no matter where you go, there you are

Saturday, January 14, 2012

if delicate arch has any significance it lies, I will venture, in the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out of their ruts of habit - edward abbey

After completing our Grand Canyon Excursion we drove up into central west Utah to one of my favorite places of all on the trip, Arches National Park. We only spent a night and a full day there but man, I wish we'd had more time, perhaps another day or two. We did get to explore quite a bit but there was so much more I wanted to see. I really hope to go back and explore Arches more as well as the other parks in Utah that look so wonderful.

We stayed at the Devil's Garden Campground, which definitely tops my campground list. It only has 27 sites, and ours was towards the entrance so it was isolated from everyone else. And in the campground every site is super unique as it's built amongst the rocks and formations. No destruction of nature there. We got to the park around 4pm, and after seeing some of the great rocks, we arrived at the campsite just as the sun was riding close to the horizon. Experts now at putting our tent together in a flash we popped it right up, and then immediately began climbing the nearby rocks. The large sandstone rock next to our site afforded us a spectacular view of the park's surrounding lands and the arch formations in the distance. We watched the sun set and enjoyed a nice relaxing evening.

One thing I read multiple times in researching for this trip was that it isn't recommended you hike in the middle of the day when the sun is blazing because in arid climates such as the desert-like conditions of Arches National Park, in the middle of August it gets HOT! So we were up and at 'em bright and early to begin hiking. Our first destination was an area across the way from the campground which had multiple trails and at least a dozen different arches.

This hike was particularly fun because it was a little more free form and involved climbing up a huge rock formation as part of the trail. When we got to the top though, we couldn't find the cairn trail marker so we followed what we thought were tracks. It was really pretty and there was such a variety in the landscape. But we soon became confused about why there were no other people around when we'd seen plenty a little ways back. But since there were scattered footprints, we thought we must be going in the right direction.

We were wrong.

As we got deeper into the rocks and came to an obvious dead end we decided it was time to turn back. That was an adventure for sure; making sure we went back in the same direction and climbing rocks not really meant to be tracked upon. Shhhh, don't tell the Rangers. However, in taking the path less traveled, we got to see some great sights, such as the fourth picture below. A really spectacular place to be.

After returning to the point where we had split from the trail we finally found the cairn we'd missed, and there were all the other vacationers hiking along in that direction. Wish they had been there when we went by the first time... Cairns are extremely sensible for trail markers, as they incorporate natural elements instead of paint or plastic ties. But in a place made up of and surrounded entirely by rocks and sand, I will say they are not the easiest thing to recognize. Or, I'm just a failure.

Because we ended up exploring off trail for so long, and we were getting tired, we opted to head back and not continue the original hike to see more of the arches. I'm kind of bummed we missed out them, but we still had a blast doing our own thing. Back at camp, we  ate lunch and settled in for a bit of afternoon reading. Once the afternoon heat died down we planned to head over to the infamous Delicate Arch. Boy, were we in for a treat.

A few things to note: 1) When we visited the park center the previous afternoon I vividly recall looking at the weather report. Hot and sunny with the most minimal chance of rain. 2) The ground at our site was fairly hard and even with a hammer we could not get the tent's stakes more than a few inches into the ground. But we figured it would be fine; the weather was so nice that it didn't need to be secured.

So after lunch, we were reading and relaxing, only to feel the wind start to pick up. We looked up and saw a large, dark cloud looming in the distance. Rain was coming. As the dark gray clouds moved closer and closer, we decided to put everything, including ourselves, in the car and wait it out. Better to let it pass before going off to hike in it. It didn't take too long for it to start; the wind picked up a little more and the rain pounded down. This was no passing afternoon shower; this was a full blown rain storm.

After a little while, as the center of the storm hovered over, the tent started to shake and sway quite a bit. We kept a close watch on our poor little temporary home and I still can't believe what we saw. In the midst of the wind blowing all directions, the tent kept being smooshed together like an accordion, though it seemed to weather fairly well. Sitting in the car, we kept pondering how wet our pajamas and pillows would be once it was all over. At some points it was hard to believe there was anything inside the tent at all. As the winds intensified, one giant gust blew past and the tent went flying over on its side. Molly and I bolted from the car, pulled it back up and secured it as best we could with rocks. Weight was the only thing that was going to help us now.

As we ran back to the car a few fleeting thoughts passed through my head: 1) If we hadn't decided to take a long lunch break, we could have come home to an empty site. 2) Based upon the exterior appearance I had no hope that our belongings inside were dry. 3) Thank goodness we'd put the fly on in the middle of the previous night.

The storm didn't last much longer and no other major dilemmas arose after it almost took our tent away. Miraculously, everything except a single sweatshirt was dry. When the tent had been accordion-ing, it had pushed all our stuff to the middle and kept it away from the soaked sides. Looking back, it may have saved us the trouble if we'd packed the whole tent up with the rest of our stuff when we saw the impending storm. But then again, if we hadn't we wouldn't have had such a great time watching it all unfold.

After securing the tent as best we could, we felt confident enough to go on to Delicate Arch. And after all the hassle with the tent, the storm turned out to be a good thing. The hike to Delicate Arch is not shaded and you mainly walk across a massive, open, stone face. I remember reading at some point that it is a hike best done at sunset and it is typically a very high temperature hike. The rain, however, ended up cooling the air tremendously. It dropped from around 95 to 75-80 and the crisp, cool air smelled like rain. It was a spectacular atmosphere for a sunset hike; completely and utterly wonderful.

My words will never do Delicate Arch any justice so I won't even try. But it is truely one of nature's phenomenons and a very peaceful, serene place (even with all the visitors).

And just as we did some exploring earlier in the day, there was opportunity for a bit of climbing here as well.

As we packed up the next morning, I wished we were staying longer so we could explore the Fiery Furnace and the numerous other formations we couldn't fit in to our busy schedule. Had I known Arches would become one of our favorite places I most certainly would have.