Southwest wilderness adventures 2016 — part 3

Tuesday 4/12:  We had a hearty breakfast at the Love Muffin, and picked up Alice for a day of hiking. She guided us to Canyonlands National Park’s Island In The Sky unit, southhwest of Moab. It’s named for its high, isolated plateau whose layered cliffs frame the deep Colorado River valley.

We strolled around the visitor center and found an area filled with cairns. “A cairn garden,” Alice growled, kicking several of them down and throwing the stones aside. In the southwest, where much of the terrain is solid stone, rangers make cairns to mark hiking routes that might otherwise be invisible; to avoid confusion, “volunteer” cairns are forbidden. All the picnic tables in ramadas next to the parking lot were full. So Alice led us to a convenient rock on the edge of Shafer Canyon for a picnic with a view.

Lathrop Canyon

Lathrop Canyon field

Lathrop Canyon trail; Canyonlands Nat’l Park, UT

Afterward we drove south to the Lathrop Canyon trailhead. This trail is classified as strenuous; but, if you turn back at the rim of the canyon, it’s an easy five-mile hike to great views. We followed a narrow, dusty trail that cut across a prairie for a mile or more, passing low clumps of furry purple locoweed. The trail emerged onto a sandstone platform. From here the way was mostly solid stone, with cairns marking the recommended route but no obstacles to wandering. We found a line of small domes of pale Navajo sandstone. Beyond these were larger and larger domes. Each row of domes was lower than the last, tempting us further into the canyon. Juniper and blackbush grew wherever they could; bright orange Indian paintbrush punctuated crevices. Twice we decided to turn back, but changed our minds because the next level down looked so interesting.

Afterward, Pat and Alice made a short hike to Mesa Arch, a long, low arch that stands on a cliff edge. They were inspired to get up early the next day and photograph the sunrise thru the arch.

Mesa Arch

Wednesday 4/13:  I decided not to make the photography pilgrimage to Mesa Arch. Here is Pat’s account:

Alice and I agreed to meet at 5 AM so we would have enough time to drive to the Mesa Arch parking lot, walk out to the Arch and set up our tripods and cameras. Alice warned me that there would be a crowd, and she was right.

Mesa arch sunrise

Sunrise at Mesa Arch.  Photo by Patricia de Anguera.

We arrived just as the moon was giving up the light to the little bit of sunlight that came from the depths of the horizon. With a flashlight, we were able to hike out to the Arch without falling on our heads. Upon arrival we saw a lineup of almost a dozen photographers in front of the arch. One of them was firmly planted on the edge of the cliff next to a bush in the middle of the arch. He had announced earlier that he had arrived at 4 am and, therefore, deserved to be where he was, by golly! There was no way to get a full photo of the arch without someone being in the photo. Alice and I set up nearby; we had a clear view of part of the arch, and of the Washerwoman rock formation in the distance through the arch.

As the sun rose, more and more people showed up. Because we were kind of off to the side without a guard of people surrounding us, the new arrivals would slide in and out of our view. After taking some photos, we moved back and allowed others to come in and enjoy the amazing view of sunrise through Mesa Arch.  I started taking photos of the photographers with the sun shining through the arch behind them.  It was a lot of fun.

On our drive back we stopped to look over the ledge near a pullout on our road. We had a grand view of Schafer road zigzagging down the cliff wall to the valley about 2000 feet below.

A great morning, followed by breakfast at the Jailhouse Cafe with Paul, the morning guy who opted out.

Tower Arch

After laundry and naps, Pat and I drove an eight-mile dirt road to the Tower Arch trailhead in the remote northwest part of Arches National Park. The road was very good (road graders were working on it at the time); signs warned that it was impassable when wet. The trail crossed two ridges; the first was a rocky scramble, guided by cairns. The second was a slog thru deep sand, again depending on cairns. Happily, we didn’t see any volunteer cairns. Sand filled my shoes. Gusts of wind raised dust that got in my nose and gritted between my teeth. But the beautiful chess-piece-like sandstone formations rewarded us for our trouble.

Tower Arch

Tower Arch

Beyond the second ridge we found Tower Arch. It’s crowned with a stone pillar, like the handle of an upside-down magnifying glass; thus the name. We scrambled into a shallow basin underneath it. We had the place to ourselves for twenty minutes before another couple showed up. I greeted them. “We’d heard voices, but we didn’t see anybody,” the man said. “I thought for a minute that the tower was talking.”

“Buy Microsoft,” I intoned.

“Honey, we’re going home now!”

Negro Bill Canyon

Thursday 4/14:  A windstorm was predicted for this afternoon. Jenn, fairly recovered from flu, left early in the day for a business meeting in Salt Lake City. We picked up Alice and drove to Negro Bill Canyon, east of Arches National Park. Our plan was to go on a short morning hike, shop for lunch food and then wait out the storm at Alice’s house. When Alice realized that her silly parents planned to hike without lunches, she’d packed all the snack food she had. She fed us and kept us going.

Pat and Alice, Negro Bill Canyon, east UT.

Pat and Alice at Negro Bill Canyon.

Negro Bill Canyon was a rugged oasis, lush with trees and wildflowers. The green of the foliage seemed more intense than what we see in Seattle, perhaps because of its contrast with the orange-red cliffs, or just because it was spring. The canyon is named for mixed-race pioneer William Granstaff.

The trail alternated between sandy stretches, rocks to clamber over, and stream crossings scantily furnished with stepping-stones thrown in by other hikers. We met many people on the trail, from joggers and dog-walkers to campers with full backpacks. Everyone was very friendly. I helped an old lady down from a rock. Several groups of 20 or so young people tramped past; two of these groups were school outings, and a third was the employees of a home automation and security company. While we were resting by the stream, two kids and their mother waded past us. Alice identified Fremont’s mahonia and pepper grass. She said the lovely descending birdsong we heard from time to time was a canyon wren.

Morning Glory Arch

Paul at Morning Glory Arch.   Photo by Alice de Anguera.

We entered a side canyon; the trail became a fun obstacle course of high ledges, wobbly stepping-stones and tight squeezes. When we reached Morning Glory Arch I saw that it was huge and nearly impossible to photograph. It sheltered a pleasant sandy alcove which I later read was infested with poison ivy. Here the stream emerged from a hole in the rock wall. We ate Alice’s food (and Pat had some nuts) while sitting on a block of stone and watching kids and dogs wade in the stream. After half an hour, gusts of wind flung sand in our eyes, so we beat a hasty retreat. I thought we’d been caught early by the storm we were expecting. But the wind lessened as we descended the canyon, and we had a leisurely return hike.

We came back to town, shopped and hunkered down at Alice’s house; but we saw no more of the storm. I helped Alice research cars; we made spaghetti for dinner; and Pat baked muffins. Dessert was fresh raspberries with ice cream and chocolate sauce.

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