Utah 4: Devil’s Garden

Landscape Arch sketchOn the third day in Moab we returned to Arches and this time started our day by exploring the popular Devil’s Garden area. This place is packed with arches, and I’m glad we got there early because before long it was packed with hikers too. People like to do the Devil’s Garden loop, a seven mile or so hike that includes some tricky scrambles over rocks but gives some amazing postcard views. We didn’t do that whole thing, but just went part of the way in. The walk to the long and fragile Landscape Arch was really pleasant, a well-worn path through some short narrow canyons, easy to get to. My son had done a state project on Utah at elementary school a couple of years ago, the main reason we wanted to come and explore Arches with him, as he had made a model of Landscape Arch and wheeled it around the playground in the “parade of states”, this is a popular thing kids learn about at American schools. This particular arch used to have a bit more to it, and the trail would pass underneath it, but then about thirty years ago a large chunk of it fell off, so now you can only get so close, in case more comes down. I overheard a geologist say to his kids while I was there, “hey kids,” (I might be paraphrasing) “he kids, I’m a geologist and I think that more of that rock might come down. All it needs is an earthquake, maybe even a bit of wind, and that rock’s gonna tumble like a lizard in a blizzard,” (Yes I am definitely misremembering what he actually said, I think the Wild West scenery probably clouded my memory a bit). Below, that’s me sketching the Landscape Arch.

sketching at arches national park

We didn’t go a great deal further along this trail, because it reached a spot with a very steep and narrow rock that needed scaling, and we weren’t feeling that brave. We watched some other people bounce up the rocks, and a few others scale cautiously, while others also sat that one out and there was a group of people in what I thought of as the ‘waiting room’ while their family members hiked on the higher grounds. I gave it a go; first time I wasn’t feeling brave enough, but after a little bit of time I thought, ah why not, and I made the climb. It was only a short climb but the drops were quite rocky, but I made it up top and went bounding around for a little bