From California to the U.K. in 30 days - Day 9 (Canyonlands National Park, Utah)

Published: July 23rd 2017
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Despite the consistent rain last night, the sun is shining this morning and Moab looks again as though it has never seen a drop of precipitation. Everything has dried and the bare red rock cliffs look as parched as ever. It’s as if this area is somehow water repellent.

We have an excellent breakfast at the Jailhouse Café which is just a block down from our hotel. They have outdoor seating in specially constructed huts without walls. Custom canvas sides can be deployed for inclement weather, but this morning is in the high 70s and very pleasant. AJ takes the first meltdown as he wanted to drive to the restaurant and I enjoy a time out with him in the sun.

Canyonlands National Park is split into four distinct and quite separate areas, none of which are connected. We have opted to explore Island in the Sky as it is both closest, and most easily accessible. The GPS wants to take us up Gemini Bridges Road which is dirt (remember this for later), but we disregard it and take highway 313 into the park. Almost immediately the most extraordinary vista opens up to our left. A monstrous canyon rivaling the Grand falls away and it’s carved out of that remarkable red rock. The tops of the canyons are table flat and end with sheer escarpments that are hundreds of feet high. At the base of the cliffs lie debris piles that gently slope away like skirts. It’s mammoth, 10s of miles across, impossibly deep and filled with geological wonders. We stop at the first view point and breathe it all in. I’ve found a road on the map (dirt of course) that isn’t too challenging and leads down to the Green river. As we come to the top of the canyon, the river lies several hundred feet below us in a sea of green plants. The road drops steeply in a series of impressive switchbacks to the canyon floor. The Green river is inappropriately named as it appears quite brown. The kids want to swim but change their minds after we warn of probable crocodiles (cropodiles as Gracie calls them). After a little exploring we retrace our route back to the main road. The road is replete with viewpoints all designed to show off different parts of the canyon and its walls. We make it to the furthermost tip with is aptly named the Grand Viewpoint and is it ever! We stand atop a bluff while before us the world drops away. The canyon must be hundreds of feet deep and it carves itself out as far as the eye can see. The air is still and quiet and I feel overwhelmed by the view. Although there is a section with railing, we marvel at the foolhardiness of people as they pose for selfies upon cliff edges. I wonder how many of them overbalance each year fulfilling a Darwinian prophecy.

It’s noon and the kids are hungry. We passed a picnic spot about a mile back and head over to eat. By now it’s getting pretty hot and there are about 8 picnic sites, each covered with a gazebo, but all are occupied. The desert scrub and stunted trees don’t offer much in the way of shade, so we head for the other picnic site at Upheaval Dome. Alas, we encounter much the same scene; but this site has more in the way of tree cover. We spread a blanket out under a Pinyon Pine and enjoy a picnic in the dry warm heat of the desert.

After lunch, we are ready to hike to Upheaval Dome. The climb is only 0.3 miles but the terrain is rough and steep. The memories of the previous day’s hike are fresh in everyone’s mind but we pick our way up the rocky hill anyway. In due course, we reach the overlook and stare down into a bizarre crater. It looks chaotic, like a massive explosion has occurred. The surrounding red walls are twisted and curved, shattered and splintered; while in the middle rises a dome of impossibly light green material. The contrasting colors are bizarre and unnatural. The placard explains that the verdict is still out on what caused the chaos, but the leading theory is a meteor impact. I can only imagine what the explosion must have been like to leave this kind of destruction.

By the time we make it back to the car it is close to 3pm and we decide to head back to the hotel. Once again, the GPS wants to take us down Gemini Bridges Road. Buoyed by our earlier dirt experience and with Antonio surprisingly fearless at the wheel, we turn right onto the dirt road. It’s fairly benign at this point and we follow for several miles before coming to the Gemini Bridges pullout. Having no idea what they are we follow the trail down. We find ourselves standing atop two natural bridges side by side, only a few feet separating them. The drop of a hundred feet or more with no railing unnerves me but it is an incredible sight. It feels as though we are the only people out here; a myth that is quickly dispelled after six people pass us on the walk back up.

Again, Antonio is at the wheel and we continue on. At this point the road begins to deteriorate and we are soon driving on rock rather than dirt. The Acura has all wheel drive and a reasonable ground clearance but it is not really designed as a serious off-road vehicle. Still, despite being pretty rough its passable. We press on and the road deteriorates further. We consider turning around but at this point we are miles into the trip and have been heading steadily downhill. Some of the obstacles we navigated going downhill would certainly be more challenging with gravity working against us. A little further along and Antonio cheerfully suggest perhaps it would be better if I took over the driving. I negotiate a series of rock steps at an angle and we press on. We’re both nervous at this point having clearly bitten off more than we bargained for. The kids are blissfully unaware despite being lurched from side to side as they are engrossed in a movie. I want to turn around but we can’t bear the thought of going back and so we gingerly press on. At the bottom of the canyon things smooth but only for a moment. We approach a rough rocky section that I’m certain will defeat us. After a few minutes however, I pick out a path and we tiptoe across without bottoming out. We’re only 2 miles from the end according to the GPS (although why I would trust that stupid piece of equipment at this point I can’t imagine). Just when we think we must be out of the worst, the road begins to climb again. Its rocky, steep and now has a sheer drop off one side and nowhere to turn around. But we are so close. We round a corner and can see the highway below us! We creep down, winding our way around and over the worst of the rocks and finally level out onto graded dirt. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be back on a highway again.

We passed some dinosaurs earlier in the morning and promised the kids we would take them. It’s close to 100 degrees again, and unsurprisingly the dinosaurs are all outdoors. AJ and Gracie both opt to ride in carts while Antonio and I sweat along the trail pulling them. The dinosaurs are very realistic and they enjoy themselves immensely. Despite the heat they both insist on taking some time at the playground. Despite our reservations we have learned long ago never to pass up an opportunity to let them burn off some energy. Eventually they agree to go back to town.

We eat dinner at the Twisted Sistah’s café on Main street. A mix of tapas and American Cuisine. We enjoy some baked brie and a shrimp dish. I have beef medallions which are excellent and Antonio has a vegan curry to which he adds chicken. We stop a couple of doors down for some dessert and a coffee. It’s been another full day with perhaps a little more excitement than was called for, but I must confess to a little pride as I see our plucky Acura sitting in the parking lot covered in Red Moab mud. Only a couple of other jeeps are wearing the same badge of honor.

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25th July 2017

Thank you to my husband for his writing about our family trip
I love how smart and talented you are and I enjoy reading your entries. I support and admire you alaways. Love you so much

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