Monday, March 23, 2009

March 21: Salina to Denver, CO via Canyonlands and Arches National Parks

We departed from a little earlier this morning, at around 7 AM, taking I-70 for around 120 miles to Crescent Junction, UT and then heading south towards Moab.  We were unable to book a hotel closer to Moab (which would've been preferred) as there happened to be a 1/2 marathon taking place that weekend; in turn, all rooms were booked within a 70 mile radius.  

I have visited this area a number of times over the years; this was to be my 6th visit to the region.  From the first time, this has been one of my favorite areas of the country, primarily because of its geologically unique features: the largest concentration of natural sandstone arches in the world, canyons, and the convergence of the Colorado and Green rivers.  

Our first stop was Dead Horse Point State Park, so named due to the use of a narrow neck of land as a natural corral by horse thieves in the 19th century.  An unintended consequence, thanks to hot and dry desert conditions and the relative lack of food, was that the horses often died.  The park is currently undergoing significant parking lot construction for the viewpoint at the end of the park's only road and the access fees have been dutifully marked up (presently $10/car).  Regardless, the view at the end is grand - so grand in fact, it was used for the Grand Canyon scenes in the 1991 film Thelma & Louise.  The serpentine Colorado River switches back on itself creating the centerpiece "gooseneck" (the typical term for the relatively narrow plateau of land created by a river's switchback) which rises at least 500 feet from the river bed, which is 2000 feet below the viewpoint.  

From here, we moved south into Canyonlands National Park, which is split into 3 districts: Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze.  Island in the Sky, where the main park entrance is located was our district of choice as the Needles district is only accessible via a 100+ drive from the main park entrance and the Maze is even more challenging, restricted to only 4WD vehicles, bikers, and backcountry hikers geared up for the prospects of no food, little water, and a great chance that rescue is nowhere to be found if conditions should deteriorate.  The main viewpoints in the Island in the Sky are generally canyon overlooks, be it from the Colorado (east side of the park) or Green River (west side of the park) canyons.  The views are spectacular and the park is rarely crowded.  This day, the sky was filled with frequent bursts of white clouds and a temperature in the mid to high 60s - rare for this time of year - which made viewing and picture taking all the more worthwhile.  

Next, we visited Arches National Park, home to over 2,000 natural sandstone arches.  The day was equally perfect for this visit as we stopped at the Windows, Balanced Rock, and Park Avenue.  

It was around 3:30 PM when we hit I-70 again to continue west to Denver.  As we were approaching, I realized that since I booked the hotel while on the trip, I did not have a map print out of its location.  I decided to call the hotel to inquire about which route to take once in Denver.  Unfortunately, the inept front desk associate (mind you, this was a 3-star Hampton Inn for which some level of service is expected) interpreted my statements (variously "eastbound", "driving from Grand Junction to Denver" & "heading east") to mean that I was heading west.  What additional information I could have provided, I do not know.  The worst part is that the same associate committed this error in sensible logic 2 different times, as I made an additional phone call when we started heading back into the mountains based on her advice.   Thank goodness I-70 and Highway 6 only run in 2 directions.

We still arrived on time by reversing her logic and directions to make them applicable to our course.  Upon checking in, I decided to spare her the multiple choice "If I am heading eastbound, what direction am I heading?" sarcasm and slowly began to relax and prepare for tomorrow's final, though 9.5 hour, drive home.  

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