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!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

CO & UT - Day Five - Arches National Park

Now that we were in the middle (relatively speaking) of lots of National Parks, we had to begin our next adventures with a biggie - Arches National Park.  It was "only" 90 miles away, and seemed like a good place to start, promising stunning scenery and geology, balanced rocks and some good trekking to put our legs to the test.  So with a 7.30am start after a good breakfast, we were on our way.

Arches Park itself is 76.5k acres, with a geology that represents millions of years of earth's battering from water, ice and wind.  The park contains the world's largest collection of natural stone arches and "windows", as well as numerous fins, bridges, pinnacles and balanced rocks.  There are over 2000 documented arches in the park, ranging from sliver-thin cracks (arches in-the-making), to huge expanses of almost 100m.  

We hit our first piece of luck as we drove in and joined a (relatively short) queue, then happened to pick the booth with no-one manning it, which meant free entry!  (we double-checked, and yep, definitely free).  Having done a bit of research beforehand, we headed straight into the park, following dozens of other cars and RVs, but ignored all the turn-offs for all the scenic views, gradually leaving many of the cars behind, and went straight for the end-point of the park (18 miles away from the entrance!) to the Devil's Garden Trailhead, where we parked in a relatively empty car park (since everyone else was still pootling around at the beginning).  

We chose to walk the Primitive Trail to Double O Arch - a trail described as "difficult" with "narrow ledges, uneven surface hiking and scrambling on slick rock", and about 7.5 miles round.  This one would be a challenge!

The trail started gently enough on packed dirt and sand, surrounded by tall rock "fins", scrub, the odd scrubby cactus, and a nosy raven (common in the area, apparently).  

Rock "Fins"

Pretty soon, we came to our first Arch: Landscape Arch - considered to be one of the longest arches in the world at 290 feet.  As with the rest of the rock formations in the area, it isn't immune to the ongoing effects of erosion, and it has lost significant chunks of rock from its arch over the last 25 years.  As a result, the trail no longer runs beneath it, but winds around and up.

Things got a little more challenging at this point, as we experienced our first hikes on "slickrock" - literally huge slabs of sandstone (which get slippery in the rain), that form part of the trail - we were actually walking on the rock formations - with steep drop-offs and narrow walkways at times.  The scenery from our higher vantage point over other "fins" was amazing. But you had to keep your wits about you - if only to keep an eye out for the cairns (small rock piles) which marked the trail at regular intervals.  

Coming off the slickrock, we hit another dirt trail before very quickly coming to Double O Arch - a 150 foot tall sandstone column with two arches stacked on top of each other.  Due to the time of day, the lighting wasn't great, but we stopped for a brief snack in the shelter of the rocks and managed to snap a few photos.

We continued on the Primitive Trail Loop, heading into a sandy wash at the base of several fin formations, and through a canyon floor before hitting more slickrock and keeping a good eye out for the cairns - without these we'd have lost track of the trail within minutes!

Spot the cairn in the foreground!

There followed a bit of scrambling over and down the slickrock for a time, before we were back on the sand and dirt trail again, with stunning vistas back out across the Park.  

This is my favourite picture from our day's adventure

Our legs were definitely feeling it at this point, so we stopped for another snack break and a breather, before continuing on the remainder of the loop, eventually ending up at the car park again after about 3 hours' walking.  And it was only lunchtime!

A brief drive back the way we came brought us to Sand Dune Arch, which was a short walk through some thigh-busting sand dunes (bare feet recommended) and a narrow canyon between two fins, to a serene arch, almost enclosed on all sides by high rock faces.  Very peaceful (if you ignored all the other people stumbling about in the sand and queuing up for photos).  

From there, we drove a little further to Fiery Furnace viewpoint - at midday, to be honest, it wasn't that striking (relative to all the other things we'd seen that day), but you could imagine if the sun hit it the right way at sunset it would live up to its name.  

Feeling a little more rejuvenated by the break in walking, we decided on our final hike of the day - only 1.5 miles each way (allegedly) - although it was listed as another "difficult" hike... We started with a gentle stroll through the scrub trail and past the remains of an old ranch, built in 1888.  A little further on, we got to see a small rock panel of ancient petroglyphs from the Ute tribes, depicting horses and a bighorn sheep hunt.

From there, we started the looooonng hike upwards.  For such a short distance (1.5 miles) it definitely wasn't an easy stroll (should have known that when the estimated timeframe for the round trip was 2.5 hours...)  The first third of the trail was dirt track and easy to follow, leading to the base of a steep slickrock hill.  No choice but to head upwards and to follow the cairns to keep on track (mind you, there were plenty of other people to follow, too. Randomly, we even met another lady from Bristol!)  It was a steady climb (legs and lungs protesting, and water bottles getting emptier), and pretty exposed to both sun and wind.  And took about an hour, one-way!

Eventually it levelled out a little to base of another rock face which had to be navigated around along narrow(ish) outcrop paths, with a steep drop-off on one side.   And as we rounded a corner, suddenly there it was - Delicate Arch - perched on the edge of a huge slab of slickrock.  Given the strong winds that buffeted us as we tried it enjoy the view, it's amazing that it was still standing!  This Arch is particularly famous, since it features on the Utah license plate.  However, the wind wasn't much fun, so after the obligatory photos we headed back down again to the car.  

By this point, we were pretty much shattered and slightly over-cultured as far as rock formations were concerned, so we took a steady drive back to the exit via a few stop-offs at more rock features and stunning vistas:

Balanced Rock

Parade of Elephants

Parade of Elephants

Right: Tower of Babel and The Organ
Centre Left: Three Gossips

By 5pm, we were pooped, with just enough energy for the long, straight drive home and a well-earned bath!