I am a creature of habit. I love to travel to national parks, and if I find one that fascinates me I am apt to go back again and again. Yosemite National Park and Grand Canyon are two of my favorite destinations. Each visit has enough differences (time of year, weather, my perspective) to make each trip unique. However, the basics of the location do not really change.
Another place I have visited several times now is Canyonlands National Park (Utah). Canyonlands was established in 1964 with the promise “to preserve an area. . . [of] scenic, scientific, and archeological features for the inspiration, benefit and use of the public.” This park is comprised of four districts created by the Green and Colorado Rivers. Although these sections appear relatively close on a map, there is no one road that connects them to each other. The entrances to the various locations can be anywhere from two- to six-hour drives apart. Each section offers wondrous beauty and several hiking opportunities. The sections are named The Needles, Island in the Sky, The Maze, and River Trips.
I first visited Canyonlands in the late 1990s, taking several days to view various sections of the park. This spring, I returned to The Needles Section for a second visit that I will share in a future blog posting. At the time, I could not help but think back to my first visit, when I took a four-wheel drive tour to visit Angel Arch. I had hoped to get out to that specific feature again, but it is no longer possible, at least not in a way that I can maneuver. In 2004, access was limited to those who will make the strenuous nearly 18 mile round-trip hike out to Angel Arch. Well, there is no way I can make that hike these days!
Given this change in policy to better preserve this wilderness area, my first trip to Angel Arch will have to suffice as my only visit to this glorious feature. Fortunately, it was a great trip! At the time, there were three ways to gain access to Angel Arch. One could hike to the area; this is the option that is still available today. But private cars could also drive to the area, but four-wheel drive was needed as well as permits to limit the number of vehicles per day. I took the third option by signing up for a four-wheel drive tour to Angel Arch. When I made my reservations, I asked to be placed on the tour with the fewest participants. I never have liked crowds.
Besides the driver, there were four of us on this specific trip. And we were a great combination. All of us were in academia in some way. I taught English and was an avid bird watcher. Others represented the fields of history and biology with some expertise in wildflowers. The guide/driver had never had such a small group before, so he was ecstatic. Our size allowed him to take a vehicle he rarely used. Instead of an open-air truck of some sort that sat up to about 15, we were in an enclosed Land Rover of some kind. It even had air conditioning! And rather than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, he picked up the makings for a gourmet fare from his wife who prepared meals at a hotel in Moab that provided meals for lots of local tours. She had prepared more than she needed and we were such a small group, so she shared. We had fresh made guacamole and a shrimp salad for lunch.
The wild drive out to Angel Arch bumped along Salt Creek Road. A different tourist on a different trip offered a description of this route that sounds very accurate: The vehicle veered “off the paved highway and headed up the Salt Creek ‘Road’—part tire-grooved sand, part splashing pools, part unforgiving step-stone slickrock. On a four-wheel-drive scale of one to four, with four as the toughest, this route rates a three.” This route follows an old cowboy trail along a winding canyon. Water is present year-round, so the area hosts a variety of wildflowers in later spring and summer. The landscape was phenomenal. But I do remember that at times we almost stalled out and other times we seemed to be climbing almost straight up and over boulders. As long as I was not driving, this was fun!
Eventually we pulled into a level area where we stopped to eat, close enough to walk a short distance to a good view of Angel Arch. It was heavenly! The Arch itself reaches up 150 feet and stretches over an expanse that measures 120 by 135 feet. First discovered in 1955, the Angel Arch has become one of the most well-known sculptures in the area. At first several names were used to describe this glorious sculpture, but Chaffee C. Young’s name of “Angel Arch” was finally accepted as the most descriptive. It is easy to see this angel, frozen in time, her wings back as she rests and enjoys the vista, perhaps offering up a prayer or a song of celebration.
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I fully understand the concern that stopped the access of all motorized vehicles into the area around Angel Arch in 2004. An attempt in 2011 to reverse that decision was not successful. I think I would be fighting to keep access free from motorized vehicles. But I sure am glad I had the chance to take the four-wheel drive tour out to Angel Arch years ago. It turned into a great once-in-a-life-time adventure!
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PLACES TO VISIT?
IS THERE A PLACE YOU ENJOYED THAT IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE FOR EASY VISITS?