We arrived at Bryce Canyon about 3 hours before the sun went down, providing excellent light for photographs and viewing. Bryce is a really amazing place — huge pillars carved from stone, standing very close together. We checked out a few viewpoints and set up camp in the park for the night.
The next morning we hiked down about a mile into the canyon to get a better view. We took much needed showers (the desert dust just sticks to you) and then headed out towards Arches National Park.
Arches is pretty much the other side of the state, so we spent about 5 or 6 hours driving through ever changing desert wasteland. One hour we were on the moon, with pure white rock and sand dunes. The next was Mars, with orange and red rocks, cliffs and canyons. Later the ground was yellow and flat, with scrappy bushes and dead grass. It was a hot drive — the temperature was about 100 all day. It’s way too hot in the desert to mess with the air conditioner, so we used our natural cooling method and drank tons of water. We’ve been filling up our 3 gallon water jugs about once a day, and going through all that water. Imagine drinking a whole gallon of water a day and not going to the bathroom! That’s how hot and dry it is. Because you sweat so much, and it evaporates so quickly, your skin becomes very salty. You can taste it when you lick your lips.
We drove through Capitol Reef and Grand Escalante National Parks on the way to Arches. We saw some 1,000 (est) year old petroglyphs in Capitol Reef, which was pretty neat.
Thunderstorms are an entirely different thing out here in the desert. Well, first of all, since it rarely rains in the desert, when it does, the ground can’t absorb it quickly enough, and it runs off into the canyons and creates flash floods. We had to be very careful when exploring the canyons to watch the weather. Rain you say? Strangely enough, it’s rained every day so far in the desert. We must be very lucky. Or maybe it’s the super short rainy season.. I’m not sure. It’s defiantly made the desert more bearable. We look forward to the rainstorms, and try to catch up with them while driving. You can see them from miles and miles away because it’s so flat. I think the lack of humidity in the air also provides better visibility. Another thing which is different about the thunderstorms in the desert — there are no trees. You are the tallest thing around. So when a thunderstorm is near, there is a very good chance of getting struck by lightning. You have to stay in the car — no playing in the rain! It’s a bit scary to be out so vulnerable like that, watching lightning strike all around you.
We reached Arches about an hour before sunset, and did the 1.5 mile hike up to the Delicate Arch. That’s the famous arch which you may or may not have seen — it’s on most of the Utah license plates. The walk was cool — through a desert trail, then onto a huge rock, which must have been a mile long itself. At the top was the arch, bigger and more awesome than I had imagined. We waited there until it was almost pitch black, and walked back on the trail by starlight. The stars were the most impressive that we’ve seen so far. There was very little (no) light pollution, and the milky way was so bright. We were able to find a few constellations, and watch the heat lightning on the horizon. We laid on the car for a while watching the stars before driving to a campground to camp. We chose a nice shady spot to set up camp.
The next day we drove into Moab (mow-ab) to have some breakfast and ice cream. Around noon we left to drive more through the desert and into Colorado. We finally reached the mountains around 4:00 — and the temperature was much more reasonable — in the 80’s. We drove all the way into Aspen and had some dinner. We spent an hour or so walking around downtown, and then drove out and camped at the Maroon Bells. The Maroon Bells are some big mountains with a nice lake at the base. The lake was probably 40 degrees, and the temp outside was about 65. We made a fire for no good reason at all, other than entertainment. Then we went to sleep. It was a bit chilly!
We woke up this morning and it was probably 40 degrees out, for I could see my breath. We broke down camp and drove. We stopped at the continental divide, along Independence Pass, at elevation of 10,095 feet. We could see snow just around the corner. It was Tundra — too high and windy for trees to grow. Neat. I remember stopping there when I was younger with my brother. He used to live in Aspen.
We continued to Leadville and had lunch. I think this town has changed a lot since I’ve been here last. I remember it being a bit more ‘Wild West’ — now it’s more more ‘hippy’. I had a veggie burger while listening to the Grateful Dead loudly on the speakers.
We’re now driving East on rt. 70, almost in Denver. We will drive today until we get tired, probably stopping for the night in Kansas (yay, corn). We’re pretty much driving back straight from here to Massachusetts, nothing exciting left on the itinerary. I’ll post photos when I can.