it was a suite with 1½ floors with a kitchen and living room section  down a few steps from the hall and sleeping area. Outside the living room area, there was access to a private terrace overlooking the Colorado River and the impressive red cliffs on the other side. If you get to Moab and don't mind the 200 something dollars per night, you simply have to stay at Red Cliff's Lodge. While Tim visited the Wild West Museum, I visited the winery, and bought a few bottles.

Off-road on the slickrock

Around 5.45 PM we drove back to Moab, where we were ffifteen minutes later but our mempories had failed us, and the Hummer-tour didn't start until 7 PM.  While we waited, we sat on a terrace each in a rocking chair and enjoyed the surroundings. As the time for leaving approached, we were greeted by  Nick, who should be our driver. We were also presented to the other participants in the trip, a family of three from Massachusetts: a father, a mother, and their son, Kyle at around 15 or 16. So we took off on what should be the greatest experience of our whole vacation and easily worth the price.

Hummer Tour on slickrock outside Moab, Utah.Moab is called "the off-road capital of the world" because of the many possibilities for trips by car or better, jeep, or small ATV's or moutainbike on the slickrock cliffs around the town. Slickrock is sandstone, actually petrified dunes, which gradually have been eroded completely smooth, and as it is the dunes, which are fossilized, they are also rounded but can also be quite steep. Slick Rock is called Entrada Sandstone in geological terms, if anyone would like to look it up somewhere

We drove to the outskirts of town where the rock begins and along the way Nick told us about off-roading. Here they  evaluate the rides on a scale from 1 to 10 according to how hard they are to drive. The tour, we were going to drive was called Hell's Revenge and was a 6. It's hard to describe the drive. One can not really describe how high and steep the hills, we drove up and down, really were. But they were! The vehicle we rode in was a Hummer H1, the first and greatest of Hummers. It is directly based on the military Humvee and can stand a little of everything. 70-degree increments with lateral tilt of up to 47 degrees will be all right. Mother Judy suffered from vertigo, so she spent most of the time with her eyes closed, to great amusement, not least to her son. The first challenge came just after the ride had started. Here drove along Chicken Fin, a narrow cliff about 60 feet high, that was no wider than the Hummer. Here one could look out of the car and straight into a gap, regardless of which side you were placed. We also tried to go backwards up along a 120 feet high hill. We had at one point one rear wheel at least three feet above the ground. On another occasion, Nick's "had to answer" his cell phone, and he let go of both steering wheel and brakes to answer the phone, with the result that we rolled down with great speed. At this point Judy almost left the Hummer.

Last rays of the setting sun enlightens La Sal Mountains south of Moab, UtahWe made stops at several places, so we could take pictures, of among other things, Mickey's Bath Tub - a small hole in the rock with fairly steep sides, where it is common to enter with a jeep and see if you are able to get up again on the other side. We did not try that, as the Hummer was too wide to get down into the hole. We also made a stop above a canyon, which name I have forgotten, but it is a part of "Negro Bill's Canyon", which goes into the mountains north of Moab. Here, a scene from the movie "Mission Impossible II" were shot, in which Tom Cruise was filmed hanging over the edge of the canyon. Nick told us how the image was captured, and we had Kyle take the same position as we took pictures. Unfortunately it was not possible to get him to look neither strained nor scared as he was busy laughing the whole time. Actually it is not dangerous at all because you just lie horizontally on a flat rock and stick to the edge of this with one hand. Using the right camera angle it looks like you hang over the edge of the canyon.

The last stop we made on top of a cliff. Up here we enjoyed the sunset behind the rocks and could also enjoy the sight of the sun's last rays on the La Sal Mountains southeast of Moab. Chad (the father) had brought champagne with him for his family, but both Nick, as well as Tim and I also were offered a taste.

When the sun had set, we returned to town, still in the slickrocks, still off-road, but now in the dark. When we came back we gave Nick a good tip and thanked him for the ride. Back at the hotel we went outside to enjoy the magnificent starry sky. Without a cloud in the sky, and without artificial light from street lamps a lot of stars were visible. When we entered the room again, we discovered that we should not have left the door open. The whole room was almost black with mosquitoes. Walls, curtains, mirrors, lamps, etc. We quickly therefore went to bed and turned off the bed lights so they were not drawn to us.

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