Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Canyonlands NP

>Another day with lots of scenery and red rocks! The Moab area is simply all red, and that's it. I have to say that I absolutely love the drive along Route 191 about 5-10 miles north of Moab--the red cliffs all along the highway are gorgeous.

However, we started the day in a more mundane, albeit necessary, manner--we finally got the oil changed for Mo. We lucked out and found a great RV parts and service place where the guy wasn't busy, and took us immediately. We couldn't have been there more than 30 minutes, and now we should be set for oil changes until we get home.

After that, we drove up to Canyonlands National Park. Route 313 is about 20-25 miles north of Moab, and if you don't want to go to a park, you are on the wrong road! It literally leads ONLY to Canyonlands NP and to Dead Horse Point State Park. We went to Canyonlands first, arriving at about 11 a.m. I had relatively low expectations for this park, for some reason; I knew it would be beautiful, but there is far less to see or do there than in most national parks. Canyonlands actually has three main sections to the park, and this was the Island In The Sky section. This was a perfect name--you go onto the "island" via a very narrow neck of land, and then most of the rest of "what to do" consists of 1) views at overlooks; 2) hiking or backpacking; 3) riding off-road vehicles on established paths. There are only a few short hiking trails; the rest are really backpacking trails. So we spent a lot of the day in the car driving from overlook to overlook.

View from the "Neck", Island in the Sky, Canyonlands NP

We stopped at the first hike we came to, the "Mesa Arch" trail. It was only about a half mile loop, but it was great! (I should say, I seemed to have shaken off my lethargy from yesterday, so I wasn't at all reluctant to tackle the hikes.) The arch was fantastic (although not the same red rock as the arches we saw at Arches NP yesterday), and the view FROM the arch was incredible. The arch was right at the edge of the cliff, too, so the entire thing was very dramatic.


Mesa Arch

One cute thing at the overlooks: today we opened a "Bag O'Fun" which specifically said "Open on Sept. 19". Betsy had told us that today was "Talk Like A Pirate" day. Our Bag O'Fun today contained a spyglass, plus an eyepatch and a big gold pirate's earring! The latter items looked great on Joe, since he hasn't shaved in a while-- but better yet, he carried the spyglass all day, and we used it to improve our long-range views at the overlooks. I meant to take a photo of him as a pirate; I'll have to do that tomorrow!

We also found ourselves quite taken by the plants we see in this harsh dry climate. We've seen cactus all along on this trip; but today I found this adorable purple cactus growing in the center of a cluster of green cacti. Is it a different kind of plant, or a renegade? I have no idea, I just thought it was cute!
The trees are also beautiful, in their own way. Joe loves the pinon pines--he spent some time the other day at Great Basin NP in a pinon forest, looking at all the pine cones. Evidently they produce a huge amount of pine nuts per cone, and it makes quite a serious harvest. We also love the way the pale blue juniper berries look against the dark green juniper leaves. We found out that the berry is actually the "cone" of the juniper tree; if you peel off the outer layer, there is a cone inside, with the seeds. They must be miniscule!

However, when they have died, the trees are even more fascinating. Because of the dry weather, the wood doesn't seem to really decay the way it does in moister climates. Instead, the dry bark simply seems to shred and fray, more like fabric than like wood. You see the dead wood everywhere (it is often used in the park to delineate hiking paths), and the soft gray against the red rock is very attractive.

"Frayed" Tree Trunk

As we returned from the Mesa Arch, we saw a squirrel run up into this tree. I thought the tree was really gorgeous, although it appears to be completely dead. Joe pointed out how the roots had grown between layers of rock, so you have a pattern of red/gray/red/gray. I thought the whole thing was just lovely.
After our hike, we had some lunch, then proceeded to the panoramic overlook at the end of the Island In The Sky:
The overlook was stunning, and I really don't think my photo is doing it justice at all. If you look around the rim of the deep canyons, though, you can see an off-road trail. Imagine riding a jeep or something like that down there! Utah is a big place for this kind of off-road trail riding, and with trails like that, I can see why. In our campground at the moment, there are a couple of trucks which have been modified for this kind of activity: the tires are huge, the handles to the doors are at my eye level, and they are COVERED in mud! Joe pointed out that one of the trucks has a message on the back window which says, "Pavement Sucks!" LOL!!

After another hike, and some more overlooks, and--yes--a nap, we were ready to leave Canyonlands. By then it was after 5 pm, and I wanted to stop at Dead Horse Point State Park. I'd heard that the panorama off the point was stunning. So we drove down the 4-mile road to see. The park gets its name from what I hope is an untrue legend: the "point" is much like the Island In The Sky--it is a small area of land 2,000 feet above the Colorado River below, with only a small neck of land connecting it to the rest of the "mainland". In the past, cowboys used to round up the wild mustangs which grazed up on the rangeland in the area, and trap them on the point. They built fences with wood across the 30' neck, and the area was a natural corral. Supposedly one time they forgot the horses were there, and left them all to die of thirst. Joe and I both agree that it must be just a legend, because any horse that thirsty would figure out a way to get out of the "corral"--at least, we'd like to believe that!

In any case, the viewpoint IS stunning, that part of the reputation was true! We spent about an hour there, admiring the layers of rocks (the park had a very good display to explain what era and type each layer was) as the sun made them redder and redder. I make the usual apologies for my photo:

View from Dead Horse Point

I also took this other photo, of a small wall (only about 3 feet high) with several "windows" in it.



So that was pretty much our whole day--views of beautiful rocks everywhere. We came back to Moab for the night, and are staying in the same campground as last night.

We have decided to change our route for the next couple of days. Originally I planned to go due south from Moab to Arizona, to see Canyon de Chelly, then make a quick detour west to the Painted Desert before heading east again on Interstate 40. However, I decided we'd seen an awful lot of gorgeous rocks, and I'm thinking I will save Canyon de Chelly for a trip to Arizona some other time. Instead, we are going to go south-east into Colorado, and stop at Mesa Verde National Park. We were there on our last cross-country trip in 1980, but I hardly remember it, and although Canyon de Chelly also has pueblo houses in the cliffs, you can't go into them, unlike Mesa Verde. The latter is only about 3 hours from Moab, so we should be there by early afternoon tomorrow.

1 comment:

Steven said...

Be careful with Mo on the road to Mesa Verde. Quite narrow, if I recall