Into the Desert: Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

Canyonland HRT--2On May 17, we left Salt Lake City and headed for the desert. Where we had started out in Yellowstone the day before, in my 1st snow storm ever, we ended the next day in tank tops and flip flops surrounded by the most stunning vistas I’ve seen in the US.  As we drove through Utah, the red rocks and expanses of desert became more prominent.

Canyonland HRT-4768We stayed in Moab, UT for 2 nights to celebrate our Ojibwe wedding anniversary (if you can’t tell, we have about 10 anniversaries…) and my birthday. We had heard that the area was touristy due to it being the only “town” in close proximity to Arches National Park, and that Arches was notoriously clogged with people. Having come from a mix of cabin isolation and crazy tourist vying for wildlife photos, we were a little apprehensive. While Moab is nothing to write home about – other than its ridiculously over-priced hotels and that everything closes at 8:30pm sharp – the surrounding lands were breath-taking.

I actually had issues processing my photos from this area as I loved too many of them – the colours and landscapes were just so different from what I see on an every-day basis. Granted, I live where people vacation, but I miss mountains… tremendously. Seeing deserts and mountains to me must be what people seeing the ocean for the first time feel. I always feel small… that the great expanse of the earth is put into perspective and while it may make some feel insignificant, I always feel more grounded and connected to the rest of the world in those moments.

Canyonland HRT-4497
Dead Horse Point State Park

On my birthday Hasha said we could do anything I wanted, so I immediately said “Hiking!” This always makes him nervous as the first time this conversation played out, he ended up hiking 12 miles in the El Yunque Rainforest in Puerto Rico – I just kept telling him the top was around the next corner – I think it broke him. But being the good sport he is, we planned to do both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

Guess who’s more excited….

The most famous arch in Arches NP is Delicate Arch and a pretty good hike in to see it. We saw a cool snake, some petroglyphs, and an old homestead cabin when we fist started out the hike. I had hoped that with the distance to see it, it would deter some people…. unfortunately not. About half way out to the arch, and up a good incline, Hasha had to take a little break, and by little I mean full-on hands on knees bent over with old ladies passing us by – hilarious! When we finally made it out to Delicate Arch there was a line. I don’t know what I expected, but a line to see a rock (albeit a badass rock) was mind-blowing. We also had to time our photos because people were climbing the arch and standing under it for selfies (again with the damn selfies…), unless we wanted hordes of people and another line in all the photos. I’m always conflicted in situations like this. I want to see this rock, so does everyone else, but I also want to experience that rock (or vista or animal) with as few people around as possible. I think everyone feels this at least a little bit, but being respectful in these instances is what changes the situation. Everyone standing to one side was trying to get the most naturalistic photo they could (e.g., no people in it), and everyone under the arch was trying to get the best Instagram photo. I could go on a full blown rant here, but it’s all been said before.

After both concluding that yup, it was a big, pretty rock, we hiked out and headed to Canyonlands National Park. A friend had just been here 2 weeks before so thankfully told us to spend more time in the lesser known NP. There was no amount of time that would have satisfied me there! Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point State Park, abutting each other, were gorgeous – less people, amazing geography, I want to go back right now.

Through Mesa arch
Canyonland HRT-4737
At least the tourists made for a good photo

Canyonlands is famous for its Mesa Arch, which is supposedly the most photographed arch in the US. We’d read the best time to see it was during sunrise, as the sun peaks through the arch and makes it stupefyingly beautiful. But knowing our hatred of early mornings and not having the fortitude to deal with stupid people, we though the late afternoon would be a better time to go. But stupid people are everywhere… And thanks to one couple who just sat on top of the arch 98% of the time we were there, I definitely didn’t get to take the photos I had planned in my head. It was still stunning and I will go back in a heartbeat, but it’s disappointing when general courteousness and respect are so blatantly nonexistent. And realizing how crotchety I sound now, I wasn’t the only one – the other 2 tourists loudly grumbled (hoping for the others to hear?) the whole time we were there.

I have to laugh because whenever people ask Hasha and I about this part of our trip, I always say how spectacular it was and how I want to explore more, while Hasha’s response is, “rocks… lots of rocks.. meh…” Thank goodness my husband puts up with my love of rocks.

Canyonland HRT-4525More photos from our trip can be found here.

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