Utah 3: Island in the Sky

Mesa Arch

On our second day in southern Utah we drove to a much larger National Park, Canyonlands. The elevation was a bit higher than Arches, and it was a cooler day with more cloud, so we even had a few flurries of snow as we made our way out to the Mesa Arch overlook. While Delicate Arch is the place to watch the sunset, Mesa Arch is the sunrise spot for people who like being around lots of people watching the sky go from a bit dark to a bit light. We went well after breakfast when the sun was already up, so it wasn’t too crowded. Canyonlands is so big it is divided into three sections that aren’t easily connected (there are literally massive canyons in between them): the Maze, the Needles and the Island in the Sky. They sounds a little like Marvel comics prisons or Dharma stations from Lost. We went to Island in the Sky, and it’s easy to see how it got its name. The plateau floats about a network of enormous canyons that seem impossible to believe, like you are inside an enormous IMAX cinema or looking at a vast painting. I have been to the Grand Canyon years ago and the impact is similar. Well it’s the same river, the Colorado, just further upstream. Canyonlands is where the Colorado meets the Green river, making all kinds of fun patterns on the planet surface. Out at Mesa Arch the family bundled up beneath a blanket while I spent a few minutes drawing, as best I could, and various people took photos inside the opening that looks out onto another world. I had decided that I would probably not attempt to draw any canyons, they would be a little bit beyond me, as someone who typically draws fire hydrants and pubs. I wanted to catch some of the colours I saw, but I also wanted to just stop and stare, and take in the vastness without thinking about how to translate that into scratches and splotches on a sketchbook. Below, a couple of photos, looking out toward Mesa Arch, another looking out at the Candlestick, and another of the strange and otherwordly Upheaval Dome, where we hiked to next.

Upheaval Dome was a place of some mystery, a large crater filled with rocks of a very different colour from those around it, like the remains of a large green asteroid. I hiked as far up on the overlook as I could, but there is a much longer and arduous primitive trail that runs around the entire thing and can be quite a challenge. Not a challenge we were up for. The second day was going to one of shorter hikes with massive views, so once we were done with Upheaval Dome we drove down to the Grand View Point for a really impressive ‘Grand Canyon’ moment. I can’t really get over how spectacular the southwestern United States is, and that the National Parks do such a great jo of maintaining them so that we can enjoy them respectfully. I spent a fair bit of time in the park shop that morning getting souvenirs and what not, including metal pains, so now I want to start some collection of those whenever I go to a new one, seriously, great idea but what am I going to wear them? Grand View Point was stunning. There is a massive maze of canyons that looks like a galactic animal footprint from above. We walked along the trail going along the rim, until the family could bear no longer to be on the edge of the cliff and went back to the car. I stayed out and hiked a bit further, before heading back to the Point and deciding, sure why not let’s have a quick sketch. So I got out the Moleskine and a pencil and started just quickly drawing as much as I could see. Around me I heard as many American accents as license plates in the parking lot. It’s interesting to actually hear other North American accents in person, living in California where the accent gets homogenized into TV American, the only time you really hear different US accents with any strength is in TV stereotypes. I added in some paint and then finished off later; it was snowing, though very lightly. I was pleased with the result though, this isn’t a type of landscape I would ever get much chance to experience. Click on it to see it in more detail.

Canyonlands view from Grand Point  

We had planned to swing by Dead Horse Point state park after our day in Canyonlands, but decided that would be a ‘next time’ visit. We had our fill of amazing views, and the park experience was so different from Arches, so we drove back to Moab for dinner and rest. We had one more day in Arches to come before our long journey back home, and the next day we would be hiking some of the Devil’s Garden.  

Utah 2: Delicate Arch

Sketching Delicate Arch

When I was growing up I had this book on my bookshelf called “The Atlas of Natural Wonders”. It was one of those hardback books you get from mail-order book clubs, my dad got a lot of those for a while, so my bedroom bookshelf was always full of interesting things to read before bed. I had two massive books about Mammals; a huge book all about the settling of the western U.S. called “The West” (which I still have); books about Britain’s Haunted Heritage or Strange and Mysterious Things like the Beast of Exmoor and the Cottingley Fairies; books about ancient European legends of Magic and Wizards; two amazing books about old Horror movies which I would devour cover to cover, scaring myself with images of Lon Cheney, skeletons in big hats or hands coming out of an open grave; and I even had this massive dusty and utterly boring book about the Soviet Manned Space Program, though I think that might have been a library book that was never returned (or even read, but was pottering about the house for decades). But best of all was The Atlas of Natural Wonders”. It wasn’t an atlas at all but a book (in no particular order) about forty or fifty of the most stunning places of natural beauty in the world. I don’t know what criteria meant a place did or didn’t make the list, but to me the list was absolutely gospel, these were, as far as my young mind was concerned, The Best Places On The Planet. I resolved as a kid that I would go to every single one. It included places like Mount Everest, the Grand Canyon, Iguaçu Falls, Badlands, the Ürgüp Cones, the Great Barrier Reef and loads of other places. Right there on the cover (and thinking back, it probably wasn’t on the cover, but it imprinted in my mind more than anything else in the book) was the Delicate Arch, in Utah. I knew I wouldn’t make it to every place in the book, but at some point in my life I had to go there.

