As we were planning our route to Washington we had the option of traveling north through the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, or west through Pueblo, CO to Moab, UT. Our research revealed that Yellowstone “could” open as early as the second week in May. We didn’t want to arrive in Yellowstone and find it blanketed in snow and closed, so we opted to travel west through Moab.
If you are visiting Canyonlands or Arches National Parks, Moab, UT is the nearest place to camp if you have an RV as big as ours. Also the campgrounds in these National Parks fill up early. We visited Arches National Park in 2014, but we had not been to Canyonlands.
On Monday, April 25th we arrived at the Moab Valley RV Park. Moab is a very busy place and we could only get a reservation for three nights. However, that was sufficient time for our purposes. Moab Valley is a nice park. The sites are a good size and most of them are pull-through sites with full hook-ups. There is a pool with a hot tub and a small gift shop with free coffee.
As soon as we were set up, we drove to the Arches National Park Visitor Center. There we picked up a map and brochure for Arches and we were fortunate to get a map and brochure for Canyonlands from a helpful Ranger. Then we checked the weather forecast for the area. Tuesday was not very good, with a strong possibility of rain and continued cloudy weather. Wednesday had a better forecast for clear skies with almost no chance of rain. We decided to spend Tuesday going to a couple of specific sites at Arches and then spend Wednesday at Canyonlands.
True to the forecast we woke up to cloudy skies, cool temperatures and light rain. Not to be deterred we put on our rain jackets and headed to the park. Our first stop was Delicate Arch. This is one of the more popular sites. The last time we were here we saw it from an overlook, this time we made the three mile, round-trip hike to the Arch. The winds were blowing strong and the rain was off and on. There were a lot of people taking pictures at the Arch and we were fortunate to enlist one to take our picture under the arch.
Our next stop was Landscape Arch. Of all of the arches in the park this is the one that I like the most. In 1991, 180 tons of rock fell off the arch leaving a slender span between the two bases of the arch. Now it looks more delicate than Delicate Arch. Just past Landscape Arch is a split from the main trail to Navaho Arch and Partition Arch. There were only a few other hikers by these arches and little evidence of much traffic. Each of the arches was unique. Navaho Arch led into a small alcove that would have made a great campsite for a backpacker. Partition Arch is actually two arches in one. The view from Partition Arch was outstanding. On our way back to the parking lot we took a brief detour to see Pine Arch and Tunnel Arch. It’s amazing to me how unique each of these arches are. Arches National Park is a delight for a twelve year old kid who loves to climb on rocks, and a nightmare for his parents, who are scared he will hurt himself.
After that we headed out of the park. We had done a lot of hiking (and climbing), but we made a brief stop to see Park Ave. This is a long, eroded fin that looks like a series of buildings, hence the name, Park Ave. What really caught our attention was one rock formation that looked like it was ready to topple off at any minute. Considering that it had been there for thousands of years, it probably won’t happen anytime soon!
Wednesday we awoke to clear skies and cool temperatures. The Canyonlands Visitor Center was about a half-hour drive from the RV park. We stopped there to view the displays and I bought a medallion for my hiking staff, then we were off to cover as much ground as we could in the day.
Canyonlands National Park is really three parks in one. The main park, and the one most visited, is the “Island in the Sky.” This rests on sheer sandstone cliffs over 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain. Second is the “Needles.” This forms the southeast corner of the Park and was named for the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that dominate the area. The “Maze” is the third and least accessible district. Due to its remoteness and the difficulty of roads and trails, travel requires a four-wheel vehicle and a greater degree of self-sufficiency.
We confined our visit to the “Island in the Sky” and our first stop was the Grand Overlook. Here we lucked out and arrived shortly before a Ranger talk on the geology of the “Island in the Sky.” It was interesting to hear about the millions of years of evolution of the earth, specifically this small part of it. Understanding how the earth developed puts all the talk about “global warming” and “climate change” into a different perspective. It didn’t take more than a short hike to see how this mesa towers over the surrounding country and understand why it is called the “Island in the Sky.”
Our next stop was the Upheaval Dome. There is a lot of controversy about this huge depression. Was it the result of an explosive meteor strike, or was it a dome built up from a salt deposit below the surface that dissolved as water seeped through the surface with a resulting collapse? There is a large volume of evidence to support both theories. We hiked to the first and second overlooks and each one gave us a different perspective of the competing theories. The hike to the second overlook was much tougher than we originally thought and we took a break for lunch at the second overlook.
Our last stop of the day was the Mesa Arch. Enroute we stopped at the Green River Overlook. The Green River and the Colorado River join at the Confluence at the southern base of the Island in the Sky and continue as the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in Arizona. In 1869 John Wesley Powell started a three-month expedition on the Green River to explore the Green and Colorado Rivers through the Grand Canyon. He and his expedition were the first Europeans to pass through the Grand Canyon. Lake Powell in Nevada is named for John Wesley Powell.
Mesa Arch was the only arch that we observed in Canyonlands and it was a unique experience to get as close to the arch portion. Here, as with every other stop we made in the park we were awed by the magnitude of the mesa and the views of the valley below.
After five miles of hiking and climbing on the mesa, we decided to call it a day so we headed back to pack up for the next leg of our journey. The next morning we checked the weather on the Soldier Summit to make sure the pass wasn’t blocked by the snow that fell in the mountains overnight. By 8:15 we were hooked up and on our way to Salt Lake City, UT.