When Your Geological Clock is Ticking
When your Geological Clock is Ticking…
…you have to make the most of every opportunity. As I approach my 50th birthday, I have felt the ticking of my Geological Clock - so many Rocks, and so little time. In the past I have put too much pressure on sparse vacation time to accomplish too much in too little time, sometimes to the detriment of friends and family members that you bring along to “share your love for the outdoors”. Through the last year I have been learning how to vacation well via scrambling with my son Evan, now 12 (see Summer 2008-Sierras
and Spring 2008 Zion
. So as another spring break approached, I spent a lot of time planning a trip to Moab that would give Evan and I the best the area had to offer. Here is what transpired in March-April 2009.
Day 0 – Ticketless Travel
I have to admit I thought we would do some hiking the day we flew into Salt Lake City. A stern warning from a Utah State Trooper somewhere south of Price will attest to my anxiety to arrive in Moab and get on the trail. But he mercifully withheld a ticket and I was a model citizen afterwards – assisted by Evan helpfully bringing to my attention every time my speedometer vibrated toward going over the speed limit. So we pulled into Moab later than I thought and I ditched my plan to scope out the Fischer Towers near sundown. But I was calm, extorting a trade-off promise from Evan to get up early the next day.
Day 1 Scrambling upon ‘Restaurant Arch’
Sandstone Fins of Devil's Garden
Our first day was spent within Arches National Park on the Devil’s Garden primitive loop. This is by far the most arch-intensive hike in the park: Pine Tree Arch, Navajo Arch, Landscape Arch, the ruins of now collapsed Wall Arch, and Double O Arch only some of the more famous formations that come one after the other on this route. The trail itself turns from touristy path to a more athletic scramble along the lines of the lines of sandstone fins that make up the area. While I had been through the area previously, I knew Evan would appreciate its features, as it was packed with impromptu scrambling opportunities that he was not slow to take advantage of.
While all the justly famed arches are wonderful, our hearts belonged to one we found by accident. Deciding to take lunch atop one of the sandstone fins, we were surprised and delighted at the top of our scramble to be next to an arch that looked like a perfect lunch spot. We named it ‘Restaurant Arch’ for the 2 tables it had in its ‘balcony’ area. We scrambled back and went up the other fin and tried to get in the ‘restaurant’ from the east side and were stymied. But it turned out we could enter from the more forbidding west side via one almost-but-not-altogether-perfectly-safe ledge.
'Restaurant Arch' West Side 'Restaurant Arch' with Customer East Side
The trip back from our ‘restaurant’ was beautiful until about the time we turned back to the south. Winds had been picking up, but now we started feeling the full extent of its power. Sand and gravel assaulted our faces, arms and legs, and we had to turn and huddle often as more extreme gusts pummeled us. A Moab native told me later that it was the second worst sandstorm he had seen in 50 years. Gusts went up to 55 mph, and the air was brown with dust and sand. I have always packed a bandana on my trips, but it never makes it into my daypack, and now I paid the price. Evan walked behind me, glued to my back. It was miserable. As we returned to our car, we were amazed at the clouds of sand being blown through the park.
Finally back at the visitor’s center, the first ranger I showed images of ‘our’ arch had never seen it before. But she steered me toward a great exhibit, something like a computerized Arch Registry, of every known arch in the park, with its location, statistics and picture. With a little sleuthing (there were hundreds to sift through in the Devil’s Garden alone), we found our arch, whose name was so perfectly descriptive it was obvious we had had found it even before we saw the picture. The arch was first ‘discovered’ in 1977. I will leave you to guess its real name.
Comment by Evan: A good day spoiled by sandstorm.
Day 2 Fiery Furnace
I had not used an outfitter since my first hiking trip 25 years ago, but I invested in one now. I wanted to learn the elementary elements of canyoneering, and give Evan a memorable experience. I scored big on both fronts. The Desert Highlights guide Herb lead us into the Fiery Furnace area, another maze-like assemblage of sandstone fins. Quickly they took us off the trails and into, onto, under and over a dizzying variety of sandstone terrain. I had paid for the rappelling, but got a world-class scramble in the bargain. We reached Abbey Arch (named after the writer, who as a park ranger discovered it) and used it to belay our first rappelle. We were dropping into Lomatium Canyon, a gut-puckering 120 feet down, the last 100 feet being free as the canyon walls slid away. Evan had a minute of extreme doubt in the midst of his descent but listened well and got down fine.
Rappelle into Lomatium Canyon from Abbey Arch
Evan 120 feet later
Even more intense scrambling lead to another rappelle descent through a narrow crack into the belly of Krill Canyon. The Wow Factor was off the charts. In the end, it was money very well spent for a day that made the vacation a success even if would have ended then.
Evan: It was jaw-droppingly phenomenal.
