America Trip 3 – Moab to Las Vegas

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Having spent the night at Moab, we decided to return to Arches National Park, rather than to go directly on to Canyonlands. The previous afternoon had been overcast and we considered that it would be worthwhile to take the extra time to see Arches on a sunny morning. As we planned to travel on to Canyonlands in the afternoon and the heat in the desert was fairly unforgiving, my father was reluctant to walk too far himself. However, as I was eager to explore a number of the trails, he encouraged me to do so, meeting up with me again at later points on the road. Keeping up a brisk pace, I walked through Park Avenue and from Sand Dune Arch to the Amphitheater.

In the morning’s sunlight, the park revealed new aspects, a crisp palette of warm-hued sandstone against the expanse of the azure. The imposing towers of Park Avenue flank a broad path that leads to the Organ and the Courthouse Towers viewpoint. It is hard to appreciate the scale of features of the park such as the Organ, a soaring monolith of cracked and grooved sandstone, until one sees the diminutive stature of a person against it. The walk to Broken Arch and the Amphitheater takes one through the desert, where the path is marked out for the walker with small and discreet stone cairns. These markers can be easily missed in places and the track can lose its definition, a fact that, coupled with the fact that no other walkers were in sight, led to my losing the trail on a couple of occasions. After joining my father again at the campground that marked the trail’s terminus, we walked together to Tunnel, Pine Tree, and Landscape Arches. Landscape Arch is particularly stunning: a slender and elegant arch, the longest in the world, it spans almost 300ft, about the length of a football field. A couple of decades ago, a significant portion of it collapsed, leaving doubts about how long the rest will remain intact.

We drove on from Arches to Canyonlands, up to the Island in the Sky, a large mesa, from which one can overlook the sandstone bench and the Green River below. Mesa Arch – for me one of the most striking sights of our entire trip – is an arch clinging to the edge of the mesa plateau, which plummets to a sandstone valley hundreds of feet beneath, framing the magnificent vista within its shapely span. We visited all of the principal outlooks in the area, from Upheaval Dome to Grand View, where the canyon-veined bench retreated to the sinking sun, its contours traced with a white rim and its surface faintly threaded with old miners’ roads.

The following day, a Thursday, we visited Natural Bridges National Monument. Despite their similarities of appearance, bridges and arches are formed by different processes. We walked to an overlook point for Sipapu Bridge and also down to Owachomo Bridge, one of the most handsome of the arches or bridges we saw during our visit. It was a long drive from Natural Bridges to Capitol Reef, which we arrived at in the very late afternoon. The drive itself was spectacular, taking us deep into canyon country and across the Colorado River. Initially Capitol Reef seemed less impressive compared to some of the other parks we had visited. However, going off the main park road into a narrow gorge, leading to a longer walk, we were able to witness a canyon from a different perspective.

Bryce Canyon was Friday’s destination, the drive to the canyon providing a further experience of a road flanked by vertiginous drops. We started out at Sunrise Point, from where we caught our first sight of the canyon. Hoodoos arrayed like spires of fairytale castles, daubed in soft pastel shades, creamy whites, salmons, pinks, and subtle yellows and reds, descended into a wooded valley. We followed the trail down into the valley, parting ways as I went on to the Peekaboo Loop Trail, while my father followed the Navajo Loop Trail back to the car. When we had both returned we visited the major outlooks on the main route, before travelling on to Kanab, stopping at a diner, where I had my first taste of elk burger on the way.

Saturday took us to Zion National Park, a long tunnel through a mountain and a winding road bringing us down into the park. In contrast to most of the previous parks, with their airy vistas and wide horizons, surrounded by vast and steep mountainsides, within Zion we spent most of our time craning our heads to look up. Also unlike most of the other parks, Zion wasn’t open to cars for most of its routes, providing park buses to transport visitors instead. We took the bus to the final stopping point and walked to the Narrows, where one had to follow the river between towering rock-faces that loomed over us on both sides. We removed our shoes and stepped into the river. Not seeing the bottom, one had to find one’s footing with care: place one’s foot in the wrong place, on a loose or uneven rock, or in a dip in the riverbed, and one could easily fall over, a risk that I regarded with some trepidation, on account the cameras and wallet in my bag. We followed the river for a couple of hours in all, perhaps the most enjoyable time of the entire trip. Walking through the water, which was deeper than our knees in many places, we were led through narrow gorges, and wider ravines, between immense rock-faces, enclosing the glorious sunshine and blue sky overhead. After returning from this, we visited a weeping rock on one of the mountainsides.

We took Sunday off, attending church in the morning, relaxing in our hotel room, and preparing our luggage for our journey back to the UK for the rest of the day. Monday, the final day of our trip, was spent in the Valley of Fire, a park that lived up to its moniker, containing some of the reddest rocks that we saw during our entire trip. While not on the same scale as some of the other parks, it afforded several fascinating sights of sculpted rocks, Native American petroglyphs and other places of interest, the history of which excited one’s imagination, revealing the landscape as the backdrop of picaresque escapades and thrilling adventures.

On Tuesday we flew out from Las Vegas.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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7 Responses to America Trip 3 – Moab to Las Vegas

  1. shackep says:

    Zion is one of my favorite national parks. I have been there about five times, once in winter. Much more intimate majesty than the Grand Canyon. I like the variety of ecosystems in Zion.

  2. Vegas is Moab: loads of Moabites.

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