Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Arches National Park: Park Avenue

"In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you." -Leo Tolstoy

^ In a few concentrated hours, we'd hit a solid handful of highlights at Arches National Park.

snuck a long-distance peek at Delicate Arch,

and as the afternoon was winding down, we figured we might just have time for one more adventure. 

^ So from our vantage point at the far end of the park drive, we retraced our tracks back toward the entrance, and headed ourselves to Park Avenue

^ This area is the first place that most newcomers stop, but experienced visitors like us know that the best time to visit this area is in late afternoon when the sun shines low and hits these rocks with full force, exploding them into shades of fiery red. 

For the record, despite my previous visit to the park, I'd completely forgotten about this phenomenon. My husband remembered. His brain is stuffed full of interesting factoids like this one and his steel trap of a memory often comes in quite handy.

^ He remembered something else quite interesting and useful. There's a one-mile hiking trail that winds down in the canyon between these two rock walls, a route that can be traveled in either direction but the savvy hiker starts uphill and winds down the canyon, rather than vice versa. 

And while the trail can also be hiked as a round trip, it's a nice twist to have one member of the party drop the hikers off at the top of the trail, then drive down to the lower trailhead to pick them up. 

^ And that, we all agreed, sounded like a nice do-able ending to our day of mini-hikes around the park. 

^ Except when we got to the starting point, and looked down, down, down that steep grade into the canyon, I won't lie. I got some seriously cold feet. 

I felt bad for ditching my husband at the car for hours while my daughters and I hiked. 

And sadly, I felt worst of all about leaving my confused but ever cheerful dog behind yet again. She really had been quite a good girl under trying circumstances.

^ As my daughters and I stood at the top lookout, gazing at the rock walls towering over both sides of the canyon with the hot sun beating down on our heads, I kept my thoughts to myself. A hiking party-pooper I am not. So I waited to see what they would say.

I didn't have to wait long. 

With a very few moments of discussion, we all agreed that maybe we should skip the hike, enjoy the view, and leave while it was still a party. 

^ Feeling relieved but a tiny bit guilty for opting out of a gorgeous hike, I walked back to the car where my husband was waiting yet again with the dog, and told him our thinking. 

 He agreed. And as for my regret about missing out on the Park Avenue hike, he suggested, "We'll just remember to hike here the next time we come."

I'll trust him to file that information safely away in his capacious memory

And I'm pretty sure he was secretly relieved to be done with our hikes for the day.

^ Which was nothing compared to the joy this girl expressed when she saw us all back together again.

 Although we were all satisfied to be done hiking among the arches for the day, we still had one more stop ahead of us..

And that is where we headed next.

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Road Trip 2019: read all about it.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Arches National Park: Devil's Garden Trail

"A walk in nature walks the soul back home." -Mary Davis

^ By mid-afternoon, with the worst of the desert heat behind us, my daughters and I are ready for a new hiking challenge. Due to the still-steamy temperatures and my busted arm, we decide to take the relatively challenging hike out to Delicate Arch off the table. Disappointed though I am to be denied my return voyage to that iconic formation, I take great relief in knowing that my grit and busted shoulder will not be challenged to that extreme.

Instead, we burst out of the starting gates on the 1.6 mile Devil's Garden Trail and head first in the direction of Landscape Arch.

^ Friendly faces greet us along the way.

^ Clouds sail by overhead, and the relief they provide is palpable. Since I overheat readily - my body just doesn't sweat much and the heat builds up inside me - I use my tried-and-true damp bandanna around the neck trick to keep myself cool. Works like a charm. 

^ When hiking, it's easy and tempting to get so wrapped up in arriving at the destination that we miss the glories along the way. That's why I 'm a huge fan of pausing every few minutes along the trail to simply look up and take in the surroundings. Plus water breaks. 

 ^ A firm footed trail and lowing red rocks for dayz.

 ^ And more friendly faces.

^ Eventually, the trail climbs ever so slightly and the vistas open up. 

 ^ And then, suddenly, right in front of us, there she is.

^ The largest arch on the planet. 

^ She's a slender slip of a thing, and became even more so in 1991, when a symphony of cracking rock led to a major rock fall. Though some interpret this to mean that Delicate Arch is nearing the end of its life and will soon be reduced to a pile of red rubble, others contend that the new, slimmed down version of the arch is more stable than ever and likely to strand strong for centuries to come. 

^ Only time will tell. 

^ Bye, arch. I hope I will see you again in my lifetime. But if not, say hi to my great-great-grandchildren.

^ Okay, back we go, retracing our steps along the trail, which always makes a return trip feel delightfully shorter than the trip out. 

 ^  When we're about a quarter-mile from the trail head, we take a hard left onto a spur trail to visit two more arches. 

^ Down a steep hill, a quick turn right, and we soon see the signs announcing that we have reached another viewing area. But where is the arch?

As we approach, Tunnel Arch shyly reveals her position and dramatically demonstrates her name. 

 ^ With each step, the opening in the rock becomes clearer and wider.

 ^ Until the trail dead-ends in a small, fenced viewing area and our sights are set clear down the barrel of the arch. A most satisfying sensation.

