Thursday, April 20, 2017

Part the Last: Canyonlands

While Arches is about natural stone formations, some quite large, they are on a scale that humans can at least relate to.  Canyonlands is about landscape on the macro scale.  The canyons of the name were carved by the Green and Colorado Rivers, and they rival the Grand Canyon for sheer multi-level vastness.

We only visited one section of the enormous park, and were conscious of giving it short shrift.  It was the tradeoff for having taken scenic route 12 instead of a faster route, and spending a day and a half in Arches.  The above photo was taken from the Grand View lookout on the Islands in the Sky mesa. There were three other major sections of the park we didn't see at all.

We took a short hike out to see Upheaval Dome.   It's a crater-like feature whose origin has been hotly debated by geologists- the two leading theories are an uplifted salt dome, or an impact crater from a meteorite strike.  The meteorite theory is currently ascendant.

The day was beautiful and we cruised around the park with the top down on the convertible as we drove from point to point.   We hiked out to Murphy Point.  The trail led through grassland, quite unlike anything else we'd seen in the area.  And thin and tough as it was, you could see why cattle were grazed there (and still are- we passed a number of them, and had to let them cross the road ahead of us at one point).

As we approached the rim, the grassland suddenly stopped and the land turned into desert again.

The views were staggering.
Here's the Green River canyon seen from Murphy's Point.
In the far distance we could see the La Sal mountains (the name dates back to the Spanish and means 'salt').  We sadly left the park as the sun was going down.

And that was the trip- we drove back through the Rocky Mountains to Denver, with a stop in Vail for lunch (it was very posh, and I had to take a photo of the ski slope for a ski-obsessed coworker).   We walked around and had dinner in Denver and then flew home the next morning.   Which was blessedly on time and uneventful.  There was a blizzard predicted in Boston for the next day so I wound up stopping by my office for my work computer so I wouldn't have to go in the next day.  And then the day after *that* my office didn't have power (kind of a pity we hadn't just stayed and seen more West for a couple of days).  But it all worked out.

And- since I know you're wondering- I took a pair of socks with me on the trip, and they still aren't done!  (It has been a busy few weeks, and crafting time has been at a premium.)  But I'll show you various things-in-progress Real Soon Now.

And- the last slideshow:

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Part the Sixth: Arches

We arrived in Moab in time for lunch, and unlike Panguitch, found it lively and filled with restaurants, art galleries and a charming bookstore.   We got a quick lunch and headed back to the park, where we saw the visitors center and set out to begin exploring the park.

Arches has the highest concentration of natural rock arches anywhere in the world- over 2000 of them.   The area was a sea 300 million years ago, and successive cycles of drying and inundation deposited a layer of salt that is thousands of feet thick in places.  Sediment deposited on top of it was compressed and and became layers of sandstone.   The weight of the rock forced the salt to flow, and raise up layers of rocks in salt domes.  The layers cracked and subsided, leaving long fins of rock.  After years of erosion, the fins became separated and softer layers collapsed underneath leaving freestanding arches of harder material above.   It's a process that is ongoing, as new arches grow and the oldest ones collapse.

In between the arches and rock formations, the desert stretched out, stark and beautiful.

It was important to stay on the trails, because the life in the desert may withstand heat, cold and lack of water, but not people trampling it.   Particularly vulnerable is the 'biological soil crust'- a collection of algae, moss, bacteria, lichen and fungi that collect on the surface, trapping moisture and making soil that other plants can then use for nutrients.

As in other parks, the colors were fabulous.

We were very struck by slabs of an odd greenish rock we couldn't identify.   A ranger told us later that the rock was chert and the green color was unreduced iron.  (Oxidized iron is what gives us red rock- I hadn't realized that that unoxidized iron would color rock green.)

Everwhere we looked, we saw fantastically shaped rock.
Or fantastically shaped wood.
We saw all the 'major' sites- such as Balanced Rock:
But even the smallest details were eyecatching.  The trail called Park Avenue is a dry riverbed, and the water has cut and swirled the rock, exposing striking strata.
We spent all afternoon, had dinner in Moab, and returned the next day for more.  In the morning my camera batteries died, so I took photos with my phone until lunch when we went back to town and I could get more batteries. 

Despite the difficult conditions, plants managed to survive.  This little clump of flowers was growing in the middle of the trail. 

Of all the parks we visited, Arches was my favorite, but not because of the arches- it was just something about the vistas, the openness,  the colors and the shape of the scenery.  

We returned to town reluctantly and sought out dinner.  The next day would be our last day in Utah. 

The Arches slideshow:

Monday, April 10, 2017

Part the Fifth: Scenic Rte 12

After watching the sun rise over Bryce Canyon, we set off for Moab.  We'd gone back and forth about taking the scenic route vs. the interstate, but the presence of a small museum in Boulder, Utah tipped the balance.  We quickly found out how it earned the tag 'scenic'.

The road crosses parts of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, through some of the wildest and most desolate terrain to be found in the southwest.  Informative placques (have I mentioned lately how much we adore informative placques?) told us that this was the last part of the continental US to be completely surveyed and mapped.
The road was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1935 and 1940, and it took not just 5 years but tons of dynamite to blast a road through the rocky landscape.

The town of Boulder was the last place in the US to get mail by mule train, and it wasn't until 1947 when the CCC finished their road that they got electricity.    We stopped there to see the Anasazi State Park Museum.   The museum was interesting, but the real attraction is the ruins of an Anasazi village, that was occupied by about 250 people between 1160 to 1235 AD.  The rooms with firepits in the center were living spaces, and the ones without were used for storage.
Grinding stones would have been used to grind corn.
And pit dwellings provided relief from both the coldest and the hottest temperatures.
The logs would have been covered with branches and clay.  The ladder giving access through the roof is believed to reference a creation myth wherein humans emerged from the ground.

From the museum, the road continues up over the shoulder of Boulder Mountain, into aspen and pine forest with amazing views out over the Escalante river valley.

And all this was just the morning- we arrived in Moab in time for lunch.  But that's another post.