Mar 15 – Moab to Shiprock

Warning – this post is more of a rant!

We had been to Moab nearly ten years ago and had missed the Delicate Arch as it was closed due to severe road damage.  This time was stayed at the KOA in Moab and scheduled to bug out at 6:00 to beat the crowds.  The Arches entrance is open 24/7 and we drove right through followed by a few cars.  The starry skies were interrupted by foreboding towers as we snaked through the legendary landscape in the twilight.  We reached the parking area and were thankful that it was only partially full.  It was in the 30’s and we had a 1.5 mile hike to get to the arch for sunrise.  I have Renauds (really cold fingers) and had my USB hand warmer in my pocket which proved to be invaluable. 

We did not realize what an uphill slog this would be and at elevation it proved to be quite a work out.  Bob went ahead as he has better capacity than me to get up the escarpment.  I somehow passed people and found myself alone; some of the poles were missing the trail signs so I took up tracking footprints in what sand there was.  

It’s not a place accommodating to people who fear heights or have physical impairments.  After nearly an hour I turned the corner and was blinded by the sun; I felt my way along the narrow trail and reached the viewpoint.  There were at least a hundred people sitting along the rocky outcrop and people were already leaving. The problem was the sun comes up over the back of the butte and takes a while to light up the arch.  More people came in and many climbed down to the arch itself for look-at-me photo ops.

This is where I had a problem:  It’s dangerous to be climbing around the arch and then people kept going out there for selfies and photo ops to the point that those at the viewpoint started yelling at the people to stop so the rest of us could enjoy and photograph from a respectable distance.  You can easily get a good picture from the viewpoint including the obsessive me, me, me selfies.  

In my opinion, while they are starting to restrict access to the parks anyway, I think they should fence off access to the arch itself – there is no reason to climb on it or deface it.  People notoriously deface monuments to the point the Navajo started restricting bags into the slot canyons as they caught a couple chisling away pieces of the canyon for souvenirs. 

“Bilagaana” is the term the Navajo use for white man or white man ways and the accompanying greed and egos that create imbalance – this concept now extends to any race that does not respect the boundaries of the land where they are visitors.  

We are all just passing through, no one is going to remember most of us in a hundred years but they will remember all the crap we leave.

I got my token I-was-there shot of the arch though there was no moment of zen to listen to the wind and take in the landscape or remind me of a profound moment; instead there was the scolding of children, the insistence on photographing themselves instead of really appreciating the arch, the cavalier climbing along the rock face and in one case almost slipping off, topped off with an overbearing tour guide who wouldn’t stop talking about himself…and it was cold.

My universe shrunk and I felt small – but it wasn’t because I was assessing my existence against a vast galaxy of stars. 

Delicate Arch

We decided to do this trip because the overcrowding is such that even though we visit, we may not really get a chance to truly enjoy these monumental landscapes for much longer. 

We hiked back down and on occasion were blocked by people who stood at the narrow passages with little concept that other people were trying to get by.  

When we got to the bottom we broke off to see the petroglyphs that certainly didn’t garner as much attention or selfies.  

No doubt carved by an Ute during a moment of zen

When we reached the parking lot around 9:00 it was full; people parking in RV spaces where they weren’t supposed to, people driving the wrong way in the lot trying to hijack available spots as they opened up (I almost got run over by an SUV). There was a line at the toilets.  It was like being in a shopping mall at Christmas.  

We stopped off for breakfast at the viewpoint to the Devil’s Garden where it was clear and beautiful and only a few other people.  While our experience at Delicate Arch was a disappointment – the landscape was not; another incredible palette conjured up by an imagination I can only sell my soul to the devil to possess. 

Devil’s Garden for breakfast

We stopped by the visitor center for our fridge magnet. Unfortunately the magnet board came unhinged from the wall and we’re having to come up a way to secure it better.

BigB copping a tan at Moab Visitor Center

We left waving to the mile long line of cars trying to get into the park. On the way we passed by Wilson’s Arch and of course Wilson was excited.

We headed out over the high altitude farmlands of Colorado to the Four Corners, then onto Farmington by way of Shiprock.  We had gone through four states!

