arches national park   15 comments

Posted at 11:54 am in being alone,geology,traveling alone,Utah

In my last post, I wrote about our first night at Big Bend campground on the Colorado River a few miles above Moab. The following morning, the dogs and I departed for a day of touring through Arches National Park. Arriving shortly after opening time, there were few other visitors on the main roadway that meanders through the park. I believe that the weather may have been keeping people away – there was a severe weather warning for rain and snow in the forecast. Fortunately, in addition to scaring away the visitors, the approaching storm front also made for some wonderful cloud formations in an area where clear blue skies are common. For a photographer, drifting clouds can create some dramatic light conditions over such vast landscapes.

I had some difficulty choosing just a handful of photos to represent our day at Arches, but I believe that this selection will provide some idea of the type and scale of the rock formations. Also, I wanted to show how theatrical these landscapes can become when the sunlight and clouds work their magic under certain conditions. I took great delight in standing awhile at each spot, watching as the formations could be transformed within seconds. In the past, I’ve enjoyed this effect over rock formations in other vast landscapes in places such as John Day Fossil Beds. Some of you may even remember me writing about such light effects back on my old “Burning Silo” blog back in November 2006.

Another interesting aspect of these formations is how much the appearance can change as you move around the periphery. What at first looks to be an irregular wall of rock may, within seconds, reveal a massive arch. Likewise, spires and boulders balanced atop rock towers often morph into the heads of howling wolves, a dragon, a group of people, or whatever else one might imagine.

Soon after arriving at Arches, I noticed that my way of looking at the place seemed to differ from that of the other visitors on that day. Very few would stop at the turn-outs where you would have a view of the landscape and the rock formations at a distance. Most would bypass these spots, rarely even slowing down, but instead driving on to park before an arch or other formation to snap a few photos. For myself, I loved the distant views where I could watch the storm front passed over the landscape. It was amazing to see a formation from a couple of miles off, and then drive toward it, marveling over how it would change as I drew increasingly near.

The only problem with Arches is the same I have encountered in the past. After four or five hours of being immersed in red rock, I begin to experience a sense of overload. There’s just so much that your eyes and mind can handle before it begins to feel like a little too much — at least, for this easterner who is more accustomed to lakes and forests. By the turnaround loop at the end of the road, I had seen enough red rock landscapes for one day and was ready to return to my campsite on the Colorado.

The weather forecast proved to be correct. That evening, shortly after cleaning up after preparing our meal, the rain began to fall – gentle at first, but then increasing until it was pounding on the van roof. When the deluge continued for a couple of hours, I began to consider how such a downpour might change the flow of the river alongside our campsite. When you have camped in red rock country enough times, you learn to have some respect for the effect that heavy rains can have on creeks and rivers. A dry creek bed can soon fill and become a raging torrent, tearing and transfiguring its sandy banks. After a time, I opened the window near my head and listened to the river. The gentle sound of waves lapping on the shore had now become a growling rumble in the utter darkness. During a lull in the rain, I decided to get up, pull on my jacket and take a good look at the river with my largest flashlight. I was quite sure we were in no danger of flash flooding on this section of river – the campground being located quite a few feet up from the water’s edge. Also, there was little evidence of previous flood damage – always a pretty good indication that it’s a safe spot. Still, in my travels, I have seen the remains of long-established campgrounds that were torn apart by raging rivers – so much so that they were never repaired or re-established. I’ve also met camp hosts who are out checking river levels during the night, deciding whether to tell people to move to higher ground (the Smith River in northern California being one place where this has happened). That thought was enough to get me up shining a beam along the shore. However, after checking out the river, I found it was a little higher than earlier in the day, but not enough to be concerned. Now I would be able to go back to bed and go to sleep, knowing that there probably was little chance that we would need to relocate to higher ground.

