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Day Ten :: September 28, 2004: 12:33 PM

Monday, September 27th, 2004
Day Ten

This was our last full day in Moab and we wanted to visit the northern part of Canyonlands National Park. On the way we went through the Utah State Park: Dead Horse Point (I’ll spare you the story about the name.) It was 70 degrees f when we were there but the sun was searing hot and the only clouds were in the distance near the Ana Mountains. The state park had a couple of wonderful vistas and a nature trail we walked which explained a lot about the plants of the region.

The ever-present Utah juniper trees turned out to be quite interesting. They have an almost ginny smell as you pass them and the little blue berries are in fact tiny cones with a single seed in side. The branches are green because they are made up of even tinier leaves overlapping each other to shade from the sun. The trunks look like twisted paper , twisting and turning to follow the sun and when the desert become too dry (average rainfall is 9 inches per year) the tree simply shuts down the water supply to a part of itself and lets that die to conserve moisture. Every so often on the walk there would be a single blasted tree, totally black, fried by the frequent lightning.

We moved on to our main destination: I was afraid that after Arches, which I had loved, that Canyonlands would be too similar and not enjoyable. In fact, Canyonlands, which is far larger, was quite different at least at this northern end (the southern part is accessed closer to the Grand Canyon than here.)

Where Arches is a fairly tightly packed and dense set of towers and balanced rocks and pinnacles, Canyonlands was more prairie than desert as we approached. The desert ecosystem of the Canyonlands area we were in (Island in the Sky – Mike did not take to the name…) is actually in places 1000 feet below where the tourists (“users”) are.

Up on the highest level...

Up on the highest level there is a little more water and so there are some desert plants – a lot of small spiky cactuses, junipers, pinon pines and a single leaf ash unlike any ash tree I have ever seen. The trees are small and the other plants: yucca, Mormon tea and desert rose and small and many quite dry. However, looking down to the next eroded shelf down there were almost no green things at all. The level below that near the Colorado River, 2000 feet below, had some greenery on its banks and on the Green River where at times it was quite lush. Grand View Point is 6800 feet above sea level.

These sweeping views of the two meandering rivers, deep in their channels, the mesas and the towers and cliffs and pinnacles were very impressive, especially with the huge drop and also the fact that the cliffs we were looking at were often 6 or more miles away across the eroded valley floor. Some of the scenery showed the activities of 20th century humans who had dug holes looking for the uranium the area is known for. The roads they made in the 50s and 60s continue to be very obvious; the desert is so slow to recover.

There was also, among the cactus plants, huge areas of the cyanobiotic soil we first saw at Arches. Here it was much further along in its development making around 2 inch high knobbly mounds with black speckles on the younger ones and a blackish crust on the more developed ones.

There were other great things in the park. We drove around and stopped at all the overlook sights but the first and last ones we took short hikes. The sun remained very hot though the car insists it did not get above 75 until we were leaving at 6ish.

The first stop we made was at the Mesa Arch. It was just a short walk to a wonderful arch which is on much Canyon lands literature. There was a 500 foot drop immediately on the other side of it. Pretty spectacular. Even better we chose, by chance, the best way to do the circular route: we came upon the arch suddenly after rounding a bend – the other way you see it getting closer – much less dramatic. We had the place all to ourselves, tourist traffic is almost over for the year I guess. As we were leaving another couple arrived and they took our picture and we their’s. As we returned to the parking lot 2 Texan couples were arriving: very quiet.

The last stop of the tour round the park was something I had not read about and it did not sound, at first, all that interesting: Upheaval Dome. It looked like a very large rounded mound of red rocks, but the sign at the start of the trail persuaded us to take the walk. The walk is short - a little over a quarter mile each way - but the end result is that you are 200 feet above the parking lot, and the walk takes you up and down a little before the final climb.

You end up climbing onto the rim of a large hole which scientists (the sign called them “investigators”) have argued about for years. The most likely 2 scenarios is that this was a meteorite crash site or the result off a salt slip in the earth’s crust – salt under pressure becomes plastic – almost fluid in its motion. In the first scenario a meteor, its remains long since eroded away, crashed into the land pushing up the rocks at the impact site into a rocky rim. Rocks eventually came back into the hole leaving this rocky bump in the middle of the crater. In the salt scenario, huge volumes of salt (some of it still locatable under the rocks) moved around and caused slippage, some rocks piling up into a rim and others building up in the center. Others have suggested thick molten lava created this strange place and other ideas have been discussed : no-one knows. However it happened, it is a neat place to visit. The bump in the center is of light greenish rocks and some have eroded into interesting shapes. My favorites were red and green and looked like long beehives.

We saw some lizards and some local chipmunks and ground squirrels and the glossiest, biggest ravens I have ever seen, hopping between the cars and posing on signs for the “users.” (I think he park service feels that by making the point we are all users we will be happier handing over the cash. I did not begrudge them one penny.)

By the time we were leaving the park it was getting close to sunset but we decided against waiting for the magic ten minutes of red and headed down the 279, another small, little publicized scenic route which twists between the most enormous red cliffs beside the Colorado River. We were looking for petroglyphs. In this case the drawings on the cliff wall are about 20 feet up and were made by the San Rafael Fremont Indians, a culture that thrived in the area between 600 and 1300 AD. A few of the carvings were made more recently by Ute Indians. We found them and photographed them in the gloom. Very neat- haven’t downloaded the images yet so we don’t know how they will look but in any case, they were neat to see.

Back to Moab for food in an internet restaurant to download yesterday’s blog entry but could not check the mail as I had forgotten my new and very peculiar password Roadrunner gave me. Now sitting under our 40 watt light…beside a roaring campfire and typing into the laptop. Mike is reclining in an armchair and waiting till its time to crack open the wine…tomorrow we move on.

Moab has been interesting. After three days our espresso coffee purveyors have reached 11…and there are some really good restaurants..not at all what I expected. This trip has had many surprises and if there is not a casino on the rim of rhe Grand Canyon or an adult bookstore I am going to be quite disappointed! Not that I will be entering either establishment, but I sort-of expect them now. (Of course if there is an internet espresso shop I will object less…)

End mileage today was 3606….tomorrow we will travel rather more miles.



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