DNA X #26 The Bones of the Earth

January 17th, 2011 by

“Wilderness, wilderness…we scarcely know what we mean by the term, though the sound of it draws all whose nerves and emotions have not yet been irreparably stunned, deadened, numbed by the caterwauling of commerce, the sweating scramble for profit and domination.”    Edward Abbey; Desert Solitaire

On our Discover North America Expedition (DNA X) we have seen some incredible landscapes and wilderness. Webster claims that wilderness is “a region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings…” although today’s “wilderness” can be heavily influenced by human activity (logging, mining, tourism). As we venture forth into the Utah high desert and Navajo Indian lands, it is in-fact inhabited, subtly, and cultivated discreetly somehow blending into wilderness. This is the least populated section of the country and one can drive for hours without encountering more than a stray pick-up truck. We notice Blackie will need fuel soon so we scan the map for the next town. Just because there is a name on the map here does not guarantee fuel. As we enter the town, we notice a collapsed power pole with a truck wrapped around it. A few people were surveying the scene. Hummm. We see a gas station (!) and pull in. We notice a collection of other vehicles parked and soon a woman emerges from the station. “The power is out, no gas…there was an accident a while ago… don’t know how long until…”. The next town is at least 25 miles and we don’t know if they have gas or power. No wonder the other cars are camped out here. There is one power-line into town, which way does it go??! What to do? We should make it to the next town but…we gamble that eventually we will find fuel and gently coax Blackie on into the desert.
DNA-XOur destination is Moab, front and center for exploring red rock country. We do find a functioning gas station 50 miles later and after the sun goes to bed we find our hotel down a lonely canyon road. The Red Cliffs Lodge is 14 miles outside of Moab and sits along the Colorado River. The friendly staff, good food and peaceful location make this the perfect base to explore the area. There is even a winery! Yes, Utah makes good wine too! Things have changed since I was last here years ago. Back then Moab had a few “basic” (rundown) motels, one or two gas stations, a couple of restaurants and no bars. If you wanted an alcoholic beverage you had to follow a waitress upstairs into the dingy attic where you pointed to your preferred wine/beer, she would transport it down stairs where you would open it, transport fees were added on the bill. Now there are the usual modern motels/hotels, numerous restaurants and a few bars. No more trudging to the attic!

The next day we set off to visit one of my favorite parks. With over 73,000 acres of land, Arches National Park is yet another jewel in the park system. This is not the typical wilderness of forests and wildlife but it is the quintessential paragon of erosion. It is the earths bones exposed, carved, worn away, ever changing into bizarre formations that challenge logic. It is a surreal world that transports you beyond the usual; twisting tradition and inspiring appreciation for the forces of wind and water. Edward Abbey was a park ranger here in the 1960’s and his
DNA-Xexperiences inspired him to write Desert Solitaire, a good book to read before you visit Arches. You can drive through the park in a day and see amazing things from the car, but don’t be lazy. Get out and hike on the trails to view some of the 2000+ arches, the figure-like formations, the maze of pillars, petrified sand dunes, fins and monoliths. The red sandstone formations are framed in a cobalt sky and accented by the
DNA-Xnear-by snow-covered range of the La Sal Mountains. Spectacular! Don’t forget to go by the visitor center for a look at how this stunning landscape was formed.
We hesitate to leave this beautiful area but we will be back. Fall is slipping away and east we must go. We aim Blackie toward Colorado to cross over the Continental Divide. Along the way we drive through the Colorado National Monument. This park is getting ready to celebrate its 100th birthday. Located outside of Grand Junction, CO it is another example of erosion at work. You can take the 23-mile Rim Rock Drive to experience the views and formations and marvel at how 100 years ago the road was carved into the cliffs by hand. Up and up we climb on I70. We pass through Glenwood Canyon where I70 is squeezed between the canyon walls. This is an engineering marvel where viaducts support four lanes of concrete weaving along and over the rushing Colorado River.  We reach Vail Pass (elevation 10,662 ft) and yes there is snow and skiing! We stop for a brief snowball fight and a road weary Pip (the Prairie Dog) makes a futile attempt to try to dig a burrow in the snow- he is horrified and makes a hasty retreat to Blackie! We drive down the eastern side of the divide passing through the old gold mining town of Idaho Springs. Along the way we see mule deer and even a big horn sheep ram walking casually along a cliff. We stop for one more spa visit for Blackie at Flatirons Land Rover to make sure she is ready for the push east. So far she has been flawless! The tires are getting tired but pass inspection. All systems are go and we’re off. The endless, flat expanse of the Great Plains stretch out before us as we watch the snow covered Rockies slowly fade away in the rearview mirror.