Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Arches and Canyonlands

I got to arches after a long desolate drive through desert and very isolated places with some very interesting scenery of what, like most of this stuff, was once seabed. Its hard to believe and you are just in awe at every turn and straightaway at the incomprehensible power of nature. The desert too proved to be as unforgiving as advertised on TV. It was still free weekend at the national parks, so I had to deal with the crowds on Sunday, but Monday was just as bad, if not worse, but manageable anyway. I did luck out and got a free night camping thanks to some nice bikers who had enough of the desert themselves I think. I camped on BLM land alongside the Colorado river within the canyon walls of 200 feet or so high. A neat surrounding, so I jumped on it and I was only 6 miles from the park. I found out at the gate the campsites fill up by 7:30!! WTF? Ok, no problem, turns out that campsite is like 30 miles into the park anyway. I was closer to Moab, which is a nice little oasis town full of adventurers (rafting, biking, ATV, off road Jeep rides, speedboats, mountain bikes, skydiving, you name it). Some nice looking restaurants, boutiques, hotels and resorts. If this was a destination vacation, I would have chosen one of the nice hotels over camping, but again this is about going as cheap as possible 95% of the time.
Well the campsite was nice, but it had its issues as I found out. First off it was so windy I couldn't put up the tent without a little help and without staking it down first on all 4 corners. INsane. That was just the first day. There is also some night tours that come by and shine real bright lights up on the walls of the canyon. No problem, kinda interesting and not invasive. There was however alot of in and out traffic along the gravel road all night, which was annoying. Only one way out too, so often people came in and out and floored it going out making more noise and dust. There was no shade. The sun was unrelenting both days. Intense as I have ever felt. I drank plenty of fluids and sought shelter on short hikes, but nothing was enough to keep you cool and hydrated. It would get to the point of feeling kinda nauseaus after a while. From 745am to 845 pm the sun would beat on you and you could feel the rays through your shirt even. Arches was quite interesting, but I wouldn't recommend visiting in the summer (on the solstace no less!). You do have to drive around alot, but you can see alot if thats all you chose to do, other than the two best arches. Those you have to hike 1-3 mi Round trip. I felt the deserts wrath here like no where else on the trip so far. Capitol Reef was quite pleasant, but I lucked out on weather I think. But having written this after crossing into Colorado, I still back that statement up. Much more pleasant here. Same altitude and longitude roughly. I am curious what the winters are like here. I do think they get down to 0-20F at night if I recall correctly. Id like to see arches with a dusting of snow.
After two half days at Arches NP, I had enough and really just wanted to sit in the shade, inside or swim in a cold pool, but I did not have those options. I was also missing the US Open final pushed back to Monday. I decided to use the balance of my time to see Canyonlands NP since I had a pass and it was just 9 or so miles up the road if that and it seemed like the type of place you didnt have to walk much. I was able to drive with the AC on to keep cool and its a long trek into the park down and up canyons to higher grassland plateus and then out to the farthest end of it for a fantasic view that probably rivals the Grand Canyon. This is just a higher elevated portion of the Colorado Plateu and flows down to the Grand Canyon. You can see where the Green River and Colorado merge. Its an amazing spectacle. There are two more parts to the park, but you have to circumnavigate to get to the needles section which also has two separate one way in/out entrances, divided by unnavigable terrain. Then there is the mazes which is not reachable by paved road. You have to drive dirt and hike to get to it. Its rough challenging backcountry that is one of the most remote areas of the continental US. Both look interesting, but to be honest a few days of desert and I had enough. All I can think about is ice cold drinks and getting wet. I had to keep buying ice to keep my drinks/groceries cold. I was lucky to get 8 hrs before it melted inside the coolers. Never had to buy ice at the other parks. Canyonlands is much less popular, so you can get some solitude if you want.
That eve, I could not wait for the sun to go down and til morning to leave this dry hot place and head for more hospitable locations. I could not even enjoy my dinner with the low sun beaming on my back. It would not really cool down til well into the night. Of note though, the night skys were spectacular like Capitol and Bryce and you could catch shooting stars pretty often and again see the milky way. A real treat for us east coasters. I was happy for what I have done on this journey, but I preferred the cool nights of the higher elevations and north country. Oh and I almost forgot. The Gnats here are ridiculous. Some kind of flys too, but the gnats would not leave you alone. That just added to the uncomfort.

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