And now I have!   

Delicate Arch

We had to psych ourselves up for the Delicate Arch trail. We watched some videos on YouTube and there is one particular bit where you walk along a ledge next to a big drop that I knew would be a bit of an ask, but we did it. The hike is described in the guidebook as a ‘moderate-strenuous’ 3-mile roundtrip, with a pretty big elevation up some slickrock; while it was more testing than most hikes we’ve ever done, I get the feeling that it’s more of a schlepp on hotter days. We had sunshine but no desert heat, perfect conditions really. We made it up to the scary ledge part, taking that easy, not looking at the big massive drop next to us, hugging the rock face, but we made it alright. I was more concerned it would be massively crowded, and while there were a good number of people up there it wasn’t as bad as it gets for sunset. I climbed up a little bit more for some good views but chickened out while scaling around the rim of the bowl to get a closer view. We were fine where we were, we sat and look, I drew on a little perch out of the way, we took some photos and geared up for the journey back down. There was some brave fool doing handstands on the edge of the cliff inside the arch itself, showing off, while up at our spot we had to wait a while to take a quick family selfie while a classic stereotype mother-from-hell with a massive camera and a compliant grandpa or someone holding up a special light took about a thousand photos of her two twin boys (Tarquin and Timmy they were called, though I didn’t hear their names being said) in their matching outfits. Other groups settled in to stake their spots for the sunset later on, like people waiting for the parade at Disneyland.  It was a stunning view. The colours of the landscape were otherworldly. After we got our selfie and had our fill of the arch, we made our way along the Ledge of Certain Doom and back to safer paths, back down to our car. 

Sketching Delicate Arch

Come to think of it, the chapter about Delicate Arch might have been titled “Rainbow Arch”, which is a different arch at a different park, but this one was definitely pictured. This is my memory reaching back over thirty years. I can’t remember all of the places in “the Atlas of Natural Wonders” any more, but at a push I could probably recall most of them. Those places I have been to already in my lifetime include: The Grand Canyon, the San Andreas Fault, Cheddar Gorge, the Gorge du Verdon, and… dammit, I think that might be it. I need to get a move on.

Utah 1: Arches!

sketching at Arches National Park

A couple of weeks ago, we took a Spring Break road trip to Utah. It took two days to drive from California across the mountains and high desert of norther Nevada (which is a much wider state than I thought; you look on the map, there’s a town or two but a lot of nothing, but in reality there’s a lot of grand scenery) (plus a few prisons; we saw signs for ‘no hitchhiking’) We stopped off in the Elko for the night, which seems to be a popular place for sleepovers when travelling across the country. I-80 goes from coast to coast, even through Davis. We passed into Utah the next day, crossing the expansive Great Salt Lake Desert, followed by a lunch of Belgian waffles and frites in Salt Lake City, before crossing snowy passes and sandy valleys to reach Moab, in southern Utah. I feel like I’ve seen a bit of America now, outside of the Sacramento valley. If we’d have flown, we’d have missed all of that. (But next time we will fly). Moab is the gateway town to the two national parks of Canyonlands and Arches, and there are even more amazing parks in southern Utah to explore, such as Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, not to mention various state parks. Now that we are officially hikers (we have the boots to prove it) we plan to explore more of these parks some day. On this trip, we started with Arches. We got into the park early, as all the videos say to do, and headed for the Windows section. That’s me above sketching one of them. My plan was that alongside our hiking and exploring I would stop occasionally to do quick pencil and watercolour sketches of the arches, taking no more than 10-15 minutes. This worked out well, so that we could have good rest stops. I practiced a lot of quick sketches before our trip, trying to find the right palette, the right approach, because this isn’t the same as drawing buildings at UC Davis. I started off with a quick sketch of the ‘Turret Arch’: Turret Arch

Next I sketched the ‘North Window’. There are two big arches next to each other, ‘North’ and ‘South’ windows, with incredible views over the plateau that makes up arches National Park. We learned a lot about how the arches were formed, that there was once a great sea here, and as the face of the planet shifted it was lost, but the salty waters evaporated to create a vast bed of salt, that for millions of years lay below the layers of rock, before it eventually evaporated causing the landscape to collapse into a world of arches and unusual rock formations. This is roughly what I remember. I want to study geology a lot more, looking at the rocks was illuminating. We are indeed fleeting specks in the lifetime of the planet; but what specks we are. I’m glad the National Parks exist to help protect these landscapes. They call the National Parks “America’s Best Idea” and I can’t really disagree there. It’s right up there with democracy, s’mores and having Diana Ross take a penalty at the 1994 World Cup opening ceremony. The Windows section was a good way to get oriented with the park, do some fairly easy short hikes, and take in the breathtaking landscape of red rocks and petrified dunes.

