Our introduction to Utah was odd.
I don’t know why I’m surprised by oddity in stinking hot, remote locations anymore. It’s more normal than “normal”.
On this occasion, we stopped at a gas station that looked like it was straight out of From Dusk Til Dawn.
Their power was out. We didn’t have any cash, so North Nomad asked for the next closest station.
Being a shortie, the counter was too tall and I couldn’t see the man North Nomad was speaking to. The conversation seemed very normal, though, and he gave us directions to the nearest Shell, just outside Moab.
Apparently I missed out on the man eyeballing North Nomad during the entire conversation, brushing his voluminous wiry beard with a metal fork. As you do.
The rest of our time in Utah was relatively normal. We only had 24 hours before we had to rush to Vegas to make our check-in there, and the Penn & Teller Show.
And when you only have 24 hours in Utah, you have to visit Arches National Park in Moab.
This desert park is full of natural sandstone arches, spires, balanced rocks, and huge monoliths in salmon colours, orange-reds and shades of ochre.
So, how are these natural arches created?
The park sits on top of an underground salt bed, created by a sea that flowed into the area and eventually evaporated, depositing the salt over the Coloardo Plateau around 300 million years ago.
Environmental residue blanketed the salt bed and compressed into a rock cover on top of the salt layer.
The salt shifted under the weight of the rock, buckled, and liquefied. Sections rose up through the rock layers as huge domes and other sections fell away into cavities.
Faults underneath the Earth’s surface made it more unstable. This, combined with surface erosion, caused vertical cracks that helped create the arches. Along with wind erosion, water seeped into cracks and folds, freezing, and breaking off bits of rocks. Free standing fins were left, parts of which gave way and became the arches that are the namesake of this park.
Our first viewpoint shows a variety of monoliths: Three Gossips, Sheep Rock, The Tower of Babel, and The Organ. In the distance, we can see Balanced Rock, Elephant Buttle, and the Windows.
It’s hard to get a sense of perspective from the photos, but Balanced Rock, a large hanging rock, is about the size of three school buses.
We get outside for a wander and to take photos. I’m surprised at how windy it is. In the searing heat in the desert I’ve put a huge sunhat on, and I can barely keep it on, even with a hand on my head.
Our next viewpoint is petrified dunes. On our drive in, I’d commented to North Nomad on how the rocks looked like big grey elephants, petrified. Now it makes sense knowing these were previously sand dunes.
My favourite sight at the park was Sand Dune Arch – also very popular with the children who enjoyed running down and jumping into the red sand dunes. The sandy area is deceiving – looking like you’d reach a desert oasis, but sadly, no beach awaits us in this heat.
We see a few ravens and small collared lizards, but aside from that we miss out on the wildlife. It’s probably too hot already for them. Most of the mammals are active at night, with deer, foxes, and rabbits making the park their home.
The roads get busy through the national park very quickly. My recommendation is to get there as early as possible. The park requires you to drive around and park at viewpoints, and go do hikes from those parking points. We missed out on one point of interest because the parking lot was full (no thanks to Westpac, see the italicised next paragraph if you want to read my explanation/rant on how Westpac made our trip very difficult and more expensive than necessary. If you don’t want a rant, feel free to skip!).
We arrived near 10am, almost two hours after our intended arrival. No thanks to Westpac, who locked my debit card around 10 times during our first two weeks, meaning we missed out on a few things, and arrived late for others. We had to backtrack to Moab McDonald’s to use the Wifi and unlock my card on this occasion. Despite having travel notifications on my card, the fraud team at Westpac decided to lock it. Every. Single. Freaking. Time. I. Used. It. You can imagine the hassle and distress this caused, not to mention the extra $$ in wifi, telephone calls (because their free call almost never worked in remote areas). I’m yet to put in my complaint report, but there may be a blog post coming, depending on how they deal with this.
And if you’re planning on camping, book well ahead – at least four days in advance. We stayed at a local KOA park because Devil’s Garden Campground inside Arches NP was already booked.
People of all fitness levels and ages can attend with the variety of viewing points and trails available. And if you have a physical disability, many impressive structures can be seen from your car – you won’t be missing out.
And on the other hand, if you’re a keen hiker and biker, this park is a must visit if you visit the States.
And remember to load up on the water. Bring at least twice as much as you think you need!
Location: The park is located on the Colorado River 6 km North of Moab, Eastern Utah.
Cost: $10 entrance fee for national park
You can connect with South Nomad, Jessica, over at Google+.