Scent of the Desert, October 2009

A Fifth Anniversary Vacation for Abby and Richard

Sandstone formations stand in the foreground with the La Sal mountains in the background. The La Sals are a signature formation in for the Moab, Utah, area.
Sandstone formations stand in the foreground with the La Sal mountains in the background. The La Sals are a signature formation in for the Moab, Utah, area.
The light from my dashboard and the GPS kept us awake through a dark stretch of U.S. 550 between Albuquerque and Bloomfield, New Mexico.
The light from my dashboard and the GPS kept us awake through a dark stretch of U.S. 550 between Albuquerque and Bloomfield, New Mexico.

• Driving from home in Ada to Farmington, New Mexico

Abby on the road
Abby on the road

My wife Abby and I find that this drive, which we have made many times both alone and together, is never boring. Among other things, it represents the path to adventure. The road itself is mostly interstate highway, one of the most traveled of all the routes connecting the wild west with the rest of America, Interstate 40. Over the years, we have learned the route well, including most of its photo opportunities: the red quonset hut, the leaning water tower, the giant cross, Cuervo, the “plague town,” Tucumcari Mountain, and on and on.

By the time we arrived in Farmington, after some 14 hours on the road, sleep came easy.

Though Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is among the most-photographed natural icons in the world, it still seems worth photographing. Abby and I have a small special claim to it, since we got married there in 2004.
Though Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is among the most-photographed natural icons in the world, it still seems worth photographing. Abby and I have a small special claim to it, since we got married there in 2004.

• Farmington to Moab, Utah

Abby made this image of me driving our route to Moab, Utah.
Abby made this image of me driving our route to Moab, Utah.

There are several routes into southeastern Utah, and on this occasion, we decidedto let the GPS suggest our route.

It took us through Four Corners, then up the Aneth highway, which is a neat little piece of scenery, then to Blanding, where we always stop at their clean, interesting visitor’s center. We usually buy maps there, and sometimes they have gift bags for us.

By midday we were at Hatch Point, which we like because it sports excellent overlooks, and we can hike a little with the Chihuahuas, Max and Sierra. Crews were working on the unpaved portion of the road, and had taken down the sign to the Canyonlands Overlook, which we took anyway, only to find that it had washed out. We continued on to the Anticline Overlook, where we hiked around the short trail with the dogs.

By late afternoon, we were in Moab, and settled in to our motel for the night.

This image by Abby shot from the Anticline Overlook shows the view down Kane Creek to the southeast.
This image by Abby shot from the Anticline Overlook shows the view down Kane Creek to the southeast.
Despite rain and even a bit of hail, I had a good time hiking at the Needles District at Canyonlands National Park.
Despite rain and even a bit of hail, I had a good time hiking at the Needles District at Canyonlands National Park.

• The Needles District at Canyonlands

With rain in the forecast, I got a before-daybreak start. I drove south to the Needles District at Canyonlands, where I thought I could hike from the Elephant Hill access road to Chesler Park, then turn north and make the Devil’s Kitchen/Devil’s Pocket loop. It is the only trail in the Chesler Park area that can be day-hiked that I haven’t seen. The weather looked foreboding, so instead I struck out south from the Squaw Flat campground, to the bench at Wooden Shoe Butte. I felt that I could see some of the heart of The Needles, do a little exploring, and still be close enough to the trail head that if rain came and stayed, I wouldn’t be out in it for too long. Once I got to the butte, I broke from the trail and explored to the west though an exceptionally beautiful section of slickrock benches and buttes.

I could see dark clouds to the west and hear thunder, so I navigated back to the trail and headed back to the trail head. About a mile from cover, rain, with embedded hail, started, but was tolerable, and didn’t last long. It ended up being an easy hike.

A beautiful and foreboding thunderstorm descends on The Needles at Canyonlands.
A beautiful and foreboding thunderstorm descends on The Needles at Canyonlands.

As I drove out on the main road, the rain began to pour, and at one point lightning struck about 300 yards from the car.  A little farther down the road, I stopped several times to attempt to photograph the amazing cottonwoods along Indian Creek.

Benches and buttes typical of the landscape of The Needles District at Canyonlands
Benches and buttes typical of the landscape of The Needles District at Canyonlands

• Hidden Valley and Delicate Arch

Hidden Valley viewed from Petro Pass, with the La Sal Mountains in the distance
Hidden Valley viewed from Petro Pass, with the La Sal Mountains in the distance
At the west end of the Hidden Valley Trail, it joins the Moab Overlook Trial, which you can follow down the Colorado River.
At the west end of the Hidden Valley Trail, it joins the Moab Overlook Trial, which you can follow down the Colorado River.

