Monday, February 13, 2017

CO & UT - Day Seven - Canyonlands National Park

Next on our must-do list was Canyonlands.  Another looooong drive down a pretty lonely stretch of road (this Park was much less busy than Arches), until we eventually found the entrance.  This visit would be less about the hiking, and more about the sheer vastness of the place and the magnificent views.

Canyonlands Park preserves an area of land at the heart of the Colorado plateau, where water and gravity have created hundreds of canyons, mesas, fins and arches.  At the centre, the convergence of the Colorado River and the Green River create three very distinct regions - Island in the Sky, The Maze and The Needles.  We were headed to the most accessible area - Island in the Sky (the other two areas are either day-long hikes or only accessible with 4-wheel drives...)

Even just a few steps from the car park at "Grand View Point", we were afforded sweeping views across hundreds of miles of parkland - almost too big to comprehend.  The views reportedly stretch 100 miles into the distance, with sheer sandstone clips towering 1000 feet above the surrounding terrain.

It was another beautiful day, and Hubby was keen to walk the short trail to Upheaval Dome to witness a possible meteor crater.  The trail was well-marked and maintained, with much larger and more obvious cairns than we'd seen in Arches, and steps cut into the rocks in places so we didn't have to scramble too much.

Posher cairns than Arches Park!

Upheaval Dome is actually a very large crater, 1500 feet deep and 5km wide.  Debate continues as to how it was formed - possibly a dome of mineral salts that rose up through the rock strata from ancient oceans over millions of years, possibly subsidence, or possibly (and recent studies support this latest theory), that it was carved by a meteor strike.  Again, it's hard to judge its size from the photos alone, and it was certainly a strange anomaly to find in the middle of so many canyons!

From Upheaval Dome we drove a little further on to the trail for Whale Rock - another easy hike, until you reached the base of a sandstone dome (the whale).  Then it was a steep but short climb / scramble up the bare slickrock onto the whale's back, and then another scramble up a little "nobble" to get a little higher and really appreciate the views back out across the Park.  


Centre: Candlestick Tower

And then it was onto our final hike of the day, to see Mesa Arch.  Another fairly easy, flat-ish trail leading to another cliff-edge arch, again with beautiful views towards the La Sal Mountains in the background.

After all the awe-inspiring sights, hiking and sunshine, and the long drive back to the hotel, it was time for a well-earned steak dinner at Rays Tavern in Green River!

Gerrof me chips!

Friday, January 27, 2017

CO & UT - Day Six - Geysers, 'Glyphs & Ghost Towns

After all the walking through Arches the previous day, our legs needed a bit of a break, so we decided to go on a bit of a look-see round the "local" area.

Stop one was Crystal Geyser - several miles outside of Green River, and slightly off the beaten track (at times we wondered if we were still on the track, but the brief directions proved accurate) (but maybe not recommended in a Toyota Camry).

It was a little desolate looking at times - echoes of wobbly polystyrene Star Trek sets, lunar landscapes and mounds of just-poured concrete.

Eventually, after several miles of gravel track and pot holes, we reached the end of the "road" at Crystal Geyser.  Not exactly the busiest tourist spot - we were the only visitors.

Crystal Geyser is reportedly a rare cold water geyser, getting its power from carbon dioxide.  It erupts every 12-16 hours to a height of around 30 feet (but not whilst we were there, although we could hear it bubbling away beneath the rocks).  We had a good opportunity to explore the beautiful mineral-formed travertine terraces - wrinkled stone, brightly coloured crusts of rock and lingering pools of slightly scummy-looking water, right on the banks of the Green River.  


Having explored to our heart's content, our next stop was Sego Canyon, back along I70 and through the dead-end town of Thompson Springs.  Coming out of the other end of the town, and down yet more gravel tracks, we gradually came to the foot of a canyon, where we would hopefully find some good examples of Native American rock art. 

Utah is named after the indigenous Ute Indian tribe, located in the northern and central parts of the state.  The Ute are one of five distinct American Indian cultures (along with Goshute, Navajo, Paiute and Shoshone), and have inhabited the region since 1300AD, up until the present day.

We saw several panels of petroglyphs on the canyon walls - amazingly still intact and visible, with a little searching in the bright sunlight.  These rock art sites are considered sacred to the Ute and are situated on private land, and most were carefully fenced off.  There was still evidence of newer graffiti though - from 1884!


Continuing through the canyon (over increasingly washed-out tracks), we came to an old cemetery, presumably belonging to the town a little further on, although we couldn't read any of the grave markers.

One mile further brought us to the ghost town of Sego, dominated by the old company store which still partially stands in the centre, surrounded by cabin ruins and signs warning of mineshafts, as well as the rusty remains of an old car and fridge (with memories of Indiana Jones escaping a nuclear blast).

Very peaceful, very remote, and very hot, although the state of the washed out tracks and water-ravaged road was a reminder that the rainy season must take its toll.

Our final stop of the day would be Swasey's Beach (when we eventually found it at the end of a looooong side road, and according to the car mileage, much further than the stated 10 miles...).  We were distracted, though, by the thousands of kamikaze yellow butterflies who seemed to prefer hot tarmac to the roadside wild flowers, and threw themselves at the car with wild abandon in their dozens.  Distressingly, when we stopped, the windscreen and front grille were covered with yellow butterfly dust and wings...

Swasey's Beach is a natural sandy beach formed along a bend in the Green River.  The area has a well-used boat ramp (kayaking is popular), and a camp ground.  But it was just nice to sit on the sand and contemplate the scenery - once again we were the only ones there.  That is, until we spotted a paddle-boarder sat in the shade on the other side of the River, who decided to hop on his board and paddle against the current to a spot on our side, and then ride the fast flow towards the rapids with regular "whoops" of enjoyment.

After watching him for a bit, we decided to head back to the hotel and treat ourselves to a large calorific dinner - obviously to keep our energy levels up for more hikes!