Photo Of The Day: The Milky Way In Arches National Park

Utah is one of my favorite escapes. There’s something about sitting on a slab of redrock and watching a black sky dotted with stars. You’re in the middle of nowhere, alone, surrounded by silence, overpowered by the feeling of grandiose canyons.

Flickr user djurma captures exactly that in this nighttime photo of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. You can feel that stillness just by looking at it.

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[Photo credit: djurma]

Video: Winter Time-Lapse Of America’s Southwest

If you’ve been reading Dave Seminara’s posts this week on winter hiking in Arches and Canyonlands National Park you probably already have some sense of just how spectacular this region of the U.S. actually is. But just in case you need a reminder, this beautiful time-lapse video from the American southwest will certainly do the trick. In addition to being filmed in the parks mentioned above, this short film was shot in a number of other great locations throughout Utah and Arizona, including Zion, Monument Valley and Horseshoe Bend.

At just two minutes and thirty-three seconds in length, it is a bit short, however, and by the end you’ll be left wanting more. Perhaps that is just the teaser you need to inspire your own journey to his breathtaking outdoor playground. If you haven’t been there yet, definitely add it to your list of places to visit.

White Southwest Timelapse” from Zhuokang Jia on Vimeo.

Hiking Arches National Park In Winter With A Pair Of Worn Out Sneakers

How did I end up on the ass end of the famous Delicate Arch rock formation at Arches National Park in Utah? That’s the question I asked myself one afternoon last week as I was standing on the slippery base of the arch in completely inappropriate sneakers, looking down at the steep drop into the canyon below. (see video below)
At Arches, you can’t miss the Delicate Arch, a huge rock formation that stands on the brink of a canyon with the imposing, snow capped La Sal Mountains as a backdrop. (It’s even on the state license plate in Utah) But you can easily get lost trying to find the damn vantage point above the arch, especially in the winter, when the crowds range from sparse to nonexistent and there’s no one to follow.

In truth, I should have known better. I’m a fairly experienced hiker, so I know that you’re supposed to follow the cairns- those short stacks of rocks that mark trails. But I like to hike fast and when I’m wrapped up in the natural splendor of a place, I tend to lose concentration, as I did on this day, when I began to follow footprints up a series of steep rocks, rather than the cairns.

When I finally reached the base of the Delicate Arch, I looked to my left and noticed a cluster of hikers sitting up on top of a colossal wall of rock looking down onto the arch. There was a steep drop off and no way for me to walk across and up the rock to their vantage point, so I made the assumption that I needed to climb around the arch to get up to where they were.

I had planned to buy a new pair of hiking boots on the trip, but had been so busy waking up before the crack of dawn to hike and take photos each day that I didn’t have time to buy them. I was wearing a pair of running sneakers with virtually no tread left and my attempt to shimmy around the sides of the arch, which has a fairly steep drop on both sides, scared the hell out of me.

It seemed hard to believe that the park’s most popular trail would lead people along such a treacherous path, yet I couldn’t figure out how to reach the upper vantage point I could see. I considered yelling across to the hikers on the plateau but felt too ashamed to scream out, ‘HEY! HOW DO I GET UP THERE?’ But after I nearly slipped and fell down the canyon (see video above and below) I finally realized that I must have taken a wrong turn.

I retraced my steps and eventually realized that the path requires hikers to make their approach behind the steep wall of rock in order to reach the upper vantage point of Delicate Arch. It was a humbling start to my visit to Arches, but I soon fell in love with the place nonetheless. Arches is a remarkably beautiful place and it’s only a couple miles outside Moab, one of just a handful of left-leaning places in a very red state.

The park has at least 2,000 arches, formed by erosion over a period of more than 100 million years but it’s relatively easy to see most of Arches in a day or two, depending on which hikes you take. How beautiful is it? Chose any adjective you like- stupendous, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, mesmerizing- they all fit.

Delicate Arch is the most hyped hiking trail in the park but I enjoyed the Park Avenue, Windows, Balanced Rock, and Devil’s Garden trails just as much. (Though I only completed part of Devil’s Garden, due to my shoddy footwear) Arches is a popular place for most of the year, but I had the place mostly to myself on a Sunday afternoon and almost completely to myself on a Tuesday in early January. Nearby Canyonlands National Park was even quieter.

Some sections of the roads in the park were a bit icy, but given the choice between sitting in traffic at Arches when it’s 100 degrees or having the place to myself when it’s 30 and a bit icy, I’ll take the later every time. If you want to go someplace quiet to relieve stress, I can’t think of a better place than Arches in the winter. But dress warm, bring your own food and water, and, whatever you do, follow the cairns, not the foot and paw prints.

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]

Where To Sleep During A Long-Haul Road Trip: Putting A Price On Your Safety

As you may have gathered from my last few posts, I spent the second half of July and first week of August living out of my car during a relocation from Seattle to Boulder. En route, I had a family vacation on the Klamath River in Northern California, and business trips to the Bay Area and North Carolina, which is why I was in limbo.