Abby felt like sleeping in with the dogs in the morning, so I headed a few miles south of Moab to a trail I had seen on the map for years, but never tried, the Hidden Valley trail. Almost immediately from the trail head, short, rocky switchbacks lead up the 680 feet that from the Spanish Valley appears to be a wall of rocks. Near the top is an inlet that opens into a wide, flat valley. The trail follows it another two miles northwest in the Behind the Rocks Wilderness Area to Petro Pass, where it joins the Moab Rim Jeep trail. I was fortunate to have a chilly breeze and clear, blue skies. I turned around at the pass and headed home.

By late morning, Abby was up and feeling like a hike, and when we are in Moab, we like to hike to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, where we got married in 2004. We left the dogs in the room (since they are not allowed on National Parks trails), and made the hike. It was breezy and cool, the sky was a perfect pearl blue like the day we got married, and it was simply great to have Abby with me on “our” trail. Her knees were bothering her, so we took it slow, but that didn’t matter.

Abby pauses to make a photo at the top of "The Dome," a long expanse of steepish slickrock in the middle section of the Delicate Arch trail.
Abby pauses to make a photo at the top of “The Dome,” a long expanse of steepish slickrock in the middle section of the Delicate Arch trail.
Abby makes pictures on the trail to Delicate Arch.
Abby makes pictures on the trail to Delicate Arch.

At Delicate Arch I observed something new: no one was posing under the arch. In the past, particularly in the evening, the “photographers” and the “tourists” can get into arguments about who has the right to do what there. The photographers think they are making some important images (and of course think that they themselves are important), while the tourists just want to have fun. This time, however, was oddly different. There were more photographers than I have ever seen at the arch (in six visits), and most of them had tripods. Most of the cameras were very expensive digital Nikons and Canons. All but a few had set up on the approach to the arch, the ridge to the north one encounters as you first see the arch. Oddly, this spot yields the most predictable image, almost a “mug shot” of this Entrada sandstone miracle. I have this shot; I make it every time I visit, since it’s so easy. But all these people were all making this same photo. Odd.

Photographers of all stripes line up to make pictures of Delicate Arch.
Photographers of all stripes line up to make pictures of Delicate Arch.

In the midst of all this, Abby and I relaxed and enjoyed the afternoon. We didn’t come to make amazing photos. We came to celebrate five years of happy marriage after our wedding at this wonderful place.

A nice German couple asked if we would take a picture of them with their camera, and they did the same for us.

The hike down was fun, too, and we both were tremendously happy to be there together.

With my wonderful wife in the spot where our marriage began
With my wonderful wife in the spot where our marriage began

• Meeting Some Friends and Shopping

Abby and I took it slow on this day, including sleeping late, and meeting some friends for lunch.

In the afternoon, Abby and I shopped Moab, mostly looking for souvenirs, and enjoying being in a town where most of the people are fit and adventurous. We walked from shop to shop, holding hands most of the time. It was a beautiful day and a fun time together.

Max explores a trail at Sand Flats Recreation Area.
Max explores a trail at Sand Flats Recreation Area.
Abby smiles from a shady spot in Hunter Canyon.
Abby smiles from a shady spot in Hunter Canyon.

• Sand Flats and Hunter Canyon

For our last day in Moab, we wanted to explore a few spots that we’d never seen, and where we could take the dogs.

Our first venue was the legendary Sand Flats Recreation Area,

a world-renowned Jeep and mountain bike paradise just east of Moab on the Porcupine Ridge. We drove around and saw dozens of tricked-out Jeeps, some dirt bikes, some ATVs (in southeastern Utah they are abbreviated OHVs), and of course lots of mountain bikes. We hiked for a mile or so down a Jeep road, letting the dogs play and taking a few pictures. We were passed by several dirt bikes, and a couple who had two West Highland Terriers.

Later in the morning, we drove to Hunter Canyon, a deep and impressive formation in the midst of dozens of towering sandstone canyons. With the dogs in tow, Abby and I hiked some of the way down the canyon, far enough to see and photograph Hunter Arch.

Hunter Arch on the left, with a small unnamed natural arch on the right
Hunter Arch on the left, with a small unnamed natural arch on the right

Finally, we drove the Kane Creek road to the intersection with the Chicken Corners road, and photographed an odd formation called the “Devil’s Golf Ball.” It was also neat to see the Anticline Overlook from the spot it over looks.

This is the Devil's Golf Ball, which also goes by the name, "The Happy Turk."
This is the Devil’s Golf Ball, which also goes by the name, “The Happy Turk.”

