Laura and Lee and Walt and Barb's
Red Rock Reconnaissance

April 26-May 5, 2003

10 days, 1992 miles

Part 1

On New Year's Eve 2002, the four of us were sitting around planning our trips for 2003 - skiing, hiking, and a trip to Virginia in October. Out of the blue Walt(!) suggested a trip to Utah's red rock country. I'd visited some of it on a family vacation when I was 8 years old, so it had been a while (how's *that* for understatement?), but the other three had never been there. We pulled out a map and mapped out a sketchy trip, and I later went to the AAA website and had them send me additional maps and trip info. A few weeks later Barb and I sat down and worked out more of the details of where we planned to be on what nights, and in March she did a lot of research and selected and made reservations at bed and breakfast places. We made some tentative plans for hikes and activities that we wanted to do, but we knew a lot of it would just have to wait until we got there and could talk to rangers and our B&B hosts.

The four of us traveled in our Nissan Xterra. Before the trip Lee completely redid the stereo system and installed an MP3 player and XM radio. And he also got a GPS - though Barb and I navigated with the map. :-) We all got new Camelbak day packs for the trip since we knew we'd be hiking in areas with little (if any) water. Those were great - I was very happy with my new pack.

Finally the day arrived, and we were off!

Saturday, April 26 - Drive

San Diego -> Richfield, UT, 623 miles, 9 hrs, 32 min

We left our house about 7:30, made a quick stop at Starbucks to pick up breakfast for everyone, and drove to Walt and Barb's place. We'd all done a good job of packing fairly lightly and Lee could actually see out the rear window! :-) We left their place at 8:18 - not bad at all!

When I had done a similar trip as a mere child of 8 I had been just fascinated by arches, so my goal for this trip was to see an arch every day - and not just the golden ones. :-) On this day the closest we came was a replica of Utah's "Delicate Arch" (we saw the real one later) that was on the miniature golf course at Mulligan's Family Fun Center in Lake Elsinore. (No picture, though.)

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful...driving through the California/Nevada desert is just *boring*. We stopped in Baker (home of the World's Largest Thermometer, though it was only about 75 that day) and had lunch at the Mad Greek Cafe - that was pretty good, and Lee, Barb and Walt really enjoyed the fresh strawberry shakes.

Red Rocks in Utah
Once we got *out* of Nevada and into Arizona at the Virgin River gorge the scenery started to get a lot more interesting - my theory is that Nevada contains a whole lot of nothing, and that as soon as you start to see something interesting you're in a different state! :-) Our trip through the corner of Arizona didn't last long, and soon we were in Utah near St. George. And started to see the first of the *very* red rocks we would be seeing for the next 9 days. Pretty amazing color, and VERY different from what we are used to seeing in California.

We hadn't made any reservations for a place to stay that night - we wanted to see how far we could get, since the further we got, the shorter a drive we'd have to Arches National Park the next day. Arches was the furthest point on our trip, and we were planning to work our way back from there.

We passed by Cedar City and Beaver, and there was some talk of "Moab or Bust" (Arches is located just outside Moab), but we eventually settled on Richfield. Which was 623 miles from Walt and Barb's house, and we took 9 1/2 hours to get there according to the GPS. (And we lost an hour once we got into the Mountain Time Zone.) Our moving average speed was 73.4 mph...I won't tell you what our maximum speed was. ;-) It helped that the speed limit was 75 for a lot of the way - we were on interstates 15 and 70 so the roads were good, and traffic was not heavy at all.

We found a Best Western and checked in - the guy at the counter recommended the "Little Wonder Cafe" just down the street for dinner. (The Utah Lonely Planet guide that Barb had picked up also recommended it - we consulted that every where we went and found its information to be quite accurate and very helpful.) The restaurant was quite good, and very inexpensive! The blueberry cobbler was really yummy. After dinner we wandered up and down Main Street for several blocks - it was Saturday night and the local teenagers were out cruising Main Street in their cars. It was like a scene out of American Graffiti. :-)

Sunday, April 27 - Arches National Park, Moab

Richfield -> Arches -> Moab -> Arches -> Moab, 250 miles

The motel had an ok continental breakfast with some good muffins so we had those for breakfast, and were back on the road by 8:10. It was a beautiful day and we were glad we hadn't driven any further, because the roadside scenery as we drove across the San Rafael reef was beautiful. We stopped at most of the viewpoints - we saw some wild horses down in one of the canyons!

By getting to Richfield the day before, we only had about a 170 mile drive to Arches National Park that day, and we arrived at the entrance at about 11:15. It was Sunday and we were very happy to see a lot of cars/RVs heading *away* from the park. :-) We purchased a National Park Pass for $50.00, which was a great deal for us since we visited so many parks on this trip, and the entrance fees were either $20 or $10. (We'll also be able to use it for our Yosemite trip in June.)

We went to the Visitor Center and talked to a couple of the rangers about things we might enjoy doing. We were able to sign up for a ranger-led hike through the "Fiery Furnace" for the next afternoon. This is an area with no marked trails, and the first time you go in you have to go with a ranger.

We learned about "cryptobiotic crust", which is the reason you are supposed to STAY ON THE TRAIL AT ALL TIMES. The "soil" in much of Utah is sand...and sand has this annoying tendency to just blow away, leaving nothing for plants to grow in. Enter our hero, Cyanobacteria. When it gets some moisture, this bacteria sends out lots of sticky little tendrils (the plant world's version of Spiderman?) that bind the soil together and capture nitrogen from the air, thereby fertilizing the soil and giving other plants both nutrients and stable soil. In time it develops a crust-like consistency (hence the name "cryptobiotic crust"), and it even looks like little sandcastle towers sticking up out of the soil. But it grows very slowly and it is quite fragile - one mis-step into an area of mature cryptobiotic crust can take 250 years to recover!!! In most parks they tell you to "take only pictures and leave only footprints - but here leaving footprints is a bad idea! So you're encouraged to walk on rocks and in sandy washes as much as possible, and to stay on established trails.

