Arches and Canyonlands: The literal end of the road ~

The north section of Arches National Park, which has the most trails, was closed for road repairs and construction when we visited, and another popular section was so crowded that no parking spots were available. My companion and I found ourselves both suffering from a world-too-much-with-us malaise. (See here my post A plea for public lands, or better yet, read Desert Solitaire by the very prescient Edward Abbey.) We ended up just getting out at a couple of overlooks and then walking a very short trail to Sand Dune Arch. That arch isn’t pictured here: I left my camera in the car because of the strong, gusty wind; sand grains stung the skin and tourists without sunglasses were shielding their eyes. Sand Dune Arch is sandwiched between tall fins of rock that form a little slot canyon, the bottom of which is piled deep with sand of a uniformly red color (due to its iron content). Burrowing my hand into it, I discovered that it was the finest-grained sand I’ve ever felt, almost velvety, perhaps because it is eroded from rock only rather than being a mixture of rock and marine shell.

So the only arch in my photographs was taken, ironically, at Canyonlands. At the north end of this park, a paved road travels south along a skinny mesa appropriately called Island in the Sky. The mesa is a long finger pointing down into the heart of the labyrinthine canyon systems that make up the bulk of the park, hundreds of feet below and extending for miles east, south, and west. Mesa Arch, which is pictured here, stands on the eastern edge of Island in the Sky midway between the visitors center and the end of the road, Grand View Point. By the time we got there, the sun was at the horizon.

Capitol Reef ~

In tiling these photos, WordPress has made the big small and the small big. It’s fitting. This landscape is so vast that gigantic land formations, even mountains, are small on the horizon when seen from distances of 20, 50, 100 miles. And only when you take the time to pay attention close at hand do you realize how many plant species are blooming all around you, dwarfed by the rock.

Bryce Canyon ~

It isn’t easy to take a truly bad picture of Bryce Canyon, but I managed a great many mediocre ones. These are the best of the lot. At Bryce we reached our highest elevation in Utah; we wouldn’t be at 9,000 feet again until the return trip through Colorado.

 

Zion National Park ~

I first saw Zion Canyon as a child, and it remains the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. When my companion and I arrived in early May, though, the weather was rainy and foggy, with clouds obscuring all but the very bottom of the canyon. It was still beautiful, with many flowers blooming, the just-leafed-out trees along the Virgin River a tender, bright green, and the red rock of the canyon walls backdropping everything.

The next morning we took the shuttle up the canyon (due to its popularity, this park has been forced to limit vehicles on the canyon drive for all but the winter months).  As the day went by the clouds gradually lifted, but the sky remained mostly gray. We walked the Riverside Walk, a paved trail along the Virgin River, down to the The Narrows, where the river becomes the “trail” because the canyon walls are only about 20 feet apart. The Narrows was off-limits this day due to the high water; hikers sometimes die in this wilderness area because of flash flooding and swift currents. Toward sunset we hiked the Canyon Overlook Trail at Zion’s southeast corner. Without my companion’s help up and down the steep, rocky path, which was sandy, damp, and slick, I could never have made this hike. The view rewards the effort.

Along the Sevier River ~

Turning to tourist shots now: On our first full day in Utah, we stopped for a picnic lunch north of Marysdale, Utah, on U.S. 89, which runs along the Sevier River at this point. We were on our way south to Zion National Park. Over the next four days we would do brief (very brief) tours of the five national parks in southern Utah. They were thronged with other tourists, but we had this picnic spot to ourselves, and it was sweet listening to the little river rush by.

Salt Valley ~

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The colors in the soil make this landscape view at Arches National Park into an abstract. I turned a rectangular shot into a square in order to crop out two far-off bits of roadway, which were barely noticeable but which I thought detracted from the abstract effect. I didn’t add any saturation, but I did oversharpen this a little to enhance the “dots,” which are tiny shrubs.