• On the Road Again: Moab to Tucumcari, then Home

Our Nissan Rogue at the Ouray, Colorado overlook
Our Nissan Rogue at the Ouray, Colorado overlook

Abby and I decided to take a longer route home than usual, since we had the whole weekend for travel. From Moab, we turned immediately east at La Sal Junction, crossing into Colorado near the Paradox Valley. We stopped at a charming general store in Bedrock, Colorado, then made our way through the Dallas Divide, Ouray, Red Mountain Pass, Silverton, and Durango before joining our more familiar route south into New Mexico. The mountain scenery and high country snows were inspirational.

Our Nissan Rogue sits on the turnout at Dallas Divide as we prepare to drive the "Million Dollar Highway."
Our Nissan Rogue sits on the turnout at Dallas Divide as we prepare to drive the “Million Dollar Highway.”
Snow clings to the steep slope of a 14er in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado along the "Million Dollar Highway" between Ouray and Silverton, Colorado.
Snow clings to the steep slope of a 14er in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado along the “Million Dollar Highway” between Ouray and Silverton, Colorado.

This trip was our first in my new Nissan Rogue, and Abby and I were both very pleased with its qualities. It got excellent fuel mileage, had plenty of space for us, our stuff, and our dogs, and was comfortable over the many hours on the road. There were several occasions when the all-wheel drive was a factor, and several more where its excellent ground clearance took it places my Grand Am could never have gone.

Our dogs travel well and are little trouble. They seem to enjoy being with us no matter what, and take in the trail like they were born to do it.

Abby and I had an excellent fifth anniversary vacation.

Additional images:

