Monday, April 17, 2017

April 2017: Southeastern Utah--Canyonlands and Arches National Parks--Part Three

Modern petroglyphs.  In a thousand years these will be cool and will be studied by archaeologists.  Today they are just graffiti.
Day one was a brutal slog to get to Monticello in time to check into our motel.  We had a few things at home that prevented us from leaving first thing in the morning like we had planned.  So we just drove hard to get to the motel in time.  We made the nine hour drive with about 45 minutes to spare.  But by the time we got there, it was already after dark so we couldn't really see anything.  After nine hours in the car, we were kind of tired anyway and just went to sleep.

Day two was The Needles District in Canyonlands National Park which I have already recorded in this blog.  Monticello is about fifty miles south of Moab, Utah and it is very close to the south entrance of Canyonlands National Park.  We chose to stay in Monticello because even on Expedia the motels in Moab were about twice as much per night as they were in Monticello.  I figured even before we got there that Moab must be a tourist trap.  I have a little experience with tourist traps because I grew up in West Yellowstone, Montana, and I have spent some time in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Just because I call them tourist traps does not mean I don't like them, I loved growing up in West Yellowstone, I just don't want to pay full price.

Day three of our journey was spent in Arches National Park.  

Stop #1:  Wilson Arch

We got up and drove to Moab.  About ten miles or so out of Moab is a sandstone arch called "Wilson's Arch".  It is not in any national park, but I believe it is managed by the Federal Government.  The modern day petroglyphs in the first picture of this blog entry are what happen when an arch isn't protected by the National Park Service.  I'm not saying vandalism doesn't happen in national parks but it is thankfully a little more rare.

Nevertheless, Wilson Arch was really cool.  There is a parking lot and a trail to the arch.  Of course we climbed up to the arch.  Climbing on sandstone is misleading, by the way.  They call it "slickrock" but it is anything but slick.  It's like walking on sandpaper that has been glued to rock.  The footing isn't slick at all.  In fact you can stand on rock that is tilted down at a pretty steep angle and not slip.  This was our first introduction to the sandstone arches of southeastern Utah.  There are 2000 arches in Arches National Park all by itself, then the other parks have arches, and then there are hundreds of arches scattered about all over the state that are not in national parks.  It's probably time to look at some pictures.

BLM sign for Wilson Arch

Wilson Arch from the trail

You can see and arch forming here to the left of Wilson Arch

And this is the collapsed arch to the right of Wilson Arch that the sign pointed out

The Hot Chick in front of Wilson Arch

Just some random guy with a skull belt buckle in front of Wilson Arch

At the approach

Photo right under the arch

Similar photo with the Hot Chick to give you an idea of scale of these things.

That's me under the arch

More of the modern day petroglyphs.

I liked this photo

Random selfie of the Hot Chick and the random dude with the skull belt buckle in front of Wilson Arch.

We made it to Moab and had breakfast at the Pancake Haus.  It was a very good breakfast and I kept saying "pancake haus" with an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent until the Hot Chick told me it wasn't funny anymore.  I might have done it a few times after that.  Have you ever noticed that when you are in a nearly empty restaurant with a bunch of your friends that you tend to get boisterous and loud and talk about things you might not in polite company?  That was our experience at the Pancake Haus.  We happened to be in Moab during Jeep Week which for four wheel drive enthusiasts is like Sturgis for Harley Davidson guys.  There was a table full of Jeep guys who got progressively louder as our meal went on.  They were having a good time and it wasn't all that obnoxious.  Then they started telling hemorrhoid stories.  We finished our meal and headed to Arches National Park.

Stop #2:  The Moab Fault

There is only about 18 miles of paved road in Arches National Park.  The rest of the park has dirt roads, four wheel roads or hiking trails.  Since this was our first time in Arches,  we decided to stick to the main road and see the main tourist stuff.  Kind of like a first timer to Yellowstone wanting to see Old Faithful.  You can't fault them for that, everybody needs to see Old Faithful.  So we drove and pulled over at all the pullouts with interpretive materials on this trip.  In future trips we'll want to get on the trails and see the deep cuts of Arches National Park.  This trip was about the Greatest Hits.  There was another factor in our decision as well.  Because of road construction, all vehicles needed to be out of the park at 7:00 PM.  Since we were unfamiliar with this park, we stuck to the roads so as not to be in violation of the law.

There were signs like this at every pullout
I've had to rethink the whole geology thing because of this trip.  I've always considered myself more of an igneous or metamorphic guy, but this trip showed me that sedimentary is pretty dang cool too.

