prevroadmap ushotel usslideshow usmark 18 20 us next

 

Thursday, September 3, 2015 : Dead Horse Point, Arches

 

This morning, no breakfast at some exotic place. We simply go the buffet at the lodge restaurant, the one we did not want yesterday morning.

 

This buffet is pretty decent, with after all rather good value for the money, since we can help ourselves more than once. This is what we have been doing since the beginning of this trip, which allows us a very short lunch stop, or no stop at all.


Mesa Verde National Park entrance

Mesa Verde National Park entrance

 

We then leave Mesa Verde National Park. We make a short stop at the entrance of the park, to take a picture of the sign for our collection, which I will certainly publish someday.

 

Today, our schedule is supposed to be rather light :

 

  • Hovenweep National Monument, not too far away, with a few more pre-columbian ruins,
  • Road to Moab, Utah : a short drive, about 140 miles according to the map,
  • And, if we have time, visit a few places around Moab.

 

Marie secretly dreams of taking sunset pictures at Delicate Arch, a vision that was refused to us five years ago because of overcast weather. The secret is not really a well-kept one, I have been in the loop for a long while. The few extra miles are a bargain price to pay for a highly exceptional show.

 

But this is all theory. In real life, this day will end up being a rather long one but, that early in the morning, we do not know it yet.

   TopArrow

Near Hovenweep National Monument

Near Hovenweep National Monument

 

Soon after Cortez, we leave US Route 491 onto a tiny road straight across the prairie, supposed to take us to Hovenweep National Monument. There is absolutely nobody and, where we should be seeing the famous tower ruin on the edge of the canyon, the only vehicle we cross is a Bureau of Land Management, the agency managing Federal land, SUV.

 

Curious as ever, and ready to admit I took a wrong road, I make a U-turn and I stop at a crossing where a dirt lane in really bad condition branches off our tiny road. There is a BLM sign, which I carefully read. No, I did not make any navigation error, yes, we are at the right place, and yes again, we should take this horrible dirt lane to see the famous tower. There is no way I am willing to rub our rental Camaro's underside against such a road. I rant for a while against the National Park Service, which does not warn about road conditions, against the BLM, which is for absolutely nothing in this, against bureaucracy in general and, finally bowing to reality, I drive back toward US Route 491 and take the road to Moab.

 

Before we hit the road, not ready to leave empty-handed, Marie takes a few pictures of the gorgeous prairie landscapes, including the one above. Even after looking really carefully, there is no trace of any human activity. Nature is absolutely pristine. In fact, we are not exactly sure whether we are still in Colorado or already in Utah.

 

We are not doing too bad, with about 40 extra miles and one hour lost or, rather, spent doing something else than planned. This is the first surprise of the day.

   TopArrow

Wilson Arch, near Moab, UT

Wilson Arch

 

25-odd miles before Moab, just on the side of US Route 191, a sign for Wilson Arch suddenly gets my attention. Oddly enough, though we drove past this exact same place 5 years ago, that arch totally escaped us at the time. This time, I stop, without too much warning. This is the second surprise of the day.

 

The nice thing about Wilson Arch is that, since it is pretty close to the side of the road, there is no long or tricky trail to see it, except a few dozen yards from the parking lot.

 

Wilson Arch takes its name from Joe Wilson, a settler who lived nearby, perhaps the one who discovered it.

 

This not a really long stop. We soon make it to Moab, where our room, coincidentally at the same hotel as 5 years ago, is ready.

 

It is really early in the afternoon, so we have ample time to visit a few places in the area. We take the car again and, since we no longer have the luggage, we open the hood.

 

We make a short stop at the Tag-A-Long office, to reconfirm and pay the balance of our Colorado raft trip tomorrow.

   TopArrow

Colorado River near Moab, still as muddy

Colorado River near Moab, still as muddy

 

We stop for a few minutes on the edge of Moab, at the place where US Route 191 crosses the Colorado River. Compared to 5 years ago, the place has been extensively redeveloped. There are a large parking lot, restooms and an underpass under Utah State Route 128, which we will talk more about tomorrow. There is also a footbridge above the Colorado, where Marie takes this picture from.

 

It is the third surprise of the day.

 

Colorado is not a dirty river, it is just extremely muddy. After crossing the very soft limestone plateaus of Colorado and Utah, it carries enormous amounts of sediment, which give it this less-than-appealing brownish color. It takes Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell for the mud to sink and let the river recover its more or less natural color.

   TopArrow

Merrimack and Monitor buttes, close to UT-313, near Moab, UT

Merrimack and Monitor buttes, close to UT-313, near Moab, UT

 

Soon after, we turn left onto Utah State Route 313, exactly like 5 years go. This time we are not going to Canyonlands National Park, but to nearby Dead Horse Point State Park. Indeed, apart from the gorgeous landscapes you can see in the next few pictures, we have learned in the meantime that the final scenes of Thelma and Louise have been shot there, including the big dive that ends the movie. Marie is still the cinema buff, so she is eager to see the exact place where one of our cult movies was made.

 

On our way, we stop for a few minutes at the upper end of Seven Mile Canyon. After a short walk, we can see the two buttes on the picture, named after Civil War (somewhat improperly called the War of Secession here in France) ironclads (they were not yet called battleships), Merrimack for the Confederacy, and Monitor for the Union. Indeed, with a little imagination, don't they look like two warships ready to run into each other ? Fortunately, buttes do not move.

 

This is the fourth surprise of the day.

   TopArrow

Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point State Park

 

Our America The Beautiful Interagency Pass is absolutely useless here, since Dead Horse Point State Park is not a national park. After paying the entrance fee, we stop for a moment at the visitor center. We then proceed to the end of the road, Dead Horse Point. Here is what we came to see.

 

We are on top of the plateau and, from here, there is no direct access to Colorado River. There is a path on the rim of the canyon from which we can recognize, with more or less certainty, the places where the last few scenes of Thelma and Louise have been shot, including the famous final dive.

 

We spend a moment walking the path back and forth. The interest of this park goes way beyond the movie itself. Landscapes are gorgeous and spectacular. The cliff of the canyon from top to intermediate plateau, which Thelma and Louise dive from, is 1,500 feet high, with 300 more feet to the river.

   TopArrow

Bends on Colorado River, Dead Horse Point State Park

Bends on Colorado River, Dead Horse Point State Park

 

The picture above shows the three levels that can be seen at Dead Horse Point State Park. We are logically at the highest level, about 6,000 ft above sea level. The lighter colored plateau that can be seen on the left of the picture is 4,300 ft above sea level. Colorado River is 4,000 ft above sea level. Even with a great deal of special effects, that's nonetheless a big dive !

 

The geology of the place is the same as all the area. A few hundred million years ago, Colorado Plateau was actually the bed of a vast expanse of sea, on which incredibly huge quantities of sediment were deposited. Later, the plateau was heaved by underneath magma movements but, unlike the fold that created the Rocky Mountains, it went up all in one piece, with no accidents, faults or breaks. The various limestone layers remained horizontal, as we can see them today. The remainder of the geological work was performed by erosion caused by rivers, freeze-and-thaw and wind, giving those absolutely unique forms.

   TopArrow

Red cliffs, Dead Horse Point State Park

Red cliffs, Dead Horse Point State Park

 

According to chemical makeup, time of day and sunlight, rocks take different colors, from very light brown to brown or grey, including a palette of red shades, like on the picture.

 

Salt concentration helps explain the occasionally surprising shapes erosion gave the rocks. Since the plateau was originally a seabed, the different sediment layers all contain salt, in highly varying concentrations from place to place. Salt being dissolved by water, the higher salt concentration is in a rock layer, the more important water erosion is. This is the explanation for the pervasiveness of odd shapes everywhere on Colorado Plateau : arches, needles, balanced rocks, and lots of similar oddities.

 

Dead Horse Point is at the south end of a mesa, just at the edge of a canyon carved out by Colorado River. The path follows mesa rim, with spectacular views along the way. We certainly drove a little more than originally planned but, to be honest, the pictures Marie took more than make those miles worthwhile.

 

It is now time to leave Dead Horse Point State Park and try our luck at Arches National Park, which we had visited under a hopelessly grey sky 5 years ago. With today's gorgeous weather, the quality of our pictures should be way better !

 

We open our convertible hood to drive the 30-odd miles to Arches National Park.

   TopArrow

US Route 191 near the entrance of Arches National Park

US Route 191 near the entrance of Arches National Park

 

We make a short stop at Arches National Park visitor center, mostly to check sunset times at Delicate Arch with the rangers. Indeed, even with due consideration for the strenuous way up to Delicate Arch, we have more than enough time to visit other places along the way.

 

After the visitor center, the road climbs up along the mountainside with a few hairpin curves. We stop at exactly the same place as 5 years ago. The least we can say is that the picture is way, way brighter !

 

In the background, we can clearly see Moab, a city of slightly more than 5,000 souls. Compared to the surrounding bare rocks, Moab seems to lie in the middle of an oasis entirely owed to Colorado River. That's indeed where the city took its name from, an Old Testament kingdom located on the Eastern bank of Jordan river. All subsequent attempts to rename the city, Moabites having a more than infamous reputation if the Bible is to be trusted, consistently failed. Moab remains Moab.

   TopArrow

Park Avenue, Arches National Park

Park Avenue, Arches National Park

 

To kill time, we choose to walk a trail at a place we had not visited 5 years ago, Park Avenue. The trail is quite easy, almost level, off the main road but meeting it at either end. Park Avenue passes on the opposite side of the rocks we can see from the main road, revealing them from a totally different angle.

 

The walk is nice and easy. We enjoy doing it late in the afternoon, with the sun already slightly down. On the way forward, some caution should be exercised, in order to remain on the path, just shown by a few cairns. The way back is straightforward.

   TopArrow

Petrified Dunes, Arches National Park

Petrified Dunes

 

A little further, we can see the Petrified Dunes again. They were genuine sand dunes that, covered with limestone material brought by erosion, ended up as hard as the sourrounding rock.

 

In the background, we can see La Sal Mountains, created by magmatic injections under the limestone of Colorado Plateau.

   TopArrow

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park

Balanced Rock

 

We drive close to Balanced Rock, one of the most astonishing rock formations in Arches National Park. Erosion has carved the limestone layers around it. The rock, which probably has a slightly lower salt concentration than surrounding material, is what remains of a former relatively hard limestone layer. Just below it, we can see a lighter stone layer, of which only a very small part remains at the base of the rock.

 

Someday, in 10,000 years or in 2 months, the rock will fall down.

 

We follow the road to Delicate Arch. Compared to our first visit, the parking lot, at the time quite tiny, has been significantly expanded.

   TopArrow

Delicate Arch, at last with fine weather, Arches National Park

Delicate Arch, at last with fine weather

 

The trail up to Delicate Arch is as in our memories. The first part is easy, without much elevation gain, and takes us to the foot of an immense rock that, from afar, looks as smooth as the back of our hand. This second part is much steeper, strenuous, and we wonder how we will walk down, later, in the dark, without seeing where we put our feet. The third part, a path along the edge of the cliff, moderately steep, finally takes us to Delicate Arch.

 

Compared to our first visit, the weather is much better, really beautiful, and light should be great for pictures. After some hesitations regarding angle of sight, light, already installed visitors, we choose a place and we no longer move.

 

Wishful thinking. While Marie sets her camera tripod, chooses angles of sight, light, exposure and I don't know what else (in this couple, she is the photo pro), I walk around the summit, just to kill time. The sun is still quite high above the horizon, and sunset is not yet imminent.

   TopArrow

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

Delicate Arch

 

While waiting for sunset, people kill time taking pictures of each other under the arch, with each other's buddy, boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever. It all goes along in a friendly atmosphere, with each person realizing that, for everyone to enjoy an unobstructed view of Delicate Arch, it is better that the ones who are not yet on the picture wait where they are, while the ones who are already on it do not stay more than necessary.

 

Self-discipline actually works wonders.

 

I can't even come close to thinking about the same in France, with the impatient likely ending up in a brawl with the selfish.

   TopArrow

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

Delicate Arch

 

While I am writing this article, I have a problem : how, among the 20-odd pictures Marie took during the evening at Delicate Arch, select only a few ? The process smacks of highly arbitrary power, and does make any justice to the pictures I did not select.

 

Sunshine is having a great moment. As can be seen on the picture above, the sun sets on the right side of the arch, lighting it only on one side. Rocks are no longer red, they turn orange and yellow as the sun goes down. We also enjoy a great sight of the almost horizontal limestone layers.

 

Behind Delicate Arch, the cliff, also bathed in declining sunlight, changes colors as well, in the reverse way. Rather than going lighter, it does darker, with shades of brown, reds and pastel greens, that too deserve a mention.

   TopArrow

Sunset on Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

Sunset on Delicate Arch

 

The sun has now set but, for a few more minutes, declining sunlight still colors the surrounding landscape with pastel shades. Delicate Arch has now taken on salmon and coral shades, while the cliff in the background is brown and red.

 

All best things necessarily come to an end, and it is now fully dark. Always thinking ahead, Marie has bought us two headlamps before leaving. I end up not using mine a lot, natural light falling from a completely clear sky being enough to show me where I put my feet.

 

Of course, when, after walking down for almost one hour, we make it back to the parking lot, it is pitch dark.

 

We drive back to Moab and have dinner at Wendy's, a fast-food chain that seems unheard of in France, with decent quality for a burger joint.

 

The day has been rich with surprises, and a lot longer than planned. Tonight, we do not stay up more than necessary. Tomorrow, one more time, we have to get up early.

LeftArrow UpArrow RightArrow TopArrow