North Window Arch

 

We then walked over to the nearby Double Arch. There were a lot more people in the park by this point, and the parking lots were filling up. We looked at a site that showed us the busiest times of day for each parking lot and planned accordingly, I’d say we couldn’t have planned it better. The Double Arch (not to be confused with the “Double O” Arch on the Devil’s Garden trail) was one that I had practiced sketching, but of course being there in person the real thing raises the heart rate. I felt like Anakin Skywalker would come whizzing through them in his podracer, chasing down that slimo Sebulba. I drew this in pen (the only one I did in pen). There was a family from India we spoke to, some of the kids went into the arches and played some music to make big echo sounds. The acoustics were surreal. I didn’t climb far into these arches myself, but could have spent all day looking at them , drawing and cacthing the light as it evolved through the day. But we had many more arches to see. I’ll write about Delicate Arch in the next post, that is the one everyone knows.

Double Arch

take a hike

merrell hiking boots

I nearly called this “Hike and Subscribe” but I’ll save that gem for a future post. These are my new Merrell hiking boots, I got them from REI. They are super comfortable, it’s like I have this massive protective cushion around my feet. I’ve had hiking boots before, I used to like wearing them years ago in England as regular shoes, but these were very much bought for the purpose of hiking. We planned a trip to Utah last year to go hiking around several National Parks that my son had done a project on for school, most looking forward to Arches. Then the Pandemic hit (I don’t know if you heard about that) and we had to cancel the trip, but we decided to book it again for Spring Break 2021, with me and my wife part-vaccinated and going by car instead of flying. So, we needed new gear. They went through a lot of different hiking boots and hiking shoes before they found ones they were kinda happy with; I pretty much bought the first pair I tried on. I don’t like trying on lots of shoes. These worked out really well. We went on a shortish hike to test out our new equipment, as well as our new backpacks (my wife got one of those hydration packs in hers; after our test hike I decided I should get one too, reaching back for the water bottle being a waste of energy). We went to Stebbins Cold Canyon, near Lake Berryessa (not that far from Davis, it’s a preserve actually managed by UC Davis, but we had never been there), walked along the easier hike, and I did a quick sketch, because I wanted to practice doing quick watercolour sketches for the Utah trip. It was pretty rapid, though I said to my family that I plan on doing quick sketches of 10-15 mins so that they can rest for a bit from the hiking, a good plan. So below is a quick sketch of the canyon; I’d like to do the higher trail next, overlooking the lake. It’s so strange to me that this is actually very close to Davis, but we’d never really been out here, except for a couple of drives up to Berryessa (to see the excellently-named ‘Glory Hole’). The Davis landscape is so flat that to be suddenly walking in all these dramatic hills is an eye-opener. In fact the preserve had only reopened a few weeks before, having closed during the terrible fires of last summer. Much of this area was severely damaged by the wildfires, and we could see the evidence of it all around. Such devastating loss of habitat, so many burnt trees and plants, but it’s encouraging to see that life returns; life finds a way. So, now we are officially Hikers, and I’ll post soon about our epic trip to Utah.

Stebbins Cold Canyon

things are moving along

Latest at the Teaching Learning Complex, UC Davis

Another one from the UC Davis Teaching and Learning Complex being built next to the Silo. They have put some glass over the front area now, so you can see the reflections from the buildings opposite. I didn’t have long to draw as I was on my way to a Zoom meeting so I did what I could and left it at that, rather than finish anything later. It seemed really important to include the sandwich board in the foreground. You’ve seen the Silo next to it a million times so no need to add all the details in there. Further down the road, Walker Hall is pretty much ready for use now, just awaiting opening. I’ll get to take a look around next week! I’m not sure when this building will be open yet though, but hopefully before Fall when we are planning a full in-person return to campus (fingers crossed). We’ll see. So it is April now, we’ve pandemic for over a year, I just heard that the Davis school board voted last night for kids to go back five days a week in a couple of weeks’ time – things are moving on. Our youth soccer team is now allowed to play friendly games against other teams, albeit masked up and with very limited spectator capacity. Cinemas are planning to open over the next couple of months, reduced capacity. Places are all going at different paces but this is where we are now, vaccinations are moving along well, but we know this ain’t over yet, and we’re working form home for quite a while yet.

Speaking of being at home, I got a Playstation recently (PS4; I’ve not had one since the PS1 mini I had in the late 90s, loved that little thing), and last night I finished the Miles Morales Spider-Man game. That was a really fun game. I don’t play a lot of video games but I do love Miles, and the graphics were incredible. I’m going to play the earlier Spider-Man game, but I’ve a few others I want to try out first; I got the 2020 Formula 1 game (full price, wish I’d waited a month or so) which is well hard, but I love Formula 1. Really enjoyed the first race of the 2021 season on Sunday, the Bahrain Grand Prix, great finish from Lewis and Max. I love football, but I bloody love Formula 1.