Bob was wondering why there wasn’t more signage or accessibility to the rock itself; because it is sacred and we are back in Navajo country – it is an abomination to climb or deface it as it would risk bad mojo to the Dine’ so they don’t want Bilagaana coming in and messing things up. Lord knows rock climbing associations have been trying for years to gain access. We went down a paved service road to get closer and turned onto a dirt roundabout for a better view.

There was garbage everywhere; empty bottles and cans against the backdrop of a sacred monument.  

I rest my case. 

Shiprock – the Winged Rock

Mar 12-14 Needles Outlook, Canyonlands

We headed for the high altitude Canyonlands Rim Recreation area, home of the Needles Outlook and Windwhistle Campground.  We explored the Outlook with it’s sheer precipes akin to the Grand Canyon, though the lighting was a bit harsh and the landscape was less defined as a result.  We decided viewing would be better in the morning.  

We went off the grid for a few days with barely any signal and definitely no Wi-Fi.  We are so attached to our devices that we wondered how we coped back in the day when we camped and had no signal.  That’s where having a good book, editing photos and journaling really come into play. 

On the way back from the outlook we saw a volleyball on the side of the road, that like Dave, must have done a runner.  Realize that there is no trash on the sides of the roads here – it’s completely pristine so it really stood out.  We picked it up and it turned out to be a Wilson!  So Wilson became part of the family to keep Grogu company. I’m sure the family misses Wilson but he has found a good home so we are sending out positive vibes.

Welcome Wilson!!

We went to the campground with it’s smooth rounded sandstone backdrop and found a level site.  There are no sharp edges here as if the wind decided it wanted to define a different pallet from other areas of the Southwest.  The shaded areas were still protecting the snow that was slowly melting as the pressure system that had been plaguing us finally decided to move on. There were only two other campers around out of the fifteen sites and even they eventually siphoned off leaving Bob and I alone in this little slice of Paradise. The quiet is what I craved after all the stresses of noise pollution, and I sat and contemplated this level of emptiness thinking my surroundings had done fine without me for thousands of years.  There were occasional birds and the tracks of deer but otherwise you could meditate virtually undisturbed for quite a while.  

The emptiness is helping me reboot and I’m re-wiring myself to slow down.  The physical problems (knots) with the shoulders and my arm are finally subsiding.  I’m starting to lose track of the days which is both a curse and blessing.

The weather remained clear though there was the occasional gusts of wind.  When the wind died down and the sun came out it was warm and pleasant. 

The morning jaunt along the Needles Outlook turned out to be the best bet.  Though it was thirty degrees out with the wind making it even chillier, it soon heated up.  As we we are a contained unit we sat in solitary bliss and had our coffee and breakfast against the magnificent backdrop of the Canyonlands without another soul around. We switched on the local radio station which was playing Native American music.  Otherwise all you could hear was the wind and the indian chants drifting faintly from the RV.

For a moment I felt like the “Lady in the Wind.”  There was no rush, just nature and all the beauty that erupted from the vast Canyonlands of Utah for those who wish to partake.  

The Needles – Canyonland

Later that day we hiked the nature trail around the campground and learned about the fauna and flora; the twisted juniper and their edible berries, the sage and other plants used for medicinal purposes by the Navajo.  

BLM has done an incredible job of installing and maintaining this area considering how little it appears to be used. 

Otherwise we relaxed, enjoying the view until the wind kicked up.  Bob dug out the barbecue and we had “Willamette Valley” chicken breasts wrapped in bacon (from the local market no less) with wild rice and steamed carrots topped off with a nice Warr King Rose’ from by brother and frozen Mochi for desert. This was the first major meal we cooked in the RV while being on the road.  Glamping at it’s best!  

It was Sunday and four other campers showed up which we found interesting as the weekend was winding down.  They settled in, one was strumming on the guitar that drifted through the canyon along with the smell of campfires.  

We saw a weather system coming in and heard rain on our roof later that night but woke up to the sun and warm coming over the indelible sandstone features of the Moab area.