Archive for February, 2011
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.
After jumping forward to write about the CSP Mystery Ball here in Bisbee, I’m picking up the trail after my previous post about Lowry Pueblo. After leaving the ruins and crossing back into Utah from Colorado, I approached Monticello from the east, only to find snow falling on the high country just to the west. Any plans I’d had for camping up in that area were abandoned. Checking out the sky in each direction, I decided that it looked better up north toward Moab, so turned the van and headed that way.
I’m quite accustomed to encounters with odd rock formations in the southwest, but the sight of Church Rock practically brought me to an abrupt stop (see above – click on all images for larger views). Fortunately, there are turnout lanes in each direction as this is one of those places where just about everyone feels compelled to stop and snap a photo. Knowing nothing about the history of the rock, I later learned that the hole at the base is alleged to be the work of a group of followers of Marie Ogden who had led them to Utah to form a utopian religious colony north of Monticello.
A few days later, while driving along a nearby road, I photographed a cabin (see above) which was posted with a sign Marie’s Place, or something to that effect. Thinking it must have been some kind of abandoned B&B, I gave it no more thought until looking for information on Church Rock. There’s actually quite a history to Marie Ogden and her group. If curious, you can read more about Marie and the Home of Truth colony here and here.
This signboard with a map of the Moab area should help to orient some of the places which I visited and camped. Arriving in Moab, I dropped by at the visitor center to ask about camping in the area. Originally, I had hoped to stay at the Devil’s Garden campground which is situated within Arches National Park, but the person on duty said that there was probably no chance of getting a site there as it is always full. From other posts on this blog, I’m sure it’s become apparent that I avoid any place where there are more than a handful of people – the less the better – so camping at Arches was completely out. I asked about other possibilities and was handed a page with a list of other sites in the region – most being small BLM sites along the Colorado River. With the list as a guide, I drove us out of town to explore upriver.
The first site I came upon (Goose Island), was about half filled, mainly with large RVs, so I kept going, on past a couple of smaller tent and camper sites until I reached Big Bend. It looked pretty ideal – there appeared to be no one there other than the camp host. I chose a site off on its own along the river. It was about 3 p.m., so the tall canyon walls were casting long shadows over most of the campground. I got to work setting up camp as I knew that the light would soon be lost. Our campsite was terrific. In one direction, there was a high formation with castle like columns (see above). Just below us flowed the Colorado River, the river banks illuminated by the last rays of sunlight on golden willow leaves (see below). All around us, birds darted through the bushes, stopping to sing a few phrases before moving on. No doubt, at a warmer time in the season, these river campgrounds must be crowded, but at this time of the year, they are all but abandoned. Perfect.
After a short walk with the dogs, I began making our dinner. Sage found herself a perch on one of the large rocks near the picnic table. The dogs and I had such a pleasant evening, sitting eating our dinners, listening to the rushing of the river over a set of gentle rapids. I thought of how lucky we were to have chosen this place rather than ending up in a busy campground. So many times in my travels, I’ve passed by busy spots, thinking that if I just drive a little further on, maybe we’ll find a quiet place. Fortunately, this has almost always proven to be the case.
We had a quiet night and rose early, ready to set out for a day of touring through Arches National Park which actually lies just above where we had camped, but is accessed by driving back downriver toward Moab and then on north up Rte 191. I’ll be writing a post about Arches, so keep watch for that in the next day or two. However, I’ll end this post with a couple of photos taken along the Colorado River canyon.
The sandstone walls of the canyons are a deep red, often streaked with dark desert varnish. Here and there along the roadway, there are hiking trails going up through steep side canyons. I did not do any exploring on this trip as I would have had to leave Sabrina in the van. In many places, there are the beginnings of arches cut into the canyon walls. They will gradually change, eventually wearing away to create the kinds of arches that will be seen in my next post.