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Sunday, August 22, 2010 : Arches National Park

 

We wake up with a double absolute dismay. Not only have we forgotten to set the iPhone back to Utah time, and we get up a bit later than usually, but the weather is grey, and perhaps it will rain. Needless to say, for gorgeous landscapes like those at Arches, that would be a pity.

 

We nevertheless drive to the park, close to Moab. Immediately ouf of town, we cross the Colorado River which, already light brown, carries as much mud as water.

 

Arches is a mid-size park, without too much driving. It is mostly a park where we walk a lot, not especially long trails, rather many stops with some trekking distance. However, that same night, when we compute our day's effort, we will have walked 11 miles !

 

Arches National Park, the Three Gossips

The Three Gossips

 

We have hardly driven up the first few twists of the road that rock formations, as diverse as anywhere else, can already be seen. We are quickly turned on, and we will soon give up counting our stops along the way.

 

One of our early stops is for this curious formation. Doesn't it look like three ladies whispering gossips into each other's ear ?

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Arches National Park, remains of an ancient arch

There once was an arch here, between those two pillars

 

A little further, we can see these two pillars that seem to indicate that, at some undertermined time, there once was an arch between them. This is confirmed by an explanatory sign, as well as by the many debris spread on the ground.

 

For a few miles, we then cross a lunar landscape of petrified dunes. We will see them again on our way back at the end of the afternoon, under a much better light.

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Arches National Park, balanced rock

Balanced rock

 

This picture accurately shows that, whatever their shape, rocks are actually the by-product of erosion carving away horizontal limestone layers, according to more or less irregular patterns. In some cases, a harder part is left, balanced on whatever remains of the softer rock underneath. We see many instances of these balanced rocks, and we hope they are stable ... especially if we have to walk close by !

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Arches National Park, small piles left by visitors

Those small piles of rocks ? A tourists' tribal behavior

 

At Arches, visitors customarily pile up a few stones into these small heaps. Short of any better explanation, I attribute this strange habit to some tourist tribal behavior, in search of leaving their marks to posterity. I am taking a more scientific explanation, if there is one. By the way, we too have erected a few of these piles. We will see more the next day at Canyonlands, and nowhere else.

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Arches National Park, South Window on the left, Turret Arch on the right

South Window on the left, Turret Arch on the right

 

After the Petrified Dunes, we are coming close to the Window section, a part of the park rich in arches, small or a bit larger. From afar, we discover Turret Arch and South Window. We will soon see them up close.

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Arches National Park, South Window

South Window

 

This Window section can be seen with a one-hour easy trek, slightly more if we stop everywhere, which is exactly what we intend to do. After all, we are here to see everything !

 

The weather is still grey but seems to hold. With the exception of a few droplets, eventually it will not rain.

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Arches National Park, Turret Arch

Turret Arch

 

It is also in Arches that we learn the difference betwen flushed toilets and pit toilets. Flushed toilets are what you're used to, with flush and faucet. Pit toilets are, well, just pits dug in the ground, with no flush and just a bottle of hydroalcoholic gel to wash your hands. Useless to say, apart of the visitor center at the park entrance and the main camping site, the second category is largely prevalent at Arches.

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Arches National Park, Tunnel Arch

Tunnel Arch

 

We have now reached the upper part of the park. After the end of the road, we walk on a nice trail. This area is also quite rich in all shapes of arches. This one is Tunnel Arch, a highly suggestive name.

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Arches National Park, limestone needles

Limestone needles carved by erosion

 

We also see these limestone needles, not as big and as many as in Bryce Canyon, created by the same process of erosion and frost.

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Arches National Park, bas-reliefs sculpted by erosion

Faces sculpted in bas-relief ? No, erosion

 

On the side of a rock, we can see what looks like faces sculpted in bas-relief. Mother Nature happens to be quite creative, even at random, and human imagination does the rest.

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Arches National Park, Pine Tree Arch

In the middle of pine trees, Pine Tree Arch. The name makes sense ...

 

We're now walking in the midst of a pine tree grove. Quite logically, this solid arch is named Pine Tree Arch.

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Arches National Park, Landscape Arch

Landscape Arch

 

Nearby is Landscape Arch, with its thin elegance and fragility. One day, this arch will crumble, and all that remains of it will be memories. In the meantime, it is absolutely prohibited to walk on it.

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Arches National Park, access to the upper arches

Access to the upper arches has to be earned !

 

Our path is now obstructed by this narrow gorge, which we have to climb if we want to see the few remaining arches. Thomas and I go, while Alicia and Marie wait for us. They take this picture where we can be seen half-way up.

 

We do not go really far after the climb but, from up on our promontory, we have a very nice view of the trail we have just walked. Promised, we will come back to Arches !

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Arches National Park, the La Sal Mountains

The La Sal Mountains. The weather is getting a little better

 

We are at the end of the park, which is a dead end. We can now only go back down to Moab. On the way back, we make few stops. Anyway, we take this picture of the La Sal Mountains and of the improving weather in this late afternoon.

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Arches National Park, Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch, probably the most famous arch in the park

 

We just have one more essential trek to do, the ascent up to Delicate Arch. The kids are tired, they are not willing to go along. Just the two of us are going.

 

Delicate Arch has to be earned ! It's 1 hr 1/4 one way, always up, and the same on the way back. The effort is rewarded with this superb view of the most famous arch in the park, and possibly in the world.

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Arches National Park, signs carved by the Ute Native Americans

The Ute carved these motives in the rock

 

Back from Delicate Arch, I do a short diversion to see these motives, carved in the rock by the Ute indians a few centuries ago. The style, very similar to what we have seen the day before in Monument Valley, makes me think that probably the same people produced these motives, most likely at the same period. To this day, I do not have a confirmation.

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Arches National Park, the Petrified Dunes at sunset

The sun is setting on the Petrified Dunes 

 

When we cross the Petrified Dunes again, the sun has already come down. The good news is that now, we can see some sunshine. We take a few nice pictures of the brilliantly lit rocks. It's so much better than this morning's dispiriting grey !

 

Then it's back to Moab, shopping at the supermarket across the street and dinner.

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