Making pictures in Arches National Park
Making pictures in Arches National Park
Abby smiles in the warm autumn sunshine at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park
Abby smiles in the warm autumn sunshine at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.
Abby at the Anitcline Overlook, Hatch Point, Utah.
Abby at the Anitcline Overlook, Hatch Point, Utah.
View from the Anticline Overlook southeast down Kane Creek Canyon.
View from the Anticline Overlook southeast down Kane Creek Canyon.
A rare sight: rain on slickrock at Canyonlands.
A rare sight: rain on slickrock at Canyonlands.
Gloomy cumulous clouds in the Needles district at Canyonlands.
Gloomy cumulous clouds in the Needles district at Canyonlands.
Posing on a slickrock bench as storm clouds approach at Canyonlands.
Posing on a slickrock bench as storm clouds approach at Canyonlands.
Pasture with Wooden Show Butte in the distance, Canyonlands.
Pasture with Wooden Shoe Butte in the distance, Canyonlands.
A rather striking view of thunderstorm clouds on the western horizon from the heart of the Needles district, Canyonlands.
A rather striking view of thunderstorm clouds on the western horizon from the heart of the Needles district, Canyonlands.
Potholes on an open stretch of slickrock at Canyonlands; some creatures complete their entire life cycles in these puddles, in the time it takes for them to dry up.
Potholes on an open stretch of slickrock at Canyonlands; some creatures complete their entire life cycles in these puddles, in the time it takes for them to dry up.
Looking west from the Chesler Park trail at Canyonlands, showing the heart of the Needles district, with approaching rain and hail.
Looking west from the Chesler Park trail at Canyonlands, showing the heart of the Needles district, with approaching rain and hail.
We found this "whale" boulder after a short off-trail exploration across open slickrock.
We found this “whale” boulder after a short off-trail exploration across open slickrock.
Looking east toward Wooden Shoe Butte with Sixshooter Peak in the distance.
Looking east toward Wooden Shoe Butte with Sixshooter Peak in the distance.
These beautiful horses were in a pasture just outside Canyonlands, below Hatch Point.
These beautiful horses were in a pasture just outside Canyonlands, below Hatch Point.
Traffic sign and Courthouse Towers, Arches National Park, Utah.
Traffic sign and Courthouse Towers, Arches National Park, Utah.
Near the top of the trail to the Arch, Abby and I saw this tree, half in a splash of brilliant October sunshine and half in deep shadow, and we both stopped to photograph it.
Near the top of the trail to the Arch, Abby and I saw this tree, half in a splash of brilliant October sunshine and half in deep shadow, and we both stopped to photograph it.
I know I photograph Delicate Arch often, and always post it. But cut me some slack; I DID get married there.
I know I photograph Delicate Arch often, and always post it. But cut me some slack; I DID get married there.
This view looks through the opening of Delicate Arch to the Windows section of Arches National Park.
This view looks through the opening of Delicate Arch to the Windows section of Arches National Park.
Also from Delicate Arch is this view looking west toward the trail head, showing the park road leading to the parking area.
About halfway up the trail on an expanse of slickrock we call “The Dome,” hikers can see the roads leading to the trail head.
Potholes along the trail had more water in them than we had ever seen.
Potholes along the trail had more water in them than we had ever seen.
Sandstone pinnacle in warm, late-afternoon sun.
Sandstone pinnacle in warm, late-afternoon sun.
Tree branches and sandstone cliff in maturing light.
Tree branches and sandstone cliff in maturing light.
Tree with a splash of late-afternoon sunlight on it.
Tree with a splash of late-afternoon sunlight on it.
Abby and I cast shadows on "The Dome," summoning the Led Zeppelin lyric, "Our shadows taller than our soul."
Abby and I cast shadows on “The Dome,” summoning the Led Zeppelin lyric, “Our shadows taller than our soul.”
This two-panel panograph of the Arch shows the “bowl” below it, the mesa across the canyon to the south, and in the distance, the park roads that lead to the trail head.
This two-panel panograph of the Arch shows the “bowl” below it, the mesa across the canyon to the south, and in the distance, the park roads that lead to the trail head.
The initial slope leading up to Hidden Valley via switchbacks.
The initial slope leading up to Hidden Valley via switchbacks.
Near the top of the switchbacks, the trail opens up into the valley.
Near the top of the switchbacks, the trail opens up into the valley.
View looking east toward the Spanish Valley with the La Sal Mountains in the distance.
View looking east toward the Spanish Valley with the La Sal Mountains in the distance.
Desert vegetation with La Sal Mountains in the distance; the plant life tried to take advantage of recent autumn rains with one last growth spurt before winter.
Desert vegetation with La Sal Mountains in the distance; the plant life tried to take advantage of recent autumn rains with one last growth spurt before winter.
Tree silhouette looking east toward the La Sal Mountains.
Tree silhouette looking east toward the La Sal Mountains.
This surprisingly lush hike is one of the side canyons along the winding Kane Creek Road southwest of Moab. The drive itself is spectacular, and this hike is a pleasant couple of miles in the midst of towering sandstone cliffs.
This surprisingly lush Hunter Canyon is one of the side canyons along the winding Kane Creek Road southwest of Moab. The drive itself is spectacular, and this hike is a pleasant couple of miles in the midst of towering sandstone cliffs.
Three and cliffs, Hunter Canyon.
Three and cliffs, Hunter Canyon.
Reflection in creek, Hunter Canyon.
Reflection in creek, Hunter Canyon.
Autumn sunshine and Hunter Arch, Hunter Canyon.
Autumn sunshine and Hunter Arch, Hunter Canyon.
Abby and Sierra at an eroded sandstone boulder, Hunter Canyon.
Abby and Sierra at an eroded sandstone boulder, Hunter Canyon.
After the Hunter Canyon hike, Abby and I drove farther down the Kane Creek Road to the intersection with the Hurrah Pass Road. Near that intersection is this formation, alternately called The Happy Turk or The Devil's Golf Ball.
After the Hunter Canyon hike, Abby and I drove farther down the Kane Creek Road to the intersection with the Hurrah Pass Road. Near that intersection is this formation, alternately called The Happy Turk or The Devil’s Golf Ball.
Max the Chihuahua checks out the Kane Creek Road southwest of Moab, Utah.
Max the Chihuahua checks out the Kane Creek Road southwest of Moab, Utah.
Abby shops at the rustic Bedrock, Colorado general store.
Abby shops at the rustic Bedrock, Colorado general store.
The Bedrock store was just across the Utah border, along a route in the direction of home that we had never taken before.
The Bedrock store was just across the Utah border, along a route in the direction of home that we had never taken before.
The next town on this route home was Ridgeway, Colorado.
The next town on this route home was Ridgeway, Colorado.
Looking down the main highway in Ridgeway, the first peaks of the spectacular San Juan Mountains appear in the distance.
Looking down the main highway in Ridgeway, the first peaks of the spectacular San Juan Mountains appear in the distance.
A view of one of the "14ers" of the San Juan Mountains along the famous "Million Dollar Highway" between Ouray and Silverton, Colorado.
A view of one of the “14ers” of the San Juan Mountains along the famous “Million Dollar Highway” between Ouray and Silverton, Colorado.
The Dallas Divide affords breathtaking views of several 14,000-foot peaks in western Colorado.
The Dallas Divide affords breathtaking views of several 14,000-foot peaks in western Colorado.
U. S. 550 winds its way out and above Ouray, Colorado to the south, where there are several overlooks, from which this image was made. Beyond that is the famous "Million Dollar Highway."
U. S. 550 winds its way out and above Ouray, Colorado to the south, where there are several overlooks, from which this image was made. Beyond that is the famous “Million Dollar Highway.”
The wild road in our rear view mirror.
The wild road in our rear view mirror.
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