Hooray for the Utah Educator’s Association!
They schedule their annual conference for the first weekend in October, giving all the schoolchildren in the state a four day weekend. Brian and I decided to take one last camping trip for the season and head down to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in southern Utah.
The only downside to our plan is that the first big cold front of the year swept into town the day before we were supposed to leave. We had a 1/4 inch of snow on the ground the morning we were packing! Not very encouraging. But despite the sleepless nights (for me; I can’t sleep when there’s a draft anywhere around) and very cold mornings (William started screaming when his hands turned purple, so we ended up going to a diner for breakfast two of the mornings we were there) the trip was just lovely. The high temperatures were in the 70s — it was like hiking through an air conditioned room!
Day One: Arches
William loved the Windows area of Arches. He kept pointing at them and happily cried “Big Wok! Big Wok!” (big rock!) over and over. Later, he saw a group of pointed sandstone fins on the horizon and exclaimed “Mountain!” while holding his hands over his head in a little mountain-shape.
Our big hike in Arches was to the Double O Arch — two round arches stacked on top of each other. We had to scramble up a series of sandstone boulders to get to the main part of the trail, which the children loved (in fact, they were the only kids we saw on that part of the trail). One part of the hike requires walking on the edge of a tall narrow fin. There were ledges on either side of us, so it was safe, but it still induced a good sense of virtigo. Eleanor, on the other hand, found it exhilirating. “I’m flying high like a bird in the air!” she exclaimed.
When we got to the Double O, Jeffrey climbed on a boulder and sang a song about how a double O makes an “oo” sound, like in “book.” Cute.
We had a camp stove, which allowed us to cook our dinner at a picnic table in the park and watch the sunset at the same time. Hot dogs always taste better when you get to watch this while eating them:
Day Two: Canyonlands
Canyonlands is about 30 miles away from Arches, and is divided into three different districts, each more rugged than the last. We spent our time in the most accessible district, Island in the Sky. It is named as such because it is an enormous mesa that climbs above the canyons to an elevation of 6,ooo feet. Looking out at the seemingly endless mazes of rocks and ravines really does give the feeling of being on top of the world.
Our most challenging hike in Canyonlands was called Aztec Butte, which scrambles up a sandstone hill to a series of ancestral Puebloan ruins dating from about 1200 A.D. Archaeologists believe they were used as granaries. In retrospect, we probably shouldn’t have taken the kids on this hike, because the climb down was kind of scary.
But Jeffrey, who has a fascination with ancient cultures, thought it was wonderful (and bombarded us with questions about the Puebloans for the rest of the trip).
We all had a big adrenaline rush when we came back down from the butte. Eleanor skipped down the last ten yards of the hike, singing “Stay on the trail, stay on the trail! Do what the ranger sayyyyyys . . .
Again, we used our camp stove to cook up some dinner (barbecue sandwiches! Mmmm!) in the park at sunset. We sat near the edge of an overlook (there was a ledge underneath, don’t worry) and saw this spectacular view:
It really did feel like we were floating miles above everyone else. I love Island in the Sky.
Day Three: Sand Dune Arch
We had a sprinkling of rain on Sunday morning, so we quickly struck our camp and headed back to Arches for one last visit before saying goodbye. I wanted to take the children to Sand Dune Arch, one of my favorite places in the park. It’s an arch that is nestled between a group of sandstone fins, but what makes it fun is the enormous piles of fine sand that have collected around the base of the fins. It’s like a giant sandbox, with lots of boulders, nooks and crannies for exploring. Whenever I’ve been there before, the place is usually packed with people, but for some reason it was deserted for about 45 mintues after we arrived.
The light rain had left the top layer of sand wet, which made it perfect for building sandcastles. The kids were of the opinion that this was the best place ever. Don’t worry, they knocked the castle over before we left.
The big rainstorm hit just as we drove out of the park. The kids were a bit sad to go, which made me happy — I’m so pleased that they are developing a love for the outdoors. It was a wonderful trip, and I can’t wait for another visit!