Thursday, August 8, 2013

Southwestern Swing: First Evening at Arches, June 2013

In our last blog post, you learned about the first leg of our southwestern swing. Next comes the tale of our 24 hours or so at Arches National Park. This is part one of that story.

Mesa Verde is lovely but quite small, and we knew that we'd have a little time to check out one of the other parks in the area. It came down to Arches or Canyonlands, both several hours away. We decided on Arches, since it was the big winner on my Facebook poll and seemed like a great place to do some short hikes and scrambles with B. We'll make it to Canyonlands sometime in the future!

Martha outfitted us with a tent, mattresses, sleeping bags, a stove, and cooking equipment, so we did not have to fly west with any of our own camping gear. Once B stopped fighting sleep and relaxed into her nap, we had a lovely mid-day drive from Mesa Verde to Moab. It was fascinating to watch the geography change as we headed northwest into Utah—I have spent very little time in the southwest and was agog at the completely different terrain.

We didn't have a big head start on planning this trip, so weren't able to reserve a campground inside Arches (which go months and months in advance), but we knew that there were tons of campgrounds in the Moab area. As the trip got closer and I started doing more research, I discovered that the Bureau of Land Management has campsites along the Colorado River, which forms the southern border of the park. They are first-come, first-served and cost only $15 a night. We decided to try for one of those.

We turned onto River Road and started checking out campsites. We found an opening at a nice site less than 10 miles from the turnoff.

Can you believe this view? Best $15 we've ever spent!

It was late afternoon by this point, with several hours of daylight left. We did a quick tent set-up, and then, our claim staked, headed into the park for the evening. Alex dashed into the visitors' center to grab a Junior Ranger booklet, and then the second priority was to get out of the car and stretch our legs! Once we drove up into the park and consulted the map, we realized that there was a lovely mile-long trail called Park Place that started right in front of us. Alex and B set off together, heading gently downhill, and I drove a little farther along the main road, parked at the other end of the trailhead, and hiked back up to meet them partway.

We all marveled at the different shapes, textures, and colors of the rocks.

Here we are headed down the trail (the car was parked at the base of this huge formation).

Brynna silhouetted in front of the Three Gossips:

Lots of scrambling for our little hiker!

We all loved this dolphin-shaped arch off in the distance (the light was perfect to set it off):

This photo shows the "fins" of rock that have formed due to wind and water.

Then we drove on a little and caught Balanced Rock just around sunset. Here it is with the full moon coming up behind:

The balanced rock itself is a harder type of rock than the supporting pedestal beneath. Eventually the support will erode away, and the rock will fall.

Once the sun went down, it was time to head back to our campsite and make supper. However, we realized that we'd forgotten to do violin practice! (Yes, we brought the violin on vacation. Brynna is in the midst of a long streak of practices and is earning rewards from her violin teacher for doing it, and she didn't want to break the streak.) So here's a nighttime violin practice in the visitors' center parking lot:

Once back at the campsite, B was fascinated by the JetBoil as Alex made us some delicious lentil pilaf. The full moon was so bright that wherever in the campground it shone over the surrounding bluffs, we didn't need our headlamps.

It was B's first experience camping so it took her a few minutes in the tent to settle down for sleep, but once she did, we all had a very refreshing rest.

Coming next—the rest of the story from Arches!

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