“This is the most beautiful place on earth. There are many such places.”
I had read Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire not long after finishing the Appalachian Trail in 2016. One of the hikers or Croo at a hut near Mount Washington had a juniper tree tattooed on his forearm. Curious about the unusual looking tree and the commitment to having it permanently affixed to his skin, I had asked about it and he told me that it was inspired by Abbey’s book. I must have jotted a note down in my journal or phone, because I found the book and read it once we were back in Florida. At the time I enjoyed Abbey’s writing; his obvious love and devotion of spending time in nature, his rather snarky and cynical attitude. However, his descriptions and adventures didn’t resonate with me- the desert and rocks seemed alien and barren compared to the lush forests we had just left. Not having seen or experienced anything like the arid desert he was describing, I took him at his word and figured it was a difference in tastes. I enjoyed the book, probably mentioned it to Colby, and then returned it to the library or used book store from whence it came.
Abbey was right.
Chances are high that Abbey would have rolled over in his grave or had some choice (and perhaps crass) words had he seen the line of cars that patiently edged their way closer to the entrance stations at Arches National Park. Colby and I had planned our day so that we could make the drive from Cortez Colorado to Moab and still have some time to get a short hike in. What we neglected to think about was that it was a Saturday. The dual lines of cars crept up to the booths so their occupants could pay the entry fee, then they began the slow winding crawl up the nearby cliff that takes guests out into the expanse of the park. The maps clearly lay out where the various Arches and panoramic views are, where there are parking spaces and exactly how long it might take to walk out to get a closer view. Abbey wrote that his book dedicated to the park was an elegy, it would not retain the wild nature that he experienced. Some of the beauty and wild has been sacrificed for accessibility and convenience. While you can reference his book for what Edward Abbey thought of that, I will admit it made my heart a bit happy that not only could many people be able to experience the park, they were choosing to (albeit with vehicles!).
There’s no need for 4 wheel drive or hefty backpacks to see the iconic arches or the juniper trees anymore, though the park does offer guided tours, unpaved roads, and lots of signs should you choose to take a more rugged hike or drive. Colby and I opted to drive out to the furthest point we could park, and hike from there before seeing other sights on the way back out of the park. Jockeying for a parking spot was less than ideal, so should you visit I would recommend trying to avoid weekends or holidays. We did find parking at Devils Garden Trailhead and we struck out for the Double O Arch and Dark Angel. The further we hiked in the more spaced out the other hikers became, and the deeper into the park you go the longer you could dally and lose yourself in the phenomenal views.
I don’t think I could do the park and the scenery justice, either with my photos or words- so I will try and just use the best of the former and less of the latter.
I think what I found most surprising was that rather than sporting a lack of colors, there was a multitude of hues and the contrasts made everything seem even more vibrant. The La Sal Mountains lay a backdrop of snow capped ranges while the sky was robins egg blue. The Arches and fins of the park vary from golden hues to light pink to orange or warm earthy browns and cast shadows behind them. The junipers, shrubs and other foliage have a shocking green given the scarcity of rainfall.
My apologies for the few and far between posts! Oregon has been treating us very well so I need to find signal and time to bring you all up to date! I think of you, even if I don’t update often!