^ Again, we reverse engines, head back to the bottom of that hill, and go left this time.  

 ^ Vistas near and far keep us entertained as we close in on our final target, Pine Tree Arch.

^ Oh, there she is. A clever little grounded arch, resting her toes in the soft red sand, with a scruffy junior pine growing right there in her midst. Unlike Delicate and Tunnel Arches, this one is close and personal. Signs caution hikers to stay out from the area underneath the arch, and we try to obey, we really do. But the gentle approach beckons us, and we tiptoe closer to see what it's like to stand in the sand underneath this arch. 

Spoilers: It's amazing. 

^ And now with our hike among the Devil's Garden complete, we turn our satisfied souls back to the car. With any luck, there's time for one more adventure among the arches. 

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Road Trip 2019: read all about it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Arches National Park: Double Arch

"Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which 
difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish." -John Quincy Adams

After our successful if slightly bloody visit to Balanced Rock, we headed over to the Windows area of Arches National Park to see what might happen next. 

A few miles off the main drag, the road ends in a loop around a big parking area, allowing for easy access to short trails out to the arches. The lots were jammed full, with some cars parked helter skelter along the shoulders and others circling around like hawks waiting to pounce upon an open space 

This is a scenario for which we are well positioned. Since dogs are not allowed on the trails at national parks, our family has developed a divide and conquer strategy. Half of us hike off while the others sit with the dog around the open hatchback of the car, and while away the time by rummaging through the picnic hamper. By the time that group has finished lunch, the hikers are back, ravenous and ready to eat, while the first group bids the dog a fond farewell and heads off on the very same hike.

Further simplifying our plans for the day was that it was hot, and my husband was more than happy to forgo the hike altogether and hang out with Gracie at the car. He was also willing to circle the parking lots while we strode off, promising to flag us down from whatever spot he found when he saw us return from the hike. 

With an easy half-dozen arches to choose from, my daughters chose Double Arch, and we prompltly set off down the smooth and level half-mile round-trip trail. 

^ Folks streamed back and forth along the way, all of us cheerful and smiling in the sunshine and swept away by the remarkable beauty of our surroundings. 

^ But my party mood swiftly deflated when we reached the end of the proper trail. Up through the scree the path vaguely continued, and many routes emerged - you could scramble across this mass of solid rock, slide along the veins of gravel, or wedge your way through those massive boulders - to continue on under the arches and up the rock incline between them.

Now this all looked like great fun. And on an ordinary day, I would have been game for a bit of this mountain goat adventure. But with my shoulder throbbing, I knew that any frolicking away from level ground would be a foolish frolic indeed, and I should absolutely stay safe by staying put.

And  I began to feel rather sorry for myself.

^ So there I stood in the sunshine, feeling quite old and used up, as I watched the youngsters and middle-aged-sters having their fun, until I noticed someone interesting.

He was not a particularly young man. Probably in his fifties. He was alone. And from the looks of it, he knew what he was doing - his backpack, water bottle, weatherproof clothing, and trekking poles gave the impression of someone who hiked on the regular. 

And he walked with a significant disability. 

I can't begin to diagnose what exactly was wrong but one foot seemed to twist and drag along the ground with each step. His pace was irregular and labored; he was working hard just to move across the level path. But even when he hit the rocky terrain under the Double Arch, he just kept on moving. Like a desert-dwelling Energizer Bunny, he somehow found a way to clamber up and over the rocks, traveling in a modest circuit through the loose gravel and tumbled boulders, inside the place between the arches. . 

In watching his progress, I was transformed. Leaving my self-pity to wither and die in the hot desert sun, I wrapped my left arm tight against my chest to hold my aching shoulder in place, and then I hiked not all the way up to the farthest arch, but just far enough up so that I was inside the plane of the closer arch. Mission accomplished.

As I leaned against a big red boulder, waiting for my daughters to return and climb down with me, I reminded myself once again that age really is nothing but a number. Certainly our bodies may fail us from time to time, but that does not mean that we give up. We keep stepping out, one foot in front of the other, and reach out to take hold of all the excitement and adventure that life has to offer. We may have to slow our pace now and then but we never stop moving. 

And that, I realized as I stood back in the shade of our car, munching on a well-earned handful of grapes, I will always remember as the Lesson of Double Arch, taught to me by perhaps the best hiker I have ever seen. 

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Road Trip 2019: read all about it.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Arches National Park: Balanced Rock

The sun had climbed to the top of the sky as we rolled into Arches National Park.

Last time I visited Arches was during my honeymoon, when the park was a little known and rarely visited gem tucked in the south east corner of Utah. 

And the first time my husband visited Arches, he wore the baseball cap from his Little League team as his family toured the freshly laid asphalt roads in what was then technically only a monument. AS he recalls, they were almost the only car in the park. 

Oh, times have changed for this now-wildly popular piece of paradise. 

We idled for an easy ten minutes in line at the backed-up park entrance, then, in a long line of traffic, trundled up the steep set of switchbacks that lead up to the mesa where most of the park and all of the fantastic rock formations lie. 

