My aching Arches

After being thwarted in my desire to see 2 of Utah’s big 5 parks, Zion and Bryce, due to the Winnipeg detour, I eagerly looked forward to Arches National Park (Canyonlands and Capitol Reef are the other 2 parks). The drive from Las Vegas to Moab on Interstates 70 and 15 provides tantalizing glimpses of the wonders within the parks, with crazy shaped, jagged sandstone buttes punctuating the desert landscape and periodic mini-canyons carving the highway and sending it on steep ascents before plunging to a level field. There are quite a few viewpoints along the interstates and I couldn’t resist stopping at a few:

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I had done my advance reading on potential hikes at Arches and discounted the Fiery Furnace ranger led hike. The brochure read:

These popular 2 ½ hour hikes are moderately strenuous, requiring the use of hands and feet to scramble up and through the narrow cracks and along steep ledges above drop offs. They are not recommended for people with vertigo.

As I suffer from vertigo going up a single flight of stairs, I decided to steer clear of the Fiery Furnace and chose instead the Delicate Arch. I arrived early, at 5:30AM, just after sunrise, but not missing the best photo op since the trail head entrance sign said Photography is best at Sunset. I double checked the sign: Take a liter of water per person, no shade, moderately strenuous, some uphill (on the way there) and downhill (on the return). Despite the early hour, it was already 28 degrees so I slapped on my sunscreen, threw the water bottles in my backpack and started up.

And up, and up, and up. After a gentle asphalt path wound itself around the first butte, the terrain gave way to hard, red rocks. I clamored up and over them, following the black poles that marked the way. Describing it as a path would be generous. After 15 minutes, I was out of breathe and stopped for a few moments. Looking up, there was nothing but sandstone rocks and gravel leading higher and higher. The occasional hiker came down and offered the encouraging “nearly there,” but after the third person said the same thing, I grew cynical.

I tried to work this out logically-the trail was a mile and a half and I walk a mile in 20 minutes, so after 20 minutes, I must be less than half a mile away. Just 10 more minutes. Hardly “nearly there”. Still the rocks kept snaking upwards with no end in sight. Logic wasn’t working; better try something else.

I know- I would visualize the worst hike of my life- two hours up a volcano to see the Mountain Gorillas in Uganda. That, too, was straight up, except we were in the middle of a jungle and the guide used a machete to make a path. The ground was all soft mud and there were stinging nettles and fire ants and poison snakes and the threat of a charging elephant or two. …this was a walk in the park in comparison….. except in Uganda I had a walking stick, porters with big rifles, a guide and the investment of $600 in a permit; all inducing me to continue. Here, I hadn’t even paid the park entry fee since the booth was closed at 5:15 and besides, I had an Annual park pass. I could quit and no one would be the poorer.

Except me.

So I reverted to what I do whenever I am confronted with something unpleasant (dentists, turbulence, extractions during facials). I count. Slowly. One, two, three Mississippi, four, five, Mississippi. It takes me a minute to count to 20. So I climbed to the count of 20, rested for 20. Carefully, gradually, in 20 count increments, I made my way to the top of the rocks. Finally,  a gentle path winding around a small mesa and there was the goal: Delicate Arch.

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It was worth the effort. I positively scampered down with glee in about half an hour, offering encouraging but practical words to the parade of hikers now coming up; “Just 5 more minutes” and “once you’re up the cliff, just another few minutes.“

Bouyed by my recent accomplishment in hiking, I decided I would next tackle the hike at Devil’s Garden to Landscape Arch and Double O Arch. The brochure said:

A relatively flat, hard packed trail leads to a spectacular ribbon of rock. The Trail beyond Landscape Arch becomes difficult with rock scrambling, narrow ledges and exposure to heights.

As I started along the path to Landscape Arch, the muscles I hadn’t used since Uganda began screaming, admonishing me that the Double O Arch was out of reach. I took the relatively flat, hard packed (until it turns into pure sand) trail to the Landscape Arch and decided enough was enough. It was close to 11:00AM, the temperature was hitting 40 and the trails were becoming very crowded. I returned to my hotel, a cold glass of wine and sat around the pool for 5 hours.

I will spare everyone a photo of me in my bathing suit, drinking wine from a dark brown cup that says Hershey Chocolate (no alcohol allowed in pool area). The following day, I went to Canyonlands National Park. There is an arch there as well which I shall share:

The hike to this arch was only .3 of a mile. I also walked the Rim Walk, a hike of about a mile and a half (each way) along one of the canyons:

Lastly, I attended a ranger talk at the visitor center. The subject was Outlaws and Ranchers and the focus was on the sometimes cantankerous, sometimes friendly relationship between the ranchers who were trying to exploit the canyon lands and the outlaws, including Butch Cassidy, who saw them as a convenient hide-out. In the end, the ranchers gave up, the outlaws mostly died (but Cassidy in Bolivia, not here) and the area became a boomtown for uranium mines during the 1940’s and 1950’s. The 4:00PM ranger talk was All about Uranium, but since I have had my fill of uranium for the last 8 years, I passed and started towards Salt Lake City.

4 thoughts on “My aching Arches”

  1. Outlaws and Rangers (who may or not have been ranchers). Viola D and the 3 men (cinema mgr, police chief, judge) who catapult her to ubiquity. Who was which? Visual art museums are relatively painless: they mostly have lifts. Why not Prado for Goya, Tate for Turner and Moore (outdoors with a gratuitous light drizzle!), Rijksmuseum for the exquisite Jewish Bride? Thought provoking, searingly tender, brutally descriptive of the human, social condition. Fresh coffee available. No Outlaws. No Rangers or Ranchers. Send us a postcard. With a stamp please.

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    1. No postcards, just retorts. I am in Salt Lake City, so next post will have religion, polygamy and debate as to who got to America first, the Jews or the Aboriginals, but this being Salt Lake City, no coffee (or alcohol or pre-marital sex or tobacco). Nary a Starbucks in sight!

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