Southwest Trip 2021

Arches Day 2: If There’s Smoke, There’s Fire

Today had a packed itinerary. We had planned on hiking to some of the park’s signature arches during the cooler hours of morning, breaking during the heat of the day, and then returning to the park after sunset for an astro-photography session. Arches National Park is famous for being one of the best spots in the world to take star photos, due to its lack of light pollution and interesting rock formations for the foreground. And we’d even scheduled our trip so that we’d hit Arches just in time for the new moon, when the stars and Milky Way are at their brightest, unobscured by moonlight. 

Well. Even the best-laid plans can hit snags. And we knew we’d have a snag on our hands when we woke up and saw a wide cloud of haze blanketed over the skyline of red rocks. Except it wasn’t haze—it was smoke, blown in from the wildfires out west. 

Apparently nobody listens to Smokey the Bear anymore, and also the planet is just on fire all the time now. Cool. This would pose a challenge to the astro-photography in particular. Not to mention breathing. 

Well, smoke or no smoke, we planned on following our set itinerary. 

My cold was finally starting to subside, thankfully. Though while I was no longer in pain, I did still sound like a dusky old woman who’s been smoking a pack a day since Eisenhower was President. 

Daniel also said his throat was bothering him when he woke up, but I threw meds and cough drops in his face before the illness could take root. I assume.

After a continental breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express (featuring cinnamon rolls I remember having there as a child), we set out into the park. Our priority was Delicate Arch, the most famous arch in the park. You may recognize Delicate Arch from literally any travel brochure for the state of Utah. It’s also on their license plate. It’s pretty iconic, and it’s also only really accessible via 3 mile hike in the desert with no shade. So we figured if we wanted to see it, we wanted to see it early before temperatures hit boiling point. 

This hike was definitely more challenging than Zion’s. I really liked Zions because it had basically no elevation change. I love a hike where I don’t have to “climb.” I’m 4’11. “Average human height” is more elevation than I’m used to. And I’m just not built for climbing. I mean Daniel is part goat and he scurried his way up the whole way while I was wheezing behind him, choking on the smoke in the air. 

But despite my struggle with altitude, we made it up. And I gotta say, Delicate Arch was worth the hike. We even got to see it through another arch we climbed up to along the way—an arch through an arch: archception. 

Probably the most wholesome part of the day was that at Delicate Arch, everyone of course wanted their picture taken. Now, I’ve been to many a tourist destination where everyone wants their photo in front of the “thing.” Oftentimes it’s a mad scramble, where you have to force yourself in front of people to take a frenzied selfie, or trade off cameras with your friend so you can each get one. And inevitably other people are doing the same thing, so they’re all in your background. But again, we find ourselves witnessing Hiker Courtesy. There was a nice organized line of people, so everyone got their photos in the arch, one at a time, unobscured. And of course, there’s a constant round robin of trading cameras so couples, friends and families can all get their picture taken together rather than with missing people. We traded cameras with the couple behind us and got some great photos, and I returned the favor for them. Thanks, strangers!

Now I’m gonna go on a tangent about ravens. There are ravens all over the place here. They’re the size of footballs and at first glance, they look like they want to murder everything. They’re actually really funny to watch, because they’re smart, curious, unafraid of people, and will do anything to convince the surrounding population to give them food. Just like Poe said, “Quoth the ravens, give me your trail mix.”

We also saw a couple of the ravens had a sweet little den in Delicate Arch. Super impressive in this housing market. 

After Delicate Arch, we made our way to a side trail that featured two more arches, Sand Dune and Broken Arch. Sand dune was pretty cool. It was…in a sand dune. It was also cool because it had this little nook between two giant cliffs, which made for cool photos. 

This is a rock formation we saw from the road and named, The Dorito. Nacho Cheese variety of course.

Broken Arch wasn’t broken but it had a crack in it, which gave it its namesake. We got some photos there, and then, it was on the walk back from Broken that I was gassed. It was about 1 o’clock, the sun was high, I was running out of water and out of trail mix. The end was nigh.

We’d wanted to go see some of the other arches, mostly Windows Arch and Double Arch, but we just couldn’t make it. So we opted to see those via the car instead. I took this photo of Double Arch from out the window. 

After a quick stop at the visitor’s center for a postcard and a magnet, we returned to our hotel room for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a shower, and some mindless tv. I also passed out for a bit, and Daniel called American Airlines, who, after realizing we didn’t show up for our re-scheduled flight to Vegas, had canceled our flight home. Don’t worry, we got it resolved. 

After a few hours of relaxation, we hit up downtown Moab for some souvenir shopping before dinner. Moab has a cute little Main Street with shops and restaurants. It has kind of an old school Route 66 feel. Daniel and I each got a tank top and a sticker, and I also got a tin sign that says “Moab” on it with Delicate Arch in the background. 

Dinner was at Zax restaurant. I got a margarita that came in a cactus glass. We got spinach dip as an appetizer which was delicious, and I got a Cobb salad for my entree. Despite getting a salad for dinner I still felt like I had to roll myself out of there. 

Leaving dinner we had low expectations for our photography adventure. If anything, the smoke situation appeared worse. But we wouldn’t know until we tried. So we grabbed some caffeinated beverages, and set back out for the park. 

Oh and I took one last opportunity to take a picture of Balanced Rock. Why do they call it that? I dunno! But what I will say is that this rock formation looks like Wile E Coyote’s nightmare.

As for the photography situation: It didn’t look good. We were pacing in the parking lot for a bit, wondering if we even wanted to try. But despite our low hopes, we hiked up the first switchback of the Delicate Arch trail, and Daniel set up his tripod. This was our view while we still had some light.

As we waited for stars to make their appearance, hikers were still making their way up and down the trail. It was surprising to see just how many people were taking the trail in the dark. I did it in the daytime and I nearly died. We continued to see people hiking until we left around 11pm.

The nighttime out here was a bit creepy. It’s dark. Really dark. Which is good for what we wanted to do, but also a little unnerving, especially once the crowds dwindled. Also I was getting chewed up by bugs.

We also had many run-ins with bats. Now, I love bats, I think they’re super cool. But when they’re dive bombing bugs and flying low right in front of you, they’re a little freaky. Especially when they sneak up on you. They’re stealthy critters.

Eventually, by some miracle, the stars brightened, shining through the smoke. And if that wasn’t enough, the Milky Way rose right over the horizon, just enough for Daniel to get the shots he wanted. Now, as much as I’d love to post these pictures in the blog, Daniel has to edit them first, and he can’t do that until we’re home. So you’ll just have to use your imagination. 

After about an hour of photography, we bid our bat friends adieu and set forth back to our hotel—very slowly. On our way we passed a large rodent on the side of the road that looked like he was hitchhiking. Upon later research, we learned he was a kangaroo rat. Who knew.

We plopped ourselves back into bed with no plans to pack until morning. Tomorrow we set out for the Grand Canyon, so we needed our beauty sleep.

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