The heavy rains continued on through much of the night. By morning, the air temperature in the canyon was much different than on the previous couple of days. Gone was the slight warmth that seemed to radiate from the great masses of stone about us. In its place, there was a frigid walk-in freezer feel to the air. I’d been thinking of staying on another couple of nights, but knew we would probably feel cold and miserable. I decided to break camp after breakfast and go exploring elsewhere. I wasn’t quite sure where we would go, but knew that just about any site would be warmer than the one we were leaving.

I’d been thinking of going up to see the petroglyphs and pictographs up at Sego Canyon near Thompson Springs, so that became our morning destination. After that — well, surely we would come upon a good place to camp a night or two. That’s the way I try to think when traveling — to remain optimistic that something interesting will present itself. Most times, that’s just how it goes.

I’m going to end this post with something a little different. A friend in New Mexico sent me a link today, saying that this song made him think of me. I watched the video and soon discovered why. The song is entitled Lighthouse, performed by Antje Duvekot, written by Antje Duvekot & Kate Klim. Here is a link to the lyrics for those who are interested. Thanks to Dusty for sending this along. I very much enjoyed hearing this song.

Written by bev wigney on February 26th, 2011

15 Responses to 'arches national park'

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  1. bev-

    Re: the lighthouse song:

    cool. i’m so glad you enjoyed it and happy that you shared it on your blog.

    what a beautiful metaphor.

    leave the light on for us, eh?

    -el tom bodett, motel 6


    26 Feb 11 at 3:52 pm

  2. Bev, Love the red rock formations and what they may possible resemble. I really like the picture with the mountains with snow in the background. Interesting what you said about how they have to watch for flash flooding in some camp areas, never thought about how close you may be at a particular place, cause I have never been to those places, even though it would make sense to me. Guess they probably dont choose where they put the areas based on whether or not they have to move people in the middle of the night. Enjoyed the song . Nice lyrics. Glad you connected with it. She has a great voice . Kathy

    Kathy Demarest

    27 Feb 11 at 3:49 pm

  3. Lost you for a while but found you again through another site. Now I’ve got some catching up to do! Beautiful scenery.


    28 Feb 11 at 8:04 pm

  4. dusty – Yes, it is a beautiful metaphor. It struck me as odd and interesting that the lyrics to echo my life in ways that are actually quite literal.

    Kathy – Flash floods are definitely something you have to remain aware of when traveling and camping in canyon country – whether in the southwest or out in the coastal regions. The flow rates and water levels on seemingly insignificant or almost non-existent streams can rise so quickly. When camping anywhere near a river, I always take a good look around to see if I can figure out where the “high water line” is – from the last time there was a flash flood. I also look for such things as parts of trees or wood and other debris lodged in bushes, bridges, etc… in the area. Sometimes, you’ll find such debris stuck in the underside of a bridge about 20 or 30 feet above the present water level. Scary. Best to remain aware, especially if there are heavy rains in the forecast. Same things apply to going hiking down narrow canyons and slot canyons. A rainstorm that happens 30 miles away could flood a steep, narrow canyon downstream later that day. Just things to keep in mind when traveling in unfamiliar territory.

    Cicero – Glad that you found your way here again. Yes, the red rock country of the Utah is incredibly beautiful.

    bev wigney

    1 Mar 11 at 11:31 am

  5. Amazing natural sculpture, Bev, and gorgeous photos too……..


    1 Mar 11 at 3:58 pm

  6. I had forgotten how the formations line up on the horizon I suspect my wife would also be overwhelmed after a full day there. I really want to go back. We were traveling in the general vicinity* last fall but we just didn’t have time to make it.

    * “General vicinity” meaning about 300 miles, which is not so much after you have driven more than a thousand already.


    1 Mar 11 at 10:56 pm

  7. Bev, These pictures are breath-takiing. Gorgeous!


    3 Mar 11 at 9:05 pm

  8. Cate – Yes, it’s very sculptural. Incredible, really.

    Mark – I hope you do get to visit the Moab region. Arches is pretty amazing, but so are some of the other places I will be posting about pretty soon. Funny, but when I’m traveling, I have to keep telling myself that 300 miles *not* so close that I can take this or that in too. When you travel across a continent, it is easy to make excuses to do all kinds of side trips!

