The Road to Moab and Beyond
The road trip from Glen Canyon in the high valleys of North Colorado to the town of Moab in Utah occupies a stretch of landscape that will test the imagination of the most seasoned traveler. One travels through a highway in Colorado that’s the marvel of engineering today, let alone when it was opened in 1975. The steep curves of the road eventually give way to a gentle high plain at the town of Fruita, where undulating slopes of vines and grain crops in a patchwork of industry on the land, and horses by the thousand abound.
One descends from this fertile high valley into a more desolate landscape. Off the highway one heads south into a land of canyons which from a distance looked for all the world like giant coffins lined up in rows, so square and stark were their sides. I used to wonder as a kid when they called a place out west “tombstone territory”; well, riding past them now, in August 2002, this is somewhat close to that feeling. The high buttes heading down the road to Moab are like a never-ending procession of gigantic rusty red-rock coffins flecked with shiny white and yellow quartz, running east- west.
The Colorado River has woven its way down the valley floor in a wide meandering manner. Along the shore of the pale gritty white sand I see men fishing, people canoeing and rafting and trail rides on the western slope. Where the sun is hidden a bit, the soft greys and soft sage green of the foliage along the river comes alive and contrasts with the red rock, the purple hues of a glassy flecked flint in the rock and the sandy beaches.
This was a wonderful and relaxed journey down into the town of Moab in Utah. Moab is a relaxed and classy town that oozes class and money. There are more trail ride camps and Dude ranches here than ‘Spin and Marty’ ever dreamed about, and I can see that this would be a perfect place to enjoy a canter or mosey along the river bank or take to the trails atop the mesa tops.
Just south of Moab is the Arches National Park, and one is staggered by the immensity and surrealism of the La Sal Mountains as one wends up to the Arches plateau. Here on the plateau there are many sights to behold, such as the natural rock arches carved by the driving wind and sleet and snow coming in from the west. There is a group of large arches called ‘ the windows’, which frame the landscapes of the mountains beyond, and in winter are draped in snow, but on this day in the century temperature heat, the mountains beyond shimmer like tinfoil.
The air here is so clear and the light so intense, that the colour of the red ochre arches against the blue of the sky make for dramatic contrasts similar to the landscape of The Olgas, a mountain range in central Australia. In fact my whole time there I was haunted by the thought that I had been here before, for it was the memory of hiking through the Valley of the Winds at the Olgas in Australia that felt so familiar.
One gets the impression of being in a special, spiritual place. Perhaps it is the cathedral-like sandstone monuments and the uplift of the arches that brought on this thought. My mind drifts to a belief that this land was a mystical place long ago, because the landscape is like being on another planet – it frightens, even jolts the senses with its eerie shapes and the sound of the restless wind echoing through the arches. The landscape sings to you, sometimes lulling you off to thoughts of other times and places.
Here nature has been the craftsperson, the carver, and we the mortals fleetingly available to peruse the grand plan can only wonder at the sheer natural aura of the location.
Landscape Arch is the largest in the Arches Park. It reminds me of a huge rib of some long past creature of immense size, traversed across the sky in a slender arc of immense size. Other features in the Arches Park include, the Balanced Rock, the Gossips, and the Tower. The last leg of the trip is across a wide plain heading to Glen Canyon and the marina at Bullfrog on Lake Powell.
As the afternoon sun sets across the mesa, my eyes drift to the south where the immense buttes of Arizona rise from the floor of the desert some 50 miles or more away, yet one can see clearly the sandstone sentinels, like giant warriors standing against the skyline. This is the country of the Western film, made famous by the director John Ford. Here is one of the harshest and loneliest places on earth. Plants are tough and tenacious; they hang on for dear life on the sandy edges of the rock ledges and concrete-like plains. Man seems an imposter here.
Despite this bleakness there is a beauty unparalleled in this land .My friend Wilfred and I stop for a timely beer and an early, rough, stand-up dinner is consumed as we look east to Wedding Cake Butte, to watch it change in colour with the setting of the sun; from a yellow white to a soft pink, to a deep red, and finally to a purple-black against the eerie pale gold skyline. The progression of light and contrast was like watching a changing hologram.
The land is absolutely still until that silence is broken by the shrill cries of eagles gliding in the weather worn valleys below. As they rise to our line of sight we notice the brilliant pale blue sky with wisps of pink clouds tease out like long thin strands of clean crinkled fleece from a new-shorn ram.
This has been day of endless contrast, most memorable for the confluence of senses and of the imagination with the sheer mind- grabbing power of nature in the canyon lands of Utah.