Canyonlands and Arches

We wallowed in PB for longer than we’d planned and the trip to Lake Havasu for spring break was an unplanned excursion from wholesome outdoorsy things. As it were, we’d been working towards a date to meet our mate, Kirky, in Phoenix so the schedule hadn’t really been sliding so much as there being some time to fill. The until-now-unmentioned second trip to Lake Havasu/spring break between Sedona and the Grand Canyon was probably a case of too much of a good thing. Basically Kirky heard the stories and demanded we go back for a second bite of the cherry. And we’ll leave it at that. One way or another, this set us (ex Kirky, whose cameo ended) up for a 10 day mad rush through Arizona, Utah and northern California with the next appointment being Coachella. We started off with a few lessons in the Grand Canyon and then steered north for a tour of southern Utah, taking in parts of Canyonlands, Arches and Zion National Park (as much as possible of each). There was unanimous drive to squeeze as much as possible in to the remaining time pre Coachella. This would mean an itinerary planned to within a few hours and Darcy and Vaughan put some solid hours in behind the wheel to make it happen – I was blissfully uninsured.

Canyonlands and Arches were the next targets. Canyonlands is big. It’s broken in to four sections with the way from one to another being via the perimeter. Not really being sure what we wanted from it but constrained by time, we settled on two days in the Needles District and a stop through Island in the Sky. Being in 127 Hours country was part of the excitement, though without a canyoneer among us that adventure was not tabled and we stuck to walking. The Needles District delivered some genuinely fun walks. Basically you hop from one canyon to another over big sand stone walls, through narrow slots and passages. There’s little sense of what’s over the next sandstone wall or through the next slot and the constant anticipation meant it was never a trudge. The Joint Trail provided some 127 Hours esque scenery, with its network of fissures, but the real gem was Chesler Park. Chesler Park is basically The Land Before Time.  Hours spent walking on and surrounded by a desolate sandstone landscape ends with another view-obscuring canyon exit and a vista of rolling desert grasslands. The lack of a friendly orange triceratops was the single disappointment of the day.

Moab and Arches National Park was next. Moab delivered some good pork ribs and some less-inspiring 2% beer which is the Utah (legislated) staple. Arches is laid out as a tourist drive, and is full of groups driving from one trail head to another, each leading to a natural arch. The density of natural arches is the draw card of the area and it is genuinely awe-inspiring that it could all happen by chance. It’s probably also its downfall, and you could be forgiven for concluding that once you’ve seen one arch, you’ve seen them all. Forgiven, that is, until you’ve seen Delicate Arch at sunset. This one is perched atop a rocky outcrop affording it a direct painting of golden sunset light and an almost iridescent red-orange glow. It is much-photographed and you get the best sense of this when you see the dozens and dozens of tripods congregated there of an afternoon. Some mix it up with success, but we went for the classic registration plate view.

With a name like Island in the Sky it’s not immediately clear what you’re going to get.  Next to the no-points-for-guessing names of Arches and it’s parent, Canyonlands, it’s positively abstract. As a film title it feels about right. It turns out to be basically… an island… in the sky. Literal naming conventions hadn’t strayed for a moment. You find yourself on the edge of a mesa rising 1000 feet above the surrounding, seemingly martian, landscape. Gaining any sense of scale of the landscape below is impossible and the apparent remoteness of what you can see makes you wonder if anyone has ever set foot there. The Green River Overlook is the most easily accessible view point and was our main photographic target, though only because there was no time for a sunrise at Mesa Arch – next time.

Next was Zion…

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