Saturday, June 2, 2012

Day Eight: Arches

We rise to the dawn, which stretches pink fingers across looming clouds and make our way to the Arches National Park as the sun crests the horizon. It is early in the am and there is a quiet stillness in the air. Noone waits for us at the NP booth, and a sign indicates that we should just roll on in. Heading through this relatively small, but beautiful, park we pass by many intriguing rock sculptures and spy a couple of arches off in the distance, but for the moment our target is the far end - we shall work our way back along. 

Well, we do stop for a few photos.

We take the path to the Delicate Arch whilst the day is still fresh and young. Ominous clouds hang in the air, and a spattering of rain does little to water the arid landscape or dampen our spirits. The route is exposed and at times quite steep going - I cannot imagine doing this in the heat of the day, but this walk is most frequently made at sunset, when the Arch is at its most beautiful. Chipmunks scurry through the low desert scrub and black and white swifts dart overhead, chirping to each other. Approaching the Arch we must walk along a ridge of rock that drops away into a natural ampitheathre and the wind tugs at us, as though teasing to send us tumbling to our deaths below.

A photographer stands there already, his tripod balanced against the slope and his position seemingly precarious. The early morning sunlight touches the Arch, but I suspect it is indeed more beautiful at sunset. The walk back is easier, being that it is partly downhill. We pause to take in the cave drawings and small colonial cottage back near the start. It must have been a harsh and lonely place to live and raise a family. On the path, an ant makes a valiant effort to drag a squished scorpion away. The arachnid - the only scorpion we see, is many times its size, yet it still manages to move it a few millimetres. It is too unwieldly a load for such a small insect, however.

Further along, we scramble across loose red sand, trapped into drifts between flat panels of rock. The sand is difficult to walk on, forcing its way into my shoes and later pours out the lace-holes.  This brings us to the Sandstone Arch, where a giant bird appears to be kissing a rock:

We then make our way across the desert, heeding the signs that indicate that we must stay on the trail, for to stray could damage delicate microcommunities. The bushes are low and scruffy, hardy shrubs that require little moisture. Black and white swifts dart back and forth above us and small lizards bask in the early morning sun. A deer trots through the shrubs, paying no heed of the warnings, she heads right towards us, before bearing off to trot along the path and away. Further along, chipmunks scamper and scurry across the logs, their quick and jerky motions the only indication of their presence - the moment they stop, they seem to vanish into the desert.

The Broken Arch isn't broken at all, it's just a wee bit cracked.

We loop around to the Devil's Garden - possibly the most stunning camping ground ever. Framed by strange red rock formations, the camp sites are small but there is running water and proper restrooms. I rescue some sort of longhorn beetle from a watery grave in the sink, placing it on a nearby plant where others of its kind scramble along the dull green boughs. The route back to the car takes us past some bizarre rock formations, and we make up our own names for them.

This one is Angry Rabbit.
It is now late morning and the heat is really starting to get a little too much. We decide to return to Moab for now, before returning in the evening to watch the sun set over the stones. First stop is the Peace Tree, for I am requiring another banana chai smoothie, and then Tim disappears to visit the one and only comic shop and I make my way to the supermarket to pick up some supplies for lunch, and also some yoghurt for tomorrow's breakfast parfait.

The weather is odd. It is very hot and quite windy, large clouds of cottony pollon, cottonwood, drifts on the air. Clouds gather ominously, brooding. It feels like a storm is brewing, and having seen all the warnings about being out in the desert during a lightning storm I am both eager and a little nervous at the thought. Mainly eager.

Alas, they drift away, leaving me a little disappointed. It would have been epic.

We grab a very filling burrito each at the Mexican Fiesta. On a nearby table, someone is sung a "Happy Birthday", involving many of the waitstaff. Like all the Mexican restaurants we have visted in the US, we are given a bowl of corn chips and dip to begin with, and thus I fill myself up before the meal even appears. I am so very fond of Mexican. Even in the desert heat, it is good.

Then it is back to the Arches - where we pay our entry fee now, and work our way inwards, this time.

First stop - Park Avenue:

It's called that because it resembles the city street.

I think this one is Elephant Butte.
Balancing Rock. This one got us pondering what might happen in an earthquake.

The windows
As we approach the Devil's Garden again, and our final destination before dark, the Landscape Arch. We stroll out along the path. Desert cottontail rabbits are out and about, they are adorable little things. More compact than the rabbits we are used to. They seem unafraid, and hop blithely across our path or sit, lapping spilt water, until we are almost upon them. the last rays of sunlight bathes the red rocks in a bright glow, but the Landscape Arch is in shadow. It is long and very delicate - a rather sizeable chunk in 1991, and we are no longer allowed near it. My camera battery flickers its last, just as I am about to manouever myself into the correct position to photograph it.

A mule deer waits for us near the car, grazing unconcerned and black chested sparrows fossick in the foliage. The drive back is dark and steady, the moon a bright orb with golden halo. By moonlight, the towering stones of Park Avenue are almost ominous and the silence is broken only by the whispering of wind and the thrum of night insects. I had hoped we might see a nocturnal beastie - a ringtail, of course, but it is too dark and our flashlights do little to penetrate the gloom. They could be ten feet from us and we would not notice. Gradually, the temperature is dropping and we decide to call it a night, and return to our motel for a well deserved sleep. We have a long drive before us tomorrow, as we head into our fifth state, Colorado.

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