Balanced Rock
Balanced Rock
Eventually we headed up the road into the park I mentioned before I'd been to Arches when I was 8 years old, but not since then, and the others had never been there. It's breathtaking...the colors, the formations, and of course the arches. I'm *still* fascinated by arches. :-)

Our first hike was in what's called the "Windows" section. (After a stop at Balanced Rock - as you can see the rock isn't the only thing that's trying to balance. ;-) Oh, and balanced rocks are created because the sandstone in the top layer erodes more slowly than the sandstone in the "pedestal" layer.).

We walked over to Turret Arch, and then North and South Window (we're not sure why they call them "windows" instead of "arches"). Then we took the "primitive trail" that went back around behind the windows - there had been a fair number of people around the front of the windows, but we had the backside to ourselves. Guess the whole "primitive" thing scared people off! It was a beautiful day with blue sky and some puffy clouds, but it was pretty windy - it was actually windy for almost all of our trip. I guess wind is normal in Utah at this time of year. I'd take the wind over summer heat any day, though!

One thing I should mention is the wildflowers - it was spring, and there were a lot of wildflowers in bloom. Most were types that I had not seen before, and I took lots of pictures. Enough that I'm putting together a separate page just of the wildflower pictures. :-)

Double Arch
Laura and Lee sitting in Double Arch
After visiting the windows we walked over to Double Arch. This was pretty cool, because with a little bit of a rock scramble you could climb up into the arch itself. We took lots of pictures. According to Walt's little GPS, which he carried on all our hikes, we did 2.21 miles in 1:50. We had LOTS of picture stops, though...we had quite an overabundance of cameras on this trip. :-) Lee, Walt, and I all had digital cameras but Barb is still using (gasp!) film - she mostly used her Nikon SLR camera with her new 28-300 lens (the rest of us had lens envy!), and she also had a small Olympus point-and-shoot, and a disposable panorama camera. (Barb does wonderful and very creative scrapbooks from our trips, so having photographs to start from is a little easier than printing a digital photo. But we predict that she will be going digital Real Soon Now. :-) )

We drove into Moab and checked in at our Bed and Breakfast - the Tomahawk Inn - we were in the "Waterfall" room and Walt and Barb had the "Murphy" room. Both rooms were nice and very comfortable. We asked Amber, our innkeeper, about a place to eat, since all we'd had since our breakfast muffins was some jerky and dried fruit, and she recommended the Moab Brewery. Which was kind of wasted on us since three of us don't drink beer, but she said the food was very good.

We arrived at the Brewery about 5:00 and were seated immediately. Their beer-battered onion rings were *excellent*, and were served with spicy brown mustard - a great flavor combination. The sandwiches/burgers were huge - even though we were hungry we had a hard time finishing - I actually took half my sandwich back to the room (which had a refrigerator) and ate it for lunch two days later.

Delicate Arch
Arch of the Day
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park
Our plan for the evening was to hike to Delicate Arch, which is the *very* famous one that you see on Utah license plates, and be there for the late afternoon or sunset light. (And Delicate Arch is my "Arch of the Day". :-) ) We got on the trail about 6:30. This was the most crowded place we'd been so far, since a lot of other people had the same idea. :-) The hike was a mile and a half one way according to the GPS, and a little steep in places. According to the trail map it was "strenuous". Yeah right. Maybe to a complete flatland tourist...

When I arrived at the top, there were about 15 other people up there, but rather than looking at the beautiful arch that was right in front of them, they were all looking at something down below, and taking pictures and oohing and ah'ing. I finally was able to get in a position where I could see what they were looking at, which was three bighorn sheep, two of whom were sparring with each other - standing up on their hind legs and butting heads...very cool! Though they were quite a ways away. And I *didn't* have a camera with a 300mm lens. :-)

It was also *extremely* windy up there - I had to take off my hat to keep it from blowing away.

Our timing was very good, because not long after we arrived at the top, the sun went behind the clouds so there *wasn't* going to be any sunset light on the arch. The evening light was beautiful, though, and we could see snow on the La Sal mountains through the arch.

There were still a lot of people hiking up the trail as we were going down...and by the time we got down it was getting dark. I hope they had flashlights. Near the bottom of the trail are some Ute indian petroglyphs and we stopped to see those. (Doesn't this one look like a strange alien creature?)

We headed back to Moab in search of...ICE CREAM!!! But then disaster struck...there was no ice cream in Moab! The first ice cream place we stopped at closed just a few minutes before we got there (the people sitting outside still eating their ice cream only laughed at us as we pulled up), and the second place was OUT OF ICE CREAM!!! How is that possible??? We eventually found an open grocery store and got a pint container of Godiva Dark Belgian Chocolate and ate it back at the Inn, but it just wasn't the same. Sigh.

Part 2
The Utterly Unique, Uproarious, Unruly, and Ultimately Unusual Utah Adventure of Tigger and Stitch
Utah Wildflowers
Back to Laura and Lee's Vacation Page

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Text and photographs copyright © 2003 by Laura Gilbreath. All rights reserved.

Laura Gilbreath
Last updated 5/23/03