Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Wilderness of Rock

After an excursion into Canyonlands National Park, I’m happy to report that I did not get trapped in a canyon under a boulder and I did not have to cut off my own arm with a dull pocketknife.

Canyonlands feels more desert-y than even Arches did. I’m not sure why, though. I think it was actually a few degrees cooler today but I drank far more water, even without a hike on the same scale as Delicate Arch. Maybe it’s because this place is absolutely positively the complete center of the middle of nowhere.

Part of the park, the Maze, is generally regarded as the most remote location in the lower 48 states. I decided to pass on that section. The rest of the park is divided into the Needles and Island in the Sky sections. Separated by 2,000-foot deep canyons, raging rivers, and sheer cliffs, there is no physical way to travel between them. I don’t just mean by car. I mean that if you want to take a trip that involves descending into the canyon and coming out in another part of the park, it will take several weeks and a large team to carry all the supplies you will need. In reality, your choices in visiting Canyonlands are Island in the Sky, Needles, the Maze, or the rivers. Not a combination.

I chose Island in the Sky, mainly because it has interesting things to see and it has most of the paved roads. Its name is not some sort of cutesy exaggeration – it’s an island, but instead of being surrounded by 1,000 feet of water, it’s surrounded by 1,000 foot cliffs on all sides. The only connection to the “mainland” is a 40-foot wide stretch where the road is, and even that part is eroding away so that one day, people will venture onto the Island and will get stranded there forever and will have to cut off more than just their own arms.

So I spent the day auto-touring, as usual, with one or two strategically chosen hikes. The first of these was a pretty easy half-mile walk to one of the best sunrise photo locations in the world – Mesa Arch. But, no, not even that could get me to wake up for sunrise. I settled for mid-afternoon and, to my surprise, the view was still pretty remarkable.

The view from under Mesa Arch
The second of my hikes really was a hike. The trail to Upheaval Dome is supposed to be a half mile to the first viewpoint, but there’s a second viewpoint 1.8 miles further. I think I may have accidentally passed that and gone onto a third viewpoint (which I’m not sure exists) because it felt like I was walking forever. Upheaval Dome is definitely the weirdest place I’ve been so far on this trip. As the signs said, while the rest of the park’s rocks are organized into neat distinct layers, at Upheaval Dome the layers are twisted and folded with no rhyme or reason. Some think it’s the site of a meteorite impact, and others have no idea.

Upheaval Dome, whatever it is
For my sunset photo op, I spent some of the extra lazy afternoon time scouting out good locations. The internet said Grand View Point was best, but the visitor center said that Green River Overlook was better. In the end, after going back to each, I didn’t really like either. Grand View Point looks like a giant dinosaur footprint and I had trouble capturing all of it in a single photo.

Grand View Point
Green River Overlook just wasn’t all that interesting at sunset either.

Green River Overlook
In the end, I went back to a roadside turnout between the two that had a cliff, a butte, and some mesas in the background. The only problem was that the sun would be setting right over them, so I had better hope for some clouds so I didn’t get blinded. I think it turned out alright.

There was one other problem, too – the midges. I don’t know what those things are attracted to, because when they weren’t swarming around me, they were swarming around outside my car, apparently waiting for me to emerge so they could resume swarming around me. At one point, earlier in the day, I had stopped at a viewpoint and left the car windows cracked to vent off some of the desert heat, and when I returned, several dozen midges had climbed inside and were now trying to figure out how to get back out the windows. Now I know how Joba Chamberlain felt that time he blew that playoff game for the Yankees because he was getting attacked by midges. Granted, I didn’t say I felt bad for him, just that I know how he felt.

The midges did have a silver lining, however. To get the accumulated infestation out of my car, I drove home with all the windows open. The temperature was pleasant and the experience offered me the opportunity to blast my “This-is –Why-I-Love-Working-With-Kids” playlist (in light of recent events), and even occasionally sing along without having to hear myself, thanks to the roaring wind outside.

Thus ends my foray into Utah. Tomorrow, after doing laundry, loading up the cooler, and stopping for groceries (yes, I finally finished the 4 pounds of cold cuts), I head to Arizona – Monument Valley and then on to Page, where I hope to make it out to Horseshoe Bend before moving on to another of my major first-time destinations: the Grand Canyon.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Greg- not sure if you remember me from temple--Bonnie and my son went to Clark and we are friends of your Mom's. I just wanted to let you know that I am enjoying following your trip very much. I spent 2 summers when I was younger camping across country and visited many of the same parks. Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to revisit with you.

    Take good care-