Off on the bike today for 175 miles of great national and state parks. We took off early and were back at Arches NP on a hike to see some more arches by 8:20 AM. We first hiked to the Turret Arch and to the North and South Windows. The first part of the hike was really easy – in fact, since these are very popular arches, the park has cut rock steps into the path to help tourists climb the hill to view the arches. Of course, we took the harder primitive path back, since we wanted to see the North and South Windows from the back; they look different there, and are sometimes called the Spectacles. It was a fun hike. The trail included a lot of slickrock climbing and again, lots of rock cairns to guide us - I am getting more sure footed climbing the rock now; part of my problem has been that I favor my right arm/shoulder because it is still somewhat weak, but I need to use it to climb. It is good exercise for me! When we returned to the parking lot, I took a short break while Fred went to photograph the Double Arch (this arch is in the 1988 Raiders of the Lost Ark movie- River Phoenix is standing in front of it). Our second hike during the morning was to view Delicate Arch. Due to timing, we decided against the 3 mile hike to get right up to the arch, and opted for a shorter uphill climb to get to a good viewpoint across a canyon from the arch itself. That hike had some stone steps cut into the path for part of the tail, and then the rest was with the very familiar slickrock and cairns. The view at the top of the trail was wonderful, and well worth the climb. Besides, coming back down was all downhill!
Our next stop was at the old John Wolfe ranch, located within Arches NP. Wolfe moved to Utah in the late nineteenth century and started a ranch with one of his sons. A daughter arrived in 1906, and told her father to build her a better home right way - with a wooden floor. I am posting a photo of that home – it is still very primitive! By 1910, the family decided to leave their difficult life in Utah and return to Ohio. We next stopped at Fiery Furnace to take some photos; we didn’t sign up for a guided 3 hour tour of that labyrinth of fins and dead end canyons, again due to time. We could have taken 10 weeks for this trip instead of 5, and still probably wouldn’t have been able to do all we wanted to do.
We rode to a picnic stop in Dead Horse Point State Park next – this park is really nice, and it would be fun to have had time to explore it more than the couple of hours we had. It has lots of buttes and pinnacles, desert meadows of very short grasses, plenty of sage brush and other desert plant life, crytobiotic soil, potholes, potash ponds, and there are camping sites, so maybe another time we might stay out here a couple of days to explore the area more fully. Millions of years of geologic activity created the spectacular views we saw from Dead Horse Point. Deposition of sediments by ancient oceans, freshwater lakes, streams and wind blown sand dunes created the rock layers of canyon country surrounding the Colorado. Although they are not as large as the Grand Canyon, the canyons here are pretty spectacular too. Igneous activity formed the nearby high La Sal Mountains that rise like cool blue islands out of the hot, dry desert. The plants and animals of Dead Horse Point have adapted to a land of scare water and extreme temperatures. Plants grow very slowly here, so the juniper and piñon trees here may be only fifteen feet tall, but they may be hundreds of years old.
Dead Horse Point itself is a narrow peninsula of rock atop sheer sandstone cliffs. The peninsula is connected to the mesa by a narrow strip of land called the neck, which is less than thirty yards wide. We looked down at the Colorado River over 2000 feet below the point. There are many stories about how this high promontory of land received its name. According to one legend, around the turn of the century the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. Cowboys rounded up these horses, herded them across the narrow neck of land and onto the point. The neck was then fenced off with branches and brush. This created a natural corral surrounded by precipitous cliffs straight down on all sides, affording no escape. Cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and let the culls or broomtails go free, but one time horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River.
Our final destination for today was Canyonlands National Park, established in 1964. This park is still mostly undeveloped; there are three very distinct regions to the park – each is very “backcountry” on purpose, and a 4 wheel drive or backpacking into the interior is needed to see much of the park. Each region of the park is quite far apart when traveling by blacktop, so we only visited the Island in the Sky section. Even this section, the closest to Moab, has only 34 miles of paved roads, so there is much that can only be seen by getting backcountry permits. We visited Grandview Point where we again viewed the Colorado, still about 2000 feet below us; Buck Canyon Overlook, another view of the Colorado canyons; Green River Overlook, where the Green River has carved very different looking canyons than the Colorado; and the Orange Cliffs Overlook, yet another view of the Colorado. At these turnouts and within the park, we saw many layers of the different types of sandstone exposed in the canyons, rocky ledges, steep cliffs, the large white sandstone rim layer that is about 1200 feet down within the canyons, buttes, fins, smaller mesas, arches and spires. Nothing boring here! After stopping at the unusual Upheaval Dome for some needed rest time, we rode out of the park and back to Moab.