    Cathy – Quite a place, isn’t it? (-:

    bev wigney

    4 Mar 11 at 9:38 am

  9. Bev Your photos are wonderful. I traveled through this area as a child and remember the colours vividly. I have been reading your earlier posts on both your blogs and the story of your journay has certainly given me cause for reflection. I also love the beautiful shots of insects you have. I want to wish you well on your travels. With your permission I would like to link to your blog.

    All the best.



    6 Mar 11 at 9:52 pm

  10. Astonishing to realize that spring is almost here again. Must be even more apparent in Bisbee. You’ve been in my thoughts ever since I first read this post a little while ago. As with other of your posts recently, I have returned a number of times before being able to make a comment. The song about the lighthouse and the ocean speaks of my experience, too, as you can imagine.

    The rock formations made me think of what Ursula Le Guin wrote in Always Coming Home:

    “It was a rock person, not man or woman, not human, but in shape like a heavy human being, with the blue, blue-green, and black colors and the surfaces of serpentine rock in its skin. It had no hair, and its eyes were lidless and without transparency, seeing very slowly. Serpentine looked at me very slowly with those rock eyes.”

    It’s been foggy here in the mornings. Much as I love fog (and many of my happiest days have been foggy), it is sweet to see the clear sky in the American Southwest.

    Kind wishes always,


    7 Mar 11 at 10:01 am

  11. Guy – Thank you for the kind comments about my photos. I can well imagine how you would remember the area around Moab even if it has been years since you have been there. Sure, if you would like to link to my blog, please feel free to do so!

    am – I thought that the Lighthouse in the desert song might strike a familiar chord for you too. Yes. The passage by Ursula Le Guin does seem to go with these formations, doesn’t it? During my travels, I’ve encountered many formations that seem to have an essence – a spirit – associated with them. After a winter here in the southwest, I must say I’m looking forward to a bit of foggy east coast weather, or perhaps the towering banks of clouds seen in Ontario. Still, it has been very good to be here in the clear skies and sunshine of the desert. It seems to be the best place for me in winter.

    bev wigney

    7 Mar 11 at 2:05 pm

  12. Hi there! It’s me, Chris in Wyoming.
    I am so glad I found your blog and you. I have not read and caught up with what you are doing and where you are…I will. But, wanted to see how you are and send you a hug.
    If you ever wander through Wyoming, stop in!
    Chris in Wyoming


    11 Mar 11 at 5:01 pm

  13. Love these rocks, Bev, and some them look almost human. Much as I love Lanark, I long for great big skies like the ones in your photos.


    22 Mar 11 at 1:58 pm

  14. Hi Bev!

    I’ve just been blown away by your images and descriptions of Arches. I can see how those fantastic configurations of rock could turn themselves into dragons, howling wolves and goodness knows what else, and you can imagine what a thing that would be for me, given the subject matter I paint. Interesting too how you describe the overwhelming aspect of being in the location, and the sudden need to get out of it. I once spent a week staying in a cottage next to the site of an ancient settlement in Cornwall, so entranced was I by the shapes the foundations of the dwellings made in the landscape. I fear that were I ever to visit Arches someone would have to drag me away from there, or I might want to stay forever. Plenty enough drawing in that mysterious landscape to keep an artist happy throughout eternity!

  15. Chris – Good to hear from you. I had been thinking of going home via Wyoming, but the weather has been so crazy up north and west, that I’ve decided to take the shorter diagonal route across the southwest and midwest. Hopefully, that will keep us clear of the snow and cold! Take care.

    Cate – I love these rocks too. I feel so drawn to the big skies of the west. Such a contrast from most of the places I have ever lived.

    Clive – I have a feeling that you would be quite happy among the rock formations of the southwest. The red rock country of the southwest is such a rich environment for artists and those who love nature. The light is so different there too. That’s something that is very difficult to describe, but light and dark – shadows – are so clean and precise. Well, I believe you would just have to come here to find our for yourself! (-:

    bev wigney

    27 Mar 11 at 10:09 am

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