Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Utah - Arches & Dead Horse Point with Kids, Part 3

Today is canyons day as I figured we can’t travel all the way here and not see at least one of the surrounding canyons. We have a choice between Dead Horse Point and Canyonlands National Park and, considering that it’s the location of the final scene of Thelma & Louise (where they drive their car off the edge in the ultimate expression of female bonding), we decide on Dead Horse Point. It is an easy 30 min drive from Moab and as soon as you drive up the steep road you realize it’s a totally different scenery. The orange colors and formations are gone to be replaced by grayish colors and chopped craggy hills. As we leave the sunny Moab the sky becomes dark and gray and we see huge lightning in front of us that appears to be right on top of the park. When we get to the entrance booth we ask the ranger if it’s going to be safe with all the lightning but she says she got reports that it’s a passing storm so we should be fine.
We get to the Visitor’s Center, which is a very modern glass and wood building with a huge terrace overlooking part of the canyon.
Chris is still very worried about the thunderstorm so we decide not to hike but to just drive around to some of the view points. There is one right next to the Visitor Center and when we get close to the edge I gasp realizing that we are mere feet away from the huge drop. I am clutching Victor, knowing how he tends to just run around, but he seems to be getting it that there is real danger here.
Dead Horse Canyon is also the spot where Tom Cruise was climbing up a rock during the opening scenes of the Mission: Impossible 2 movie when he got a call from his boss with his latest mission while holding on to the cliff with one hand. I keep looking around trying to figure out where exactly where they shot this scene but all the cliffs around us seems so tall and steep that I don’t imagine even the most experienced hikers can climb them.
We leave the Visitor Center area and drive a couple of miles up the road to the main overlook. There are several overlook “stations” fenced in which gives you an almost 360 degree view of the canyon and the Colorado River cutting through it.
As we are admiring the view. this time truly feeling on top of the world, we see in the distance an SUV driving down a dirt path meandering through the opposite side of the canyon and slowly getting closer and closer to the river bank. On further inspection there is a sandy strip along the edge of the water and the more daring can drive all the way down on some kind of a rugged vehicle.
The name of this part of the canyon comes from a sad story. Years ago, cowboys used to lure wild horses to the edge of the cliff where they corralled them into an enclosure they had built there and were able to pick the best horses out of the bunch to sell. The remaining horses were left there, fenced in with no water or food, with view of the river below which they could not reach and they eventually died from starvation.
We walk along the edge for a bit, climbing up and down some of the smaller cliffs but my fear of heights gets the best of me and I sit on a stone bench while Chris and Victor climb a steep rock right on the edge and I almost have a heart attack while taking a picture of them.
On the way back, we see a lovely turquoise patch down below and stop to see what it is and find out the most striking azure blue squares contrasting with the reddish gray colors of the canyon. Apparently, those are salt mines, taking advantage of the potassium-based soil of the area which at one point in time used to be a bottom of the ocean. Bright blue paint is added to the water to attract the sun which helps the water evaporate faster.
Back in Moab, we have lunch at a hippy place called Cake’n’Bake. I’m pretty unimpressed with the food, despite the great reviews online, and they do not serve beer which is a no-no in Chris’ book, but the place is connected to a pretty large second-hand book store where we find a couple of very old Little Golden Books for Victor so he is happy. After a quick break by the pool we decide to tackle the hardest Arches hike and one that, to be honest, gives me heart palpitations just thinking about it – Devil’s Arch. I am not very good with heights but usually I do pretty well on stationary heights (as opposed to a plane or a roller coaster) and the Devil’s Arch is sort of the symbol of Utah being featured on all of their license plates, so we decide we can’t skip it.
The good news is that the sky is pretty cloudy and there is a faint breeze in the air because Devil’s Arch is a 3-mile hike in a completely open area which on a sunny hot day would be a killer to climb. Unlike most of the other arches in the park which include just enough real climbing to make you feel “rugged” but  nothing too exhausting, Devil’s Arch is a real strenuous hike. It starts off slow, on a graveled path but 15 minutes into it I see a huge rock in front of us with tiny black dots climbing up which appear to be people. I panic but continue on. After 5 minutes the gravel road ends and the path continues literally up the huge rock which, while not that steep, offers absolutely no railing or protection on the side.
 I instruct Chris to hold on to Victor’s hand at all times and try pretend I’m fine while we start our trek up with me trying to walk as far away from the edge as possible. The sunset at Devil’s Arch is supposed to be spectacular and it is close to 6pm so the path is very busy with everyone from groups of Japanese tourists to little kids surrounding us. After a good 30 minutes of climbing we reach a plateau and I breathe a sigh of relief as we continue walking through over flat rocks with no marked path except cairns, which seem to be the universal path markers in Arches.
The view is great and the weather is nice and I’m starting to enjoy the hike until we reach what I now think of as “the scariest thing I have ever done”. All of a sudden the path becomes no more than 3 feet wide and continues along the edge of a cliff where on one side all you see if a deep hole and on the other is the steep rock towering above. There is no railing, no nothing, it’s you and the hollow below.
 I contemplate giving up but that would not be a good example for Victor so I take a deep breath and decide to go on. Chris is clutching Victor’s hand for fear he may get some crazy ideas en route and I specifically tell them to go in front of me and surprisingly Victor does not even blink an eye and I see their backs turning around a bend in the rock. I, on the other hand, am having a panic attach and I walk at the pace of a snail desperately holding on to the cliff “wall” on one side of me. It’s probably only a 5 minute walk along the edge but it seems forever and then we finally see the Arch in front of us. It’s truly a spectacular site, a huge arch perched on the edge of a cliff with nothing but the sky behind it. My legs are still shaking and I’m expecting that we have reached a flat area where we can sit down and rest. But no such luck! The arch is located on one side of what appears to be a funnel made of rock, the top edge of the funnel is no more than 3-4 feet wide.
We see many people sitting on the edge of the rock waiting for the sunset. I sit down for a minute but get dizzy from being so high up with basically nothing to hold on to but the ground so ask another hiker to take a quick photo of us and I ask Chris to get back. He suggests that him and Victor hike to the other end of the cliff so I can take a photo of them under the arch but my panicky voice probably told him that is not a good idea so we get ready to hike the narrow edge path once again. As my shaking hands are holding on to the rocks I see a young couple of hikers, both of them carrying backpacks with tiny children in each one. I feel a bit embarrassed but one look to the hollow on my right and my hands start shaking again. Finally we are back to the wider path and this time climbing down the big rock at the beginning of the trail seems like nothing and we actually sit down and take a break there, feeling the warm stone under us as we decide to say a family prayer.
The hike down seems much faster than the hike up and we are back in Moan in no time for another sushi dinner and then off to bed.

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