Posted on September 4, 2019
Before leaving Montrose, a check of the forecast for Arches and Canyonlands National Park for the time we would be there indicated that midday temperatures were going to reach 100F. With that in mind it was obvious that getting an early start each morning would be the plan. It had been at least twenty years since I last visited Arches. At that time I was touring on a BMW motorcycle which was a concession to the fact that I wasn’t going to live long enough to see the American West using my favorite mode of transportation, a bicycle. However, as with most motorcycle trips it had essentially been a “fly by”. We would try to dig a little deeper this time.
The arches are the reason folks come from all over the world to Arches NP and they are certainly worth the effort. Some are more spectacular or beautiful than others while some seem to defy anything we thought we knew about how arches and the laws of gravity work. However, to really appreciate the park’s uniqueness, it is also important to notice the other things. Strange, sometimes human-like, rock formations grace the landscape. At first glance one might think that the wind has sculpted the sandstone but that is not the case, rather in this arid place it is the endless effect of water, it’s freezing and thawing, that works the artistry. Shrubs like blackbrush and purple sage favor the shallow sandy soil, while greasewood and Mormon tea favor the alkalinity of the soil in this unimagined place. The dominant plant community in the parks, the pinyon-juniper woodland, find a home in the fractured bedrock.
Our visit to Canyonlands differed from Arches in that we were mostly looking down at spectacular views from high mesas. In Arches, the sandstone, the result of an ancient sea, is a light yellow-orange in color. All of the formations consist of Navajo Sandstone dating from about 174 to 163 million years ago. In the Canyonlands, more layers are usually visible. Ancient sand was blown into the area from sea beds forming the white bands in the Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Red bands came from sediment carried down by streams from adjacent mountainous areas long since gone. These layers of sand were laid down on top of each other and created the park’s distinctive rocks.
To take a journey back in time on the human scale Newspaper Rock was a mandatory stop as we left the Needles Area of Canyonlands NP.
While I was captivated by the landscape my wife was looking for any critters that might appear.
As I write this, we just finished exploring the 800 year old cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people in Mesa Verde NP. When I think of the fascinating geology, beautiful scenery, and intriguing history of the America west, I am in awe and we have barely scratched the surface. I hope this post wets your appetite for new adventures, perhaps in the American west. Thanks for stopping by.
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