I’ve road-tripped and relocated across the West many times, and love the time alone with my thoughts and enjoying the scenery. Now that I’m in my early 40s, however, I’ve become more wary about where I choose to spend the night. I’m still on a tight budget, but this increasing awareness is a direct result of life experience, and my obsession with TV shows like “Forensic Files.”

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, someone who is truly fearful wouldn’t travel or drive cross-country alone. They certainly wouldn’t elect to drive Nevada’s notorious Highway 50, aka “The Loneliest Road in America,” but that’s what I did last week (anything to avoid the mind-numbing hell that is Highway 80). Allegedly, less than 200 drivers a day pass on this route, so one needs to plan accordingly.

Highway 50 is mostly high desert landscape, broken up by a handful of historic mining towns like the curiously appealing Austin. Located seven hours east of the Bay Area, this is where I chose to spend the first night of the final leg of my journey, in the rustic but comfortable Cozy Mountain Motel.

Although I was desperate to save money (my room was $60, and of the three motels in town, it had the best reviews … I also use the term “town” loosely), I didn’t feel safe camping alone in such a desolate region. It’s a shame, because the nearby primitive Bob Scott Campground, in the sagebrush and Piñon pines of the Toiyabe National Forest, is a beauty. Yet, due to its isolation and handful of sites, it wasn’t the place for an exhausted, solo female to spend the night.The next day, I had a grueling ten hours on the road before I hit Green River, Utah. Green River isn’t the most savory place, but it’s a popular jumping-off point to Moab/Lake Powell/Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks.

I was so wiped out when I arrived that I chose the first campground I saw: a KOA, which is the type of place I usually go to great lengths to avoid. At that point, all I cared about was a shower and rest, and because it was a glorious, hot desert night, I planned to sleep under the stars. Expediency meant more to me than dealing with setting up a tent in a less generic campground.

I walked into the office and asked the very friendly girl behind the counter for a tent site. Upon driving to the location, I discovered several things that didn’t thrill me. It abutted a vacant lot separated only by some sparse vegetation. Next to the lot was a rundown Motel 6. To my right were a few unoccupied, dusty campsites and open highway. Um, no thank you.

I scouted the mostly empty campground (which was primarily RV, and not tent, sites) and chose a location between two motorhomes, which was backed by a chain-link fence. Then I returned to the office and explained that I didn’t feel safe in my assigned site, and could I please have X or X location?

No problem. The receptionist said she understood, and proceeded to tell me a horrifying story about a recent encounter her mother had had in the town park with a drug-addled freak. She didn’t even charge me the higher RV rate.

An hour later, I was sprawled happily on my sleeping bag, reading, when the receptionist and her employer, a crotchety old man, whizzed up in a golf cart. She looked uncomfortable as he sniped at me for being in an “unauthorized site” because I was in a car. I was ordered to come to the office to rectify the situation immediately. Sigh.

Back behind the counter, the poor receptionist apologized profusely, and I shrugged it off, saying I’d rather pay more to ensure my safety. A manager was needed to get into the system and charge me accordingly, and when he showed up at the office, she explained the situation. He was clearly more interested in returning to his happy hour, so I was permitted to remain in my present location, free of extra charge.

Needless to say, I remained unmolested during the night, and although I was embarrassed by the musical campsites, the entire experience reinforced that it’s best to listen to your gut. Always insist upon putting your safety first.

[Photo credits: tent, Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography; Arches NP, Flickr user Fikret Onal; Jason, Flickr user Stinkie Pinkie]

Arches National Park hosts one millionth vistor

Arches National Park reached a milestone last Saturday when Victoria Carlson of Santa Fe, New Mexico arrived at the entrance. Ms. Carlson found herself greeted with unusual fanfare by the park rangers at the gate, who were eager to welcome their one millionth visitor.

Located in eastern Utah, Arches National Park is home to more than 2000 natural sandstone archways, including the most famous of them all, Delicate Arch. While touring the spectacular landscape by car is fantastic, the park is also home to miles of trails, which deliver great hikes ranging in length from a couple of hours to a full day.

As an artist seeking inspiration, Carlson says that she has visited Arches on several occasions in the past. On November 20th she was returning once again to soak up even more of the natural beauty, which is so prominently on display there, when she helped the National Park Service reach this major milestone. In recognition of the one millionth visitor, Carlson was given an America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, a coffee table book about the park, and an Arches National Park t-shirt and ball cap.

Arches National Park was first established as a National Monument back in 1929 and remains an amazing destination for outdoor enthusiasts. In the past, it has averaged about 750,000 visitors per year, but like many U.S. national parks, it has continued to see increased traffic in recent years.

[Photo credit: Palacemusic via WikiMedia]