After leaving Great Basin we crossed back into Utah, and headed east. Our next destination, Arches National Park, is also in Utah, but in the north-east corner. It was a long journey to get there, requiring an overnight stop en route, and for many miles there was no sign of human habitation. Yet another reminder of the vast emptiness of the south-west!
Arches National Park
We’d visited Arches twice before, but it is so amazing we wanted to see it again. We spent a day there, and walked to many of the arches. We noted some changes since our last visit. One arch had collapsed completely! And you cannot now go right up to, and under, Landscape Arch, because of the perceived risk of a further rockfall. (You can of course get good views from the footpath.) Unless our memories have failed, the park was more crowded this time. And campsites (first come, first served previously) can now be booked in advance, making it hopeless even for people who turn up early on the day. Still, we found a campsite in an attractive setting on the Colorado Riverway, not far from the national park.
Even if you have never been to Utah, you must have seen pictures of the iconic Delicate Arch, which stands alone on the edge of a sandstone basin. To get there you have to walk 1.5 miles each way, and the path is quite strenuous, with no shade. We were reminded of our first visit, accompanied by our sons, then aged five and three. On the way back we were followed by two people, and we overheard one say to his companion ‘Those Brits sure breed ‘em tough’. This time the trip was easier, because we did it in the early evening, when it was less hot. Our guidebook said that many people choose to be at Delicate Arch for sunset, and they were right; there were hundreds of people sitting around near the arch, and we passed many more on our way down.
Colorado National Monument
After Arches, we headed north and then east, across into Colorado. First we travelled through the Colorado Riverway, past the place where wee had camped the night before. We stopped at a winery there, and sampled some Utah wine.
We knew nothing about Colorado National Monument; we just saw on the map that it was on our route, more or less, and decided we might as well have a look. This was lucky, because we discovered yet another great place with wonderful scenery. After pitching our tent in the campground, we did some short walks along the rim of Monument Canyon, with views of some giant freestanding red rock formations on the canyon floor. (The largest one, Independence Monument, is climbed every year on 4 July.)
The next day we followed the 23-mile scenic drive, stopping at several other viewpoints on the way. The scenery at the other end of the park was quite different, though the red rocks were not entirely absent. We walked through No Thoroughfare Canyon, to First Pool (just mud in July) and on to First Waterfall (a small pool here, no water coming over, but interesting stripes on the rock showing where the water flows in other seasons). On the way we detoured to the Devil’s Kitchen, which involved a steep climb but was worth it (more amazing red rocks). We also saw several collared lizards, and a dragonfly drying its wings in the sun.
After leaving the National Monument, we travelled south to Montrose, where we had decided to camp for the night. On the way we spotted a sign directing us to a small winery (rather reminiscent of some of those in the Wairarapa, New Zealand). So we detoured, chatted to the producer and sampled his wares. One thing we have learned from this trip is that California is definitely not the only wine-producing state!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Montrose is not far from the entrance to the Black Canyon, and we camped there (rather than in the national park) because at this stage we needed showers and electricity! Early next morning we drove into the park. Like the Grand Canyon, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison has two rims that can be visited, and we went to the south.
We followed another scenic drive, much shorter than the one at Colorado NM, but with several viewpoints. Most of these required a short walk from the road, so visiting every one took some time. In complete contrast to all the red rock canyons we had seen, these walls really are black (or perhaps dark grey, when the sun is shining on them). They are sheer and very steep, thus difficult to photograph (though of course we tried our best). From some viewpoints you can catch glimpses of the river far below. All in all, the scenery was impressive, and the Black Canyon well worth a visit. However, after finishing the scenic drive we attempted some trails, and found these rather disappointing, so we left the park and moved on.