In the previous blog post I talked about the geology of this area and I won't repeat all of that here, but I will reference it a bit.  As the underground salt glacier moved and receded, it created voids underground that the overlying rock filled.  Couple that with earthquakes and you have a recipe for really cool rocks.  The first stop inside the park was the Moab Fault.  At first it just looked like a really nice place for a panoramic photo until I read the sign and knew what I was looking at.  There is a section of rock along the fault that collapsed over 2000 feet.  You can see the rock layers that should have been connected to the layers 2600 feet above.  Pretty amazing for a self taught amateur geologist like me.

Just inside Arches National Park.  We forgot to take our selfies by the Arches sign dangit

Cool rocks

Looking down toward Moab

The sign that explains it all

Here you can see the Moab fault in all it's dramatic glory
Stop #3:  Park Avenue

Park Avenue is a trail that meanders through towering slabs of sandstone.  The horsts and grabens as described in the previous post creates huge fins that eventually erode from below and create the arches this park is famous for.  Park Avenue is all about the fins.  There is a balanced rock along the trail that the Hot Chick thought looked like Nefertiti.

Sign for the Park Avenue Trailhead

Nefertiti Rock

Park Avenue

An eroded fin.  It appears the section in the center is a fallen arch, but that's just me

The other sign

Stop #4:  The Three Gossips

There was another place to pull out which ended up being the terminus for the Park Avenue Trail.  There is a bunch of rock features, but the most recognizable one is a formation called the Three Gossips.  I thought it looked like the Three Wise Men, but I don't think that's particularly politically correct anymore.  I'd have named it that instead.  We saw our first couple of arches at this site.

Really intense amount of sandstone

No consider that this whole valley was once sandstone and realize how much is missing

First view of the Three Gossips

This is still April and the snow capped peaks in the background attest to that

Possible broken arches

Cool rock left in the desert

The Three Gossips with the bigger lens

Horizon view of the world famous Balanced Rock

Horizon view of a pretty big arch

Cool sign about the Space Shuttle

Here's the broken double arch

Here' a mini-arch at the base of a fin

With the bigger lens
Mini-Stops Between the Three Gossips and Balanced Rock

On the road to Balanced Rock we stopped several times to take a few pictures.  There were petrified sand dunes and a few arches and a whole bunch of cool rocks.  I'm a geology nerd and so rocks are really cool to me.  I took a lot of pictures of rocks on this trip.

Sign about extra-terrestrial life

Petrified sand dunes

Look close, there's an arch

A bunch of hoodoos

That's what they are really called

No, really.

Desert Indian Paintbrush.  We saw very few wildflowers on this trip.  Dunno if they just don't have them or if we were there too early

Balanced Rock from the distance

A bunch of arches from a distance.

Stop #5:  Balanced Rock

So, Balanced Rock isn't a real mystery.  It's a pedestal of harder rock with a transition piece of softer rock with a harder rock on top.  The transition rock is eroding faster than the other rocks which means that sometime in the future the rock will collapse and the park service will have to dig up all the asphalt at the parking area.  There won't be anything to see.  There may be a sign, "Here once stood the world famous Balanced Rock."

In reality, though the Balanced Rock isn't cool because it's a balanced rock, no, the appeal of Balanced Rock is the inherent beauty of it.  It isn't unique in the world, and it really isn't unique in Arches National Park.  There are hundreds of balanced rocks in the park.  This one happens to be awe inspiring though.  We spent a great deal of time here, looking at the rock from every angle.  In case we lost our way, helpful people had built dozens of cairns to guide us around Balanced Rock.

Approaching Balanced Rock

Arch in the distance



Used to be a balanced rock here probably

More arches

Sign about Tyrannosaurus Rex and son

Balanced Rock from another angle

This was close by.  Looks like mud pies stacked on top of each other

Balanced Rock from yet another angle

Cairns from the helpful people

Another view

Stuff like this was all over this park

Another arch

Another view of Balanced Rock

Oh look here's a different balanced rock.  It's not as cool as the real one.  It'll take the place of the real one, when the real one falls, I bet.

My brother the raven

The Hot Chick in front of Balanced Rock

Another angle

From this angle it looks like a xenomorph from the movie Alien

The sun behind it

This is a big deal

Thank you, friendly cairn builders

This is a balanced rock cairn at Balanced Rock

I'm not sure but I think this is an anticline 

Farewell Balanced Rock

So, Balanced Rock marks about the halfway point on our Arches trip and since this blog entry is big enough, I'll finish the Arches day in the next post.  I thought I'd get it all on one post.  I was wrong.

We were halfway through Arches National Park and we hadn't hung out at a single arch.  Not to worry, though.  We were about to make up for that.  Arches is a wonderful national park.

1 comment:

  1. I love your story and the pictures are beautiful. I'm sure it's too hot in the summer to really enjoy, you probably went at the right time of the year.