While we weren’t quite doing the full alphabet of American National Parks, we were certainly seeing some of the best and were quite excited about this bit of the trip. First up was Arches National Park, with over two thousand natural rock arches and miles of lovely, inviting slickrock to scramble and scurry over. Slickrock consists of great expanses of red rock, like slanted slabs of upended pavement and makes for terrific trekking territory.
When you see photos of Arches, it’s almost invariably of red rock set against stunning blue sky, a rose-tinted spectacle. Imagine our faces as we opened the curtains to see… rain. Great British amounts of drizzly rain, with a grizzly grey sky giving little promise of respite. This didn’t bode well, not only for the photos, but also for our chances of getting the girls to do a decent walk, particularly if the slickrock was tending more towards sliprock.
But undeterred we drove in and the weather cleared enough to explore Double Arch and the girls did some great clambouring and scrambling, and we then went to the Delicate Arch viewpoint to see the iconic symbol of the park. However it was now hot and overcast so we returned to town so that Rach and the girls could go swimming, leaving Pete free to go back for some more exploring.
After seeing Landscape Arch (a vast swoop of rock that quite frankly looks more delicate than Delicate Arch) I headed up to Delicate Arch for sunset. This is a stunning walk up a long slickrock slope, culminating in a final ascent round a ledge before the Arch itself is revealed before you. However I’d not allowed enough time for the drive there and the trek uphill and missed sunset by a good few minutes – typical! It was still a wonderful sight, apart from the occasional selfish person who insisted on standing right in front of the arch for a picture or ten. I had to wait quite a while to get the photo below and got quite carried away trying out the new camera’s features, as you can see…
Follow up that view with a yummy Thai takeaway and it turned into a fine day after all. Moab is also a groovy little town, and possibly even more obsessed with lizards than we are!
However next day was malaria tablet day, in preparation for Mexico and beyond, and I think it’s fair to say that this is not an experience the girls will look back on with much fondness. In fact, it’s still a little surprising that nobody came to investigate the blood-curdling screams emanating from our room and it took a mixture of persuasion, perseverance, bribery and bravery before the pill palaver was past and we could move on to Capitol Reef National Park.
We went to see Hickman Bridge, which is another fabulous stone arch at the end of a fine walk, but nerves were still a little stretched by the tablet torment and it was nice to get to Torrey and our motel to cool down with a dip in the pool. Torrey is very much a one horse town, and Austin’s Chuck Wagon Hotel and General Store is very much that one horse, but it’s friendly and atmospheric and a great place to stay and improved our moods considerably.
The drive from Torrey to Bryce Canyon is renowned as one of the best in the States and the autumnal colours of the aspen trees as you drive over Boulder Mountain are spectacular. It’s often quoted how so few Americans have passports but you can almost understand why when they’ve got such a vast and diverse country, though we were nearly getting to the point of ‘Oh, another stunning rock formation’. Nearly, but not quite because if ever there’s a cure for a world-weary traveller who’s begun to take beauty for granted then Bryce Canyon is it. Bryce takes spectacular up several notches and carves it into sublime sculpture. Pretty much everyone you meet who’s been says it’s amazing and they’re right. It really is one of the most awe-inspiring places you could wish to visit and as you walk in and around it’s countless fins, spires, hoodoos, chimneys and canyons there’s a sight to take your breath away at every turn.
From strange rock formations that look like they’ve been carved out of Mars bars and Milky-ways, to trees growing perfectly vertically up between narrow slot canyons, to blackened, twisted trees that have been struck by lightning it’s a place that defies description. I suppose that’s why people give names to all these features and formations, to try and pin them down a little and contain them on a map – it’s defies description, but you can’t help but try.
The girls did a horse trek into the canyon and their mounts were a far cry from the plodding ponies back home – the cowboy guides also kept them entertained with their comedy routine – banter at a canter.
As if all this wasn’t enough there was also a full moon that night and it was a fitting end to a near perfect day…
We were a little concerned that Zion would be a bit of an anti-climax after that but we needn’t have worried. It’s yet another spectacular place but quite different, with huge cliff walls either side of you as you head up through the canyon. This starts off high, wide and handsome, and then twists and turns and narrows over several miles as you follow the river. You can catch a shuttle bus to the end of the road and then wade upstream for a refreshing walk through chilly water and we had great fun.
To cap off another fine day we then found we were booked into one of the best hotels we’ve ever stayed in. We hit the pool just as the setting sun painted the surrounding rocks in warm hues and thought – let’s capture this moment with a cheesy photo!
The next morning Pete got up early and walked up to Angel’s Landing at sunrise, which is, yes, you’ve guessed it, another amazing walk. You climb up steeply to a hidden canyon, then up a series of zigzags amusingly called Walter’s Wiggles, and then climb a sheer ridge up to a plateau, surrounded by mountains and the high walls of the main canyon. It’s so steep and exposed that they’ve put chains up the rock in places and then at the top, just as you’re trying to take in the majesty of it all you get assaulted by cute-looking-but-too-cheeky-for-their-own-good chipmunks. If angels did land here I think their patience would be severely tested.
And so another phase of our journey was complete, with only the questionable delights of Vegas to come before we left the USA, but what happens in Vegas will have to stay in Vegas until our next post…