We woke at 6:30 am and walked all the short trails in Canyonlands National Park before the visitor center opened. The temperature will climb 30 degrees in that time, a low of 34 to 64, with a high of 94 by midday. The Cave Spring Trail has evidence of the early Puebloan residents and a camp from the cowboys that stayed here too. We get to climb a wooden ladder that is chained to the rocks for another view. Pothole Point Trail offers us a glimpse at the importance of rainfall and the life cycles it helps to complete for a variety of invertebrates emerging from dormancy or being hatched from eggs.
A sign at Wooden Shoe Arch teaches us how these arches, spires, knobs, and fins were formed from over 300 million years ago and how they are continually being worn down by water, wind, and gravity. At Roadside Ruin we get to walk on a large rock trail to a granary hidden under a ledge. There are plenty of storage structures, but few dwellings. It seems the Puebloans were able to farm the land plenty, but only lived here seasonally. We stop at the Needles Outpost for breakfast where they operate on solar power and will power.
The food from there will give us the energy we need to stay in the hot car for hours with the AC blowing while we make three stops before Arches National Park to look at all the trails we could hike and all the formations we could see if we didn’t have the dogs with us. The first will be Newspaper Rock – a petroglyph panel that tells 2,000 years worth of stories that historians have yet to decipher. There are lots of animals, footprints, people, and symbols. Either the animals went extinct because of all their hunting or this is an ancient graffiti wall and their ‘gangs’ were obsessed with killing mammals.
We make a pit stop in the road to get a closer look at a checkered garter snake and Caleb gets too close, but is fast enough to lift his boot to take the snake bite he has coming. I’m glad to get him safely off the road and giggle as Caleb and the snake move around each other. The snake will go under the car and then into the grass. Our second stop will be a trek up to the Wilson Arch with the dogs. Cracks filled with water, froze, melted, and the loose particles got blown out with the wind leaving a big hole in the rock.
Speaking of holes, our third stop is a 5,000 square foot manmade hole where Albert Christensen built a home for his family. While excavating 50,000 cubic feet of sandstone he also painted Sermon on the Mount and sculpted the face of President FDR on the rock above his home. Inside the gift shop are dragons, clocks, long-billed hats, and a Betty Boop collection. Outside is a variety of sculptures and a general store that sells ice cream.
Into Arches and it’s different than I imagined, but that happens for every popular park that gets described through someone else’s eyes. There is more up and down driving, not just flat desert, and there is plenty more to see than just a few arches left to erode on top of red rocks. The earth has done a great job of expressing itself artistically here. Arches come in different shapes and sizes and even clouds are stacked in this park. At the 5,000 foot elevation marker set in 86 degree rocks I look to the snow-capped mountains in the distance and wonder what the temperature is there.
We did manage to get out of the car a time or two and spend over three hours in the park. On our way out, we stop at the visitor center again, this time to ask about Edward Abbey’s book Desert Solitaire. The ranger said she was on her third read of it, me on my second, and that either things have changed drastically or he was off about mountain height and campsites. I would love to attempt the park through his story. After this park we will make our way to the northern end of Canyonlands – Island in the Sky.
I set off on the Upheaval Dome hike and tore my leg on a stick but not my pants – that’s quality. Caleb got to hike part of the Whale Rock Trail and we both went to see the granaries on Aztec Butte Trail. I parked the car at an angle and put a blanket in the window to shade the dogs. At the Green River Overlook we learn about John Wesley Powell’s mission to study the Colorado River in 1869. The water is just as dangerous today, but trips are offered by very skilled boatmen with floatie and helmet requirements.
At the Grandview Point Overlook the view is as wide as the Grand Canyon is deep. We meet two brothers from Illinois, balding men who we seemed to share a lot of opinions with. It’s nice to meet friendly people on our travels, even if they do look like badasses. Evening starts to arrive as we make the walk out to Mesa Arch. I’m not usually afraid of heights, but looking down to the trees below made me feel light headed – and that wouldn’t be the bottom of the steep fall if I slipped.
What’s left of the sun above the horizon is hidden behind blue clouds on our return to the car. We drive to Green River, Utah in the dusk with a sliver of moon in the sky in search of a cheap place to sleep. We find a Super 8, and though it’s 17 miles in the wrong direction it’s the nearest motel we could find for $64 – and we are in need of washing. We get our room at 8:30 pm and as it nears 10:00 pm I am ready for sleep.