While we were back in Toronto, slogging away at our jobs and dreamily planning our mystical road trip of the Americas, Utah kept popping up again and again as a spectacular travel destination. The national parks there are some of the craziest, most surreal places in the world. And with our belated arrival in the bustling tourist town of Moab, we finally found ourselves in the thick of it.
Staying at Riverside Oasis RV Park at the northern end of town, we were well positioned to explore our first destination – Arches National Park. As the name suggests, this park has the largest concentration of natural stone arches in the world, and it didn’t disappoint.
Making the slow ascent into the park (and only pissing a few people off in the process), we topped the rise and found ourselves on a huge plateau with giant stone monoliths and hoodoos stretching away into the distance. We eased into “park life” with a 2 mile walk along Park Avenue, which entertained the eyes with huge balancing rocks, giant hoodoos, and tall rock plinths.
Next, we cruised on over to The Windows section of the park, stopping along the way to gawk at the La Sal Mountains, Courthouse Towers, Balancing Rock, and the “Petrified” Dunes. The windows are essentially large holes in rock formations, on their way to growing up and becoming full-blown arches. As you might imagine, there were plenty of these around, interspersed with some very impressive arches, including a super cool Double Arch.
“Enough of the rocks already!” you cry. Hopefully not out loud, because that would earn you some seriously strange looks and/or get you fired from work or thrown out of Starbucks for being a weirdo. Sadly, I cannot comply, and have about ten million more photos of rocks in various formations before I’m done. Surely the title gave it away?
Anyways, our next dance with the rock devil was at the world famous Delicate Arch – basically Utah’s mascot. We parked up, were informed that the walk was a somewhat challenging one, that there was no shade and that we needed to bring a pack mule fully loaded with water in order to keep from shriveling into raisins on the way up. The warnings were not without merit, and as we strolled past hundreds of wilted looking people we began to regret not bringing more agua. Especially Liivi, who was beginning to pant alarmingly and look less than impressed with the whole rock situation. After ascending a particularly large mountain of rock, I managed to find a threadbare shrub which provided a semi-shaded staging point from which to recoup. After this, it was an enjoyable walk along a ledge cut directly into a large cliff and then we were at the arch itself.
Delicate Arch is world famous for good reason, and we were suitably impressed not just by the arch but also by the setting surrounding it – panoramic views in all directions and an adjacent huge rock bowl (a “slick”?) which amplified the gravity defiance of the arch. We let our eyes feast for as long as the heat would allow, then trundled back towards the distant RV via a series of cool bighorn sheep petroglyphs.
Jumping back into the RV, well on our way to becoming a pair of sundried tomatoes, we couldn’t decide whether to carry on up the park to check out Devils Garden and Fiery Furnace, or call it a day. Upon turning the ignition and discovering to our horror that the starter had once again stuck, our decision was made for us. We would go no further.
Luckily, we were able to remove the battery terminals and the starter stopped trying to crank. The problem was that every time I re-connected the terminals, the darn thing kept trying to crank but not start. We proceeded to hit a range of possible offenders, including the starter, solenoid, and relay, then slammed the doors a few times and changed gears once or twice and…voila! Problem solved. It started up and we drove like hell, unwilling to stop anywhere else lest the darn thing break down again.
After the trauma of the afternoon, we figured a greasy feed was well in order, so we mosied on over to Milt’s Stop and Eat, a cool burger joint which had been recommended to us the night before by an old guy who seemed to know his way around a burger. Following a delicious meal of burgers, milkshakes and excessive amounts of fries, we carried on to our overnight campsite at Ken’s Lake, just south of Moab. Here, we found that you couldn’t pay for campsites with a credit card (as was the case with all campgrounds in Canada that we’d stayed at), but were damned if we were driving all the way back to town at midnight to get cash, and took our chances.
Our luck was severely lacking (something of a trip theme, unfortunately), and next morning I heard a whistle and looked over to see a park ranger looking malevolently in our direction. Fortunately, the guy wasn’t a bad sort, but asked that we drive into town to find the cash to pay for the site. Having probably spent more money on gas driving into town to get cash out than the cost of the campsite itself, we continued on to check out more rocky cool stuff in Canyonlands National Park.
After the hustle and bustle of Arches, Canyonlands was a welcome respite – with a far more laid back feeling and a lot less people, we took our time cruising around on top of the “Island in the Sky” and exploring the more notable parts of the park:
- Shafer Canyon Overlook, across from the visitor centre, provided our first impression of just how high above the canyon floor we were. Island in the Sky, indeed.
- Mesa Arch, Delicate Arch’s arch-nemesis (pun surprisingly unintended) and Canyonland’s cream of the crop. This was very impressive, particularly considering the views through and around it, and a worthy adversary.
- Green River Overlook. Pretty self explanatory, really – an overlook of the Green River, as it cuts its way towards the Colorado River confluence. Some cool canyon-cutting in action to see here, if you have a few thousand years to spare.
- Upheaval Dome, the origins of which are apparently unknown (predominant theories ranging from the area being a former inland sea that left a big ole pile of salt, or a giant meteor). A pleasant 1 mile walk from the parking lot, and time well spent in our opinion (but not in another rather whiney man’s opinion, who asked us how much further it was to the dome after he had walked a mere 50 metres).
- Grand View Point Overlook. We saved this spot till the end, to coincide with sunset, and it was very pleasant indeed to see the play of light on the canyons far below and the lengthening shadows of the hoodoos. We took our dinner along with us and sat on the edge of the cliff watching the light dwindle, along with a number of other people doing the same thing. We then took a very cool walk along the trail which led to the tip of Grand Point.
After ticking off all of the “must-sees”, we pointed the Hunk o Junk back from whence we came and spent the night at a tiny 7-site campground (I think it was called something like Cowboy Campground?) just south of the larger Horsethief Campground. As always, the after-dark drive back to the campground provided excellent wildlife viewings, including a kit fox and yet another very close call with a small herd of mule deer.
Next morning, we broke camp and headed back to the highway, ready to continue our canyoneering at Bryce Canyon National Park.