Road Trip USA – Arches & Zion
After an early start from Salt Lake City it was a three hour drive to our first major sightseeing stop: Arches National Park, just outside the city of Moab. The park houses over 2,000 naturally formed arches, with numerous trails branching vein-like from the 20 mile road that runs through the centre to reach those a little further afield.
Upon our arrival, we scouted the campground for somewhere to sleep that night, but with no availability, decided to park up, explore and find somewhere to sleep in Moab later in the day. The nearest attraction to the campground is Skyline Arch, only 100 metres away, and we used this as our first photo opportunity of the day.
A short hike down the petrified dunes later and we were able to complete a two mile loop back to the car, in which we drove to the Devil’s Garden Trailhead. The trail leads hikers to multiple structures, including the Tunnel Arch, Dark Angel and the rock fins. We decided to hike the four miles to the two most impressive sculptures: Landscape Arch and Double-O Arch.
Landscape Arch is extraordinary due to its physics-defying nature alone. It is nearly 100 metres long, and with sections collapsing from the thinnest part in the middle, the park has closed the path that used to run beneath it.
Another hike, another arch. The Double-O arch is fairly self explanatory; it consists of two arches, one atop another. It is an awesome sight, sitting sheltered in a cove surrounded by taller rock formations. I decided to climb into the higher arch, which required a certain amount of balance and an army crawl underneath a huge boulder sitting on a steep incline.
Once up, I had my photo taken and was delighted with the view. The problem, however, came when I had to get down. I couldn’t crawl back through the same space between the rocks due to the drop on the other side and my claustrophobia taking hold, nor could I jump for the height of the arch.
A half-hour later, a Dutch family made an appearance and, with the help of a Swiss teen, helped me down the steep face of the rock. I was starting to worry and am very grateful to all of them for their assistance. Not my proudest moment, and I can’t help but look back at pictures of the arch without a certain resistentialism.
A quick hike back to the car and a short drive later and we arrived at Balanced Rock; again, self-explanatory by name and impressive by sight. The rock that sits on the column is the size of three American school buses and used to have a smaller sibling “Chip Off the Old Block”, until 1975 when it collapsed.
The plan had been to watch sunset through Delicate Arch, but with matters not going to plan at Double-O, we were somewhat behind schedule, so opted to watch the sun go down from one of the highest points on the road. I count myself lucky to have travelled as much as I have, but it would seem that sunsets in the States outdo any others I’ve seen in the past.
We slept in a small, privately owned campsite in Moab that night, our first and last use of the tent, mostly because the air mattress I had brought along was a kingsize and filled all bar three cubic feet of the available space; a slight miscalculation on my part.
The next day was all about travel. We left early from Moab and completed the 350 miles to Zion National Park in a little over seven hours. The weather had gotten steadily worse along the way, even treating us to a lightning show as we entered Springdale, the town nearest the park.
We spent an uncomfortable night in the car which I had parked in a somewhat creepy parking lot with very little light. We were probably the only people for a mile in every direction, so when I was awoken at 3am by the sound of a footstep outside the window, I automatically assumed the worst, but, slowly lifting my head up to window level, I was stunned to see a huge stag standing mere feet from the car, illuminated fully by my headlamp.
A follower on Twitter had recommended we attempt the Angel’s Landing hike at Zion, but had warned us that it was dangerous, with constant 1,500 foot drops only two feet from the pathway for the last half-hour of the trek. Heights don’t phase me, nor Marina, so we decided to go for it.
We were dropped off at the Grotto at 11am and made our way along the sandy path that soon becomes paved as the incline steepens. The views all the way up are spectacular, but are suddenly hidden once the path disappears between Angel’s Landing and Zion Canyon. Walter’s Wiggles are a series of 21 steep switchbacks, after which one arrives at Scout’s Lookout.
This is where most people turn around, as it is the next half-mile to the summit that it very treacherous. Marina changed into climbing shoes and we ploughed on, holding the chains in one hand and our cameras in the other.
The drop-offs are incredibly daunting, even to someone who isn’t scared of heights, and with at least five deaths on this trail alone in the last year, we were being extra cautious. It is a strenuous climb, but there is nothing more rewarding than the view one can appreciate from the top. There is no cynosure, because quite literally everything one lays eyes on is stunning.
We stayed for roughly thirty minutes enjoying the view and taking on some water before making our way back down the chains to Scout’s Lookout. From there, we used the opportunity to run the two miles back to the Grotto, covering the distance in just over twenty minutes.
Given more time, I would have loved to have seen Bryce Canyon National Park, but no matter, that definitely isn’t the last time I will be visiting Utah. It is one of the most scenically stunning places I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
Once back at the car, it was time to continue onwards to the main attraction: Las Vegas!