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Epic Desert Road Trip Part 2: Arches & Canyonlands National Parks

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Posting by Caroline Seitz

We entered the surreal world of Arches National Park, UT on Friday October 22, 2010.  It was as if we had been transported to an alien world. Bizarre rock formations appeared through the misty, rainy desert day like something out of a dream.alien-rock-225x300Arches National Park comprises 119 square miles of protected land containing over 2000 natural sandstone arches.

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Even though it was cold and raining, we braved the elements and spent a few hours hiking in the park.

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Most of the arches in the park have names.  The arch pictured below is “Landscape Arch.” This arch is 290 feet long but only 6 feet thick in its thinnest section. It is nearing the end of its “lifespan” – it could collapse at any moment.

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The most famous arch in the park is Delicate Arch – the arch that is featured on the Utah license plate.  Below, Will is pointing to the famous arch.

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Many of the arches seemed like portals into other dimensions or worlds.  Like the Star Trek Episode “City on the Edge of Forever”  – I thought if I went through this arch, I would be transported to an alternate reality.

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Was that an alien creature on the other side of the portal?

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No, just a beautiful raven. After exploring the arches in the freezing cold, we need to refuel ourselves and have lunch.

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After our delicious lunch, we loaded up into the car and headed out to Canyonlands National Park.

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Canyonlands is a totally different experience from Arches.  Easy access and day hikes are a big part of Arches, but Canyonlands is a much larger and formidable park.  Although the main roads are paved and well maintained, most of the 530 square miles of Canyonlands are only accessible via off-road vehicle, horse, raft, or foot.

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One of my favorite books,  Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey features both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks (before they were National Parks) as prominent “characters” in the story.  Abbey is able to capture the essence of the look, feel, and even smell of the area.   He also echoes many of my own thoughts of the desert:  “Strolling on, it seems to me that the strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here, in the desert, by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in spareness and simplicity, with a generous gift of space for each herb and bush and tree, each stem of grass, so that the living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock. The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life-forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.”will-pointing-canyon“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” – Edward Abbey

Next, we’re headed to Mesa Verde National Park, CO.

Epic Desert Road Trip – Part 1 Reno to the Great Salt Lake

On October 19, 2010 I flew to Reno to meet up with my brother from Hawaii and my Dad who lives in Reno in the summer and Arizona in the winter. Our mission: drive from Reno, NV to Surprise, AZ via Colorado and visit as many National Parks as we could along the way.

We started our epic journey by packing up Dad’s 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. We had a lot of stuff, including two boxes of home-grown tomatoes plus three grown adults to take, but my experience loading vehicles for live animal shows has taught me a thing or two about how to pack!

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Will and Dad and a Packed Monte Carlo

We headed out of Reno on I-80 east, along the Truckee River.

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The Truckee River

We were following much of the Truckee River Route of the California Emigrant Trail. We stopped at a rest area that marked the Forty-Mile Desert.  This part of the trail was described as the most dreaded section of the entire route to California.  We decided to have lunch.  Too bad those emigrants in the mid 1850′s could not have gotten in a time machine to join us.

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Lunch in the Forty-Mile Desert

We continued heading east until we reached Wendover NV.  We spent the night there and in the morning, we toured the historic Wendover Air Base. “Wendover Air Base operated primarily as a training site for the crews of B17, B24 and B29 aircraft, including the Enola Gay and Boxscar, the crews of which were responsible for the first deployment of nuclear weapons over Japan in 1945.” – (Tooele Co Website)

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Wendover Air Base

The Great Salt Lake loomed ahead – and we stopped at one of its shores to explore and have lunch.

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Great Salt Lake

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Caroline examines the Great Salt Lake

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The Great Salt Lake is too salty for most plants and animals to survive, however, there is one famous resident of the salty lake: Sea Monkeys! Sea Monkeys are actually shrimp that are able to exist in salty inland lakes around the world.

No reptiles live in the Great Salt Lake, however, many species of snakes and lizards live in the surrounding desert. Sadly, I found a juvenile gopher snake in the parking lot of the lake’s marina, but it had been squashed by a car.

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Smooshed Gopher Snake

Next Posting…Arches National Park

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Arches National Park