Day 3 Courthouse Wash - Ring Arch and The Tunnel
After the exertions or yesterday, we spent a cool morning hiking (it was about 30 degrees most mornings) through the desert scrub to two little visited features within Arches NP. In planning a trip, I always value solitude, the lack of people giving the impression we have the park to ourselves.
Our first objective, Ring Arch, required some navigation through the desert scrub, which was not the scrambling that Evan was expecting. Blundering around a sandy brushy dry wash was not his idea of a good time. After some discussion (whining by Evan and hollering back by me) we decided to keep on looking for the arch when it did not materialize where I thought it would. But a climb up out of the wash revealed the arch in all its glory. I let Evan try to climb up into its bowl, which he found easier to get up than get down.
After a snack at the arch, we again went hiking through the desert toward a feature called The Tunnel – a skinny 53 foot long hole in a sandstone bluff. To actually get into the tunnel we started using a technique we would use many times as the vacation progressed. I tossed Evan up onto the obstacle, and he would drag me over.
Evan at east entrance of Tunnel
This hike, while short, amply filled up my spiritual reservoir. We spent the rest of the day buying souvenirs, an activity that normally crushes my spirit but now was almost pleasant.
Evan: Without me, Dad would have been helpless.
Day 4 – Little Wild Horse & Bell Canyon
We woke up early. No, I woke up early, and crowbarred Evan out of bed with the promise of a McDonald’s breakfast. He snarfed while I drove. And drove. There is no good direct route to get to these remote canyons from Moab. Justly famous as one of the best slot canyons in the area, it was 30 degrees as we began. We began hiking through the wash and quickly got into sustained miles of slot canyon. The eight miles was more interesting to me than Evan, except when we would get to a …pooour-over! (sung to the tune of Gooldfinger!). Scrambling up or down these dry waterfalls was the best part of the hike for Evan. When his interest waned, he would fasten onto the idea of an early dinner, and hurry us farther along.
Little Wild Horse Canyon Bell Canyon
Evan: I didn’t like this too much. It didn’t have any big and cool sights. I have seen slot canyons before.
Day 5 – Canyonlands - Druid Arch
Well seasoned now, another McDonalds breakfast in the car powered Evan through the long drive to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. Our objective was Druid Arch from Elephant Hill via Elephant Canyon, an 11 mile round trip. I had planned a longer more serpentine route through Squaw and Big Spring Canyons, but aborted at the last minute because I was no longer feeling rock-deprived, and Evan wanted to get back early enough to see a TV show. My serenity was such that even this sacrilege was acceptable in my sight. It was 18 degrees when we began, but the day became the only truly hot day we experienced. The spectacular rock formations of the Needles area were only exceeded by the stunning finish at Druid Arch. We were both struck by its size, and I clambered over to the arch so Evan could get a shot that would show its scale.
Druid Arch - Can you find Waldo? A third in from the bottom, a third from left
Evan: Afterwards my Dad had Elephant Hill Ale at the Moab Brewery. I really liked Druid Arch
Day 6 – Bow Tie and Corona Arch
I had an ulterior motive for hiking to Corona Arch. I had heard it was possible to climb to the top of this beautiful arch, just outside Moab. The hike past Bow Tie Arch toward Corona arch was easy and scenic. Using the research I had gathered, I located the buttress with the promised ‘moki steps’ – tiny toe holds - that lead up the top of the cliff wall where the arch was located. I also located the place that my sources indicated would be ‘fall could be fatal’ territory. Both Evan and I looked it over, and we both agreed a fall would be fatal and that we did not need to include a body bag with our luggage home.
Bowtie Arch Corona Atch
With some more daylight left, we decided to try the small hike to Funnel Arch, another of Moab’s seemingly endless supply of arch formations. Clouds appeared on our drive, and rain threatened as we started up the dryfall that opens the hike. Then in short order: rain came down. A tremendous thunderclap shook the canyon. Hail pounded down, then heavy showers. We aborted our hike before the dryfall became a waterfall, and will have to save Funnel Arch for another vacation.
Evan: I was scared to go up the moki steps because the dropoff to the right side was scary. The landing was non-existant.
Day 7 – Snow; and Tower Arch
Trail to Tower Arch
We awoke to snow our last day in Moab, and scurried out of town early to enjoy Arches National Park with white accents. The nice dusting of snow gave us a different look at Arches, and we drove to the North of the park to hike Tower Arch, a beautiful and lonely hike.
We had asked rangers if we could get to Route 191 from the gravel roads in the North of the park (and save us backtracking 15 miles back through the park). Yes, they said. After 10 miles of gravel, then wet muddy roads, we got to 191 only to see a construction crew working and our egress closed off. Not willing to admit defeat, we travelled another 10 miles northwest along the mud roads, not knowing if we were going anywhere…and ended up in Thompson Springs on the Interstate. After exchanging a high five, we turned toward Salt Lake City and a flight home.
Evan: My dad does not mention that he took a picture of me when I fell down a hill.
Final Dad Rejoinder: Oh yeah, almost forgot:
Evan takes a fall.