The Great American Road Trip II - 21 - A Window of Opportunity
After a series of long days and not getting enough sleep, we slept about ten and a half hours last night. My dad had gotten up about 5:00 and walked around the hotel and down the street a bit, where he noted a little restaurant called Sweet Cravings. We'd passed this en route to the hotel but we'd assumed that it was some kind of bakery, but it turned out to be a breakfast-and-lunch place run by an older couple. After his excursion, he returned to the room and continued sleeping.
A little ways into the afternoon we walked over to Sweet Cravings for lunch. The service was a bit discombobulated, and it was packed with the weirdest of folks, but the sandwiches they served were downright excellent. I got something called the Capone Sub (as homage to the Moose Jaw tunnels) - which was basically a mix of a bunch of slightly spicy Italian meats, but it was quite fresh. Mom and dad split two sandwiches - one a turkey bacon sandwich with olives and bacon aioli, and the other was a ham-and-cheese concoction that was, for some reason, called "the Great Escape."
We walked back to our hotel, planning to leave to Arches National Park as soon as we'd done a load of laundry, but the heat - while dry - was absolutely brutal. We'd planned on leaving at 2:00 at the earliest, but the heat reached up to 105 degrees, so we waited at the hotel and got our start a little after 4:00 when the heat was around 90 or so - but there was a bit of cloud cover and the heat was dry, so we were fine.
After stopping at the visitor center and asking a few questions about the nature/time of some of the trails that looked interesting to us, we got back on the road that traverses the park. While we got a somewhat protracted start because of the heat, we were able to get around and do everything that we had originally planned on doing.
The first few stops were nothing more than small pullouts to get good views of some famous rock structures within the park - of which most, ironically, are not arches at all, but more akin to spindles or long thin faces of red rock which rise up disjointedly from the scrub brush below. Some of the names bequeathed to these strange formations are obvious when considering their appearance - "The Organ," "Three Gossips," and "Sheep Rock" all look like what they sound like - upward stripes, three head-shaped rocks side-by-side, and ... well, a sheep-looking thing. Some names, however, made little sense - like "Courthouse Towers" or "Garden of Eden" - the latter was one of the most desolate and non-vegetated pieces of land we saw, leaving a decidedly unapt ring to the name. It was pretty for other reasons, however - rocks jutted up in a series of spires, some interspersed with others. It was not the best scenery in the park, however - we had more places to get to.
A lot of the scenery on the first part of the drive is taken by vast petrified sand dunes, with thin rock layers jutting up at odd angles. They were not the same height as some sand dunes I've seen, but they still had a distinct sand-dune shape to them.
Our first hike was a short one around a famous rock called Balanced Rock - and I'll be darned if that thing's not precariously balanced. The formations around the area have clearly defined geological layers. The layer on the bottom, which goes perhaps halfway up the rock, is not as eroded as the smaller layer above it, which in turn supports the remaining rock which does not erode as fast as either of the two layers below. It looks a bit like a large petrified ice cream cone, with the ice cream on the verge of falling off and splattering on the ground. (However, due to the rate at which even the fastest layer erodes, folks won't have to worry about being crushed by the rock for a long, long time to come.) The rock formations around there have the same general geological structure as Balanced Rock and will, given enough time, erode away to the point where they, too, will be balanced rocks in their own right,
(Balanced rocks are not an uncommon sight around the park, but Balanced Rock itself it the most famous and the largest of any of them, hence the name. However, it was interesting in its largeness and its closeness to the road, not its uniqueness within the park.)
Our next stop was rather long - not a long hike, per se, but we did a lot of climbing around. We had arrived in a portion of the park with many more arches and large coves in the red rocks. Three of them could be accessed by one loop trail. Our first stop on this trail was the North Window, a massive arch etched out of the rock face. The climb up into the arch, so as to be underneath it, was steep but not strenuous, and the views of the epic scenery beyond was well worth any and all expended effort. We climbed down on the other side, which blocked both the sun (which was quickly being shrouded by clouds) and the rain, which was not hard but was sprinkled into our faces by the occasional gust. We climbed up, over, and around huge fallen rocks on the other side until we could climb no more - but the views going out the other way were worth the effort, as we could see into the Turret Arch, which was the third stop of three on the loop.
But before we could get to the Turret Arch, we went to the South Window, which is quite like the North Window - the only difference is that it's impossible to get up under the North Window due to the almost sheer rock face below it. We could get about halfway up, but there were no path possibilities on any of the slippery rocks above, so we aborted the mission and continued on to the Turret Arch.
The Turret Arch was the least strenuous of the three and turned out to be basically a smaller version of the North Window. The relative smallness of the arch made it a wind tunnel, and I barely held on to my hat as I climbed through to the other side and then back again.
We drove just a little farther before traversing our penultimate trail: the Double Arch, one of the most famous pieces of scenery in the park and one of the classic Western backgrounds which has made the vicinity well-known for filming movies. In fact, the Double Arch was where they filmed part of the opening scenes for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where the young Indiana escapes from a treasure-hunting gang with some of their loot. We clambered up the rocks underneath the first of the two arches, and dad and I crawled up to look out through the second. The views of the rocks in the distance with sand dunes in the foreground along with rain and sun rays on the horizon was very beautiful, and I could have stayed there for a long time had we not had another trail to get to.
At this point, light was becoming a bit more scarce, as the mountains heightened the horizon and the clouds obscured the sun - but the shade was welcome and surprising. It was also just barely still early enough to start in on the 3-mile (round-trip) hike to see the most famous arch in the entirety of Arches and one of the most evocative pieces of southwestern beauty: Delicate Arch, an arch that is not part of a larger rock wall but instead stands by its own, thinning out on one side to a smaller circumference.
It was the hardest, best, and most gorgeous hike I've ever been on, and going up and down presented its own distinct series of challenges.
Going up was literally all uphill. The trail was not paved and was only dirt for the first little bit. The only indication that you're still on the trail are the ranger-made rock piles known as cairns, which lead you up a long and very steep rock at about a 10% grade. Going up, which ate into my feet, was much easier than going down - but that's another story. After reaching the top of this massive rock - which makes you think that you're closer to seeing Delicate Arch than you actually are - we walked along rocky but relatively flat ground, going from cairn to cairn with little difficulty. (The worst part about this section was stopping and waiting for my parents to catch up. They were rather winded, I think - but still in better shape than anyone else at their age.)
The last leg of the hike was the craziest of all: a walk along a 200-yard narrow cliff. The rock face to our right went straight up, while the rock face to our left went straight down. The trail had been sliced right out of the rock - and slanted inwards so that, should someone fall, that person would bang against the rock instead of tumble off the cliff - but it was by no means an easy walk, as the path had a number of potholes in it, which made it more precarious travel.
But then we rounded the corner and saw Delicate Arch, and it was worth it.
While the trail stopped at the rocky overlook, this did not stop anyone from walking in a clockwise motion on the rather steep curve over to the Arch itself. A few foreign folks actually walked underneath the Arch - but there was a steep drop-off on both sides, the ground looked ridiculously slick, and the wind had just enough of a kick to it to make a trek out there unsteady. I touched the side of it and got some really cool pictures (the redness of the rock increases hue to a fiery red as it reflects sunset light, making it a popular spot at that time), but we had to head back, as the sun was rapidly setting and we had a 1.5-mile walk - mostly downhill - to our car.
Oh, and did I mention that it got very windy and began to rain a bit on us?
The rain wasn't that bad - not any worse than the rain that squirted us earlier, anyway - but the wind was blowing into our faces and occasionally carried sand from places farther down the trail. We made the fastest time that we could, considering the steep downhill treks and the diminishing light, and made it back to our car at 9:00, right when we could no longer have seen much of anything on the trail.
Well, we'd walked, climbed, and meandered around six miles total - at high altitudes and temperatures - so we were very hungry. We had our sights set on a restaurant in Moab that had an excellent menu and good reviews, so we got out of the park as fast as we could (while still being safe) and got into Moab even though we were stuck behind dimwits who went 30 in a 45-MPH zone. (We'd called the restaurant earlier today to inquire about their hours, so we were trying to get there before their 9:30 closing time.) We got there at 9:20 and ran inside, but the lady we talked to was very rude and told us that they "closed early because our servers are sick." (Basically, they closed at 9:00 because no one else was walking in the door - and without changing their window sign.)
Miffed at the lack of pleasantness - amplified by our hunger - we rolled down the street past closed restaurants. However, Moab Diner was still open, so we ate there. I had the chicken-fried steak they ran out of yesterday, and nabbed the last of the white gravy. (I also got a refill of their lemonade for free, which isn't supposed to happen.) I cleaned off my plate, and we all got ice creams.
I suspect we'll sleep well tonight.
Tomorrow: we visit Four Corners - the only place in the U.S. where you can be in four states at the same time - and hit Mesa Verde National Park - the biggest archaeological site in the U.S. - en route to Durango, Colorado.