^ The first feature to fall in our path is the sublime and elegant Balanced Rock. Once glance explains the name and despite my aching shoulder, I was ready and raring to take the bitty little one-third mile loop trail around the rock on its pedestal.

But first, lunch.

^ Just across the road from Balanced Rock, we found a darling picnic area with a few tables picturesquely tucked in among a stand of juniper trees. Despite the hoards over at the Balanced Rock, the picnic area was mostly deserted. Gracie and I scoped out the options and chose the table squeezed in under the gnarliest old fellow whose branches sprawled over the table. In our tiny spot of shade, we munched on our usual banquet of hummus, pitas, grapes, and chocolate. 

But somehow in my feasting I forgot all about the tree. And when I stood up, BAM. I bashed my head against a sharp, pointy bit of branch hovering just above my head.  Raising a hand to touch the sore spot, my hand came away covered in blood. 

Strangely, my first thought was that the first aid kit in our car was fully stocked with cotton cloths for staunching just this kind of wound, and I was chuffed to be prepared for my emergency. 

I'm happy to report that, with firm pressure and only a moderate sprinkling of cuss words, I got the bleeding under control. After a deep drink of cool water, the pain had subsided to a mild throbbing on my noggin and I was ready to carry on with our adventure. 

^ Each step around the rock brought a fresh perspective and different set of angles to Balanced Rock. Battered and bloodied though I was, I found myself completely caught up in the magic of this fantastic formation. I even managed to frame my photos so that the dozens of other visitors on the trail did not show up in my frame. 

Our day at Arches National Park was off to a rollicking good start. 

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Road Trip 2019: read all about it.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Riding To Rifle

"Every time I'm on the mountain, I'm just so happy to be there." -Chloe Kim

And so it was with a heavy heart and a bittersweet lump in my throat that after our week-long visit, we said goodbye to my second-born, Ohio-dwelling daughter, turned the car west, and stepped on the gas.

Well. Figuratively speaking. Because my shoulder injury kept me out of the driver's seat for the entirety of the return trip so my foot never even got close to the accelerator. 

But off we went, just the same, stopping on the evening of the first day in Olathe, Kansas, for a pop-in with my nephew. We chatted over heaping plates of Kansas City BBQ and ate ourselves silly. Restaurant Q39 serves up a mean plate of beef brisket and is definitely worthy of a return trip, though next time I will eat a full order of nothing but burnt ends. Pure heaven.

"Damn Good" tacos, and a not-too-shabby interior to boot. 

^ In the morning, we were off once again, crossing the plains and climbing into the Denver suburbs for an early dinner at Torchy's Tacos. Taking a meal at this on-trend taco chain out of Austin came as a request from my fourth-born, and the rust of us were happy to oblige.

I don't really even remember what my tacos looked like but I'm pretty sure this was one of my daughters'. My mind was a total blur. 

^ Much like our family favorite, Condado Tacos, in Columbus, Torchy's has an A-list of wacky taco combos that they have dreamed up and named, presumably, during a wild peyote binge. Alternatively, you can order your own combos off a list of ingredients but where's the fun in that? I chose the Trailer Trash and I "got it trashy," and the Brushfire which literally seared my sinuses. Okay, not literally, but what I'm saying is that sucker was hot. But still, nothing that a few sips of Coke and a liter of cold water couldn't cure, so I have no regrets.

These two views were just a few steps apart. If I lived on the same block as Torchy's, I would eat a ridiculous number of tacos.  

^ This particular Torchy's shop was tucked into a brand spanking new Millennial-esque community east of the city. Townhouses and apartments circled around a central green area overflowing with cuteness. Huge flower beds burst with native displays, wandering sidewalks were just right for entertaining a wound-up Irish Setter who'd spent the day in the car, oodles of benches and tables invited us in for a meal, and my favorite - a splash pad slash water feature that turned a hot Denver evening into a water party. A perfect oasis for the weary traveler and hungry taco enthusiast. .

Our tacos were soon eaten but our travels for the day were not over yet. We caught the tail end of rush hour as we climbed west into the mountains, doffing our caps to Red Rocks Park and grinding up into the Rockies. 

^ Passing under the Continental Divide, the Eisenhower Tunnel is long, high, and steep as a mother bear. 

Now I'm no stranger to punishing mountain grades. I haul myself back and forth across the rigorous Seattle area passes on a regular basis, including the notoriously dangerous climb up to Stevens Pass that I've done literally hundreds of times in the name of good skiing. And on our annual road trips across Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming or south to Oregon and California, we push ourselves up and down extreme grades several times a day. I am not easily fazed by a mountain in my path. 

But following Interstate 70 west out of Denver is always a wild ride. The inclines are steep, the curves unforgiving, and the traffic, whipping back and forth across multiple lanes, is chaotic. Given my nerves of steel, I typically drive this section of our travels, but this time - due to that bum shoulder of mine - I was forced to sit back and stomp on my invisible brake pedal as my fourth-born held the actual wheel in her competent hands. I quickly decided that it was in everyone's best interests for me to focus on the scenery instead. 

^ And so passed several beautiful hours as we rode through the Rockies and down into Rifle where we stopped to sleep for the night. 

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Road Trip 2019: read all about it.