The experience of staying in the Sleep Inn in Moab was enhanced still further with an excellent breakfast. We even managed to find the table with the TV remote control laid upon it, enabling me to swiftly change the channel from Fox News to CNN. Fortunately, nobody else noticed or, even with the presidential election a little over a month away, was interested.
Today we were making the last of our planned visits to national parks, namely Arches. The annual pass purchased at Zion had already proved a tremendous bargain. After the short drive from town we called in at the visitor center first to top up on water and seek advice on the trails.
The most recognisable of the park’s estimated 2,000 arches is the 45 by 33 feet Delicate Arch (above), which features on many state products, including official vehicle license plates.
The walk is a three mile round trip with an overall elevation gain of 480 feet. After the first half-mile, a well-defined trail, it becomes increasingly strenuous with a steep section of exposed slickrock, which lives up to its name in damp weather (not a hazard we had to deal with). The hiker is dependent thereafter upon a series of rock cairns (several small rocks, sometimes precariously, placed on top of each other) and the advice of others returning from the summit to ensure they are on course.
The most precarious element of the trail, and the one that made me a little uneasy, is a 200 yard “narrow” ledge overlooking a sheer drop immediately before reaching the arch. Whilst I negotiated it comfortably enough, I felt it prudent that I should hand over photographic duties to Janet whilst we remained there. Unfortunately, it was a little hazy at this point, though by the time we had passed the end of the ledge on our descent, the sun had come out, causing Janet to bound back up the ledge to take more photos whilst I averted my eyes and settled my nerves with a peanut granola bar.
Having accomplished our first objective, we undertook a number of shorter and less demanding trails, principally the 300 foot Landscape Arch (1.6 miles) and the smaller Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch.
Although Delicate Arch was indeed impressive, we were a little underwhelmed at this point. But the longer we spent in the park the more it grew on us. We began to understand why many people refer to its otherworldly atmosphere and liken it to a moonscape.
At every turn there were bizarre groups of rocks thrusting from the desert landscape. As with Bryce Canyon in particular, it was tempting and entertaining to compare them with other living and inanimate things.
Many bore an uncanny resemblance to a gigantic male protuberance, though that might just be in the eye of this particular beholder. You may, of course, see nothing in such a salacious suggestion.
We encountered what, for us, were the most beautiful arches on the short (one mile) Windows loop. This is a collection of three arches – North Window, South Window and Turret – that face each other across the dusty scrub-like terrain.
We must have spent an hour clambering among the rocks and, where possible, dipping in and out of the arches, taking innumerable photographs (many of which, inevitably, included strangers doing the same).
But patience and perseverance paid off as the following picture illustrates.
This was one of the highlights of the whole trip for me – these stunning structures dwarfed the more celebrated Delicate and Landscape Arches in their emotional and aesthetic impact.
After dragging ourselves away from this fabulous playground, we moved across to Balanced Rock before leaving the park. This is one of the weirdest rock formations of all – fragile, funny and picturesque.
I have my own thoughts on what these resemble. What are yours?
Such was our fascination with this extraordinary place that we were forced to postpone our proposed afternoon trip to Dead Horse Point State Park. Nor had we had any lunch (there are no refreshment facilities in the park) and it was nearly 4 o’clock in the afternoon!
We drove back into the centre of Moab and, after a brief exploration of the gift shops, parked ourselves outside the Peace Tree café, where our coffees were supplemented by portions of pecan pie and chocolate brownie with ice cream that would hardly have looked out of place in the park we had just left (though I think the comparison ended there).
The day was rounded off with a fine meal (shrimp pesto linguine for Janet and roast chicken with garlic red potatoes for me, accompanied by another white Zinfandel – oh yes, and two margaritas each) in the Moab Brewery. It had been our third visit in a little over 24 hours and we were sorry to leave it.
Once again, we had an excellent night’s sleep in The Sleep Inn. Must be something about the name or perhaps the exercise we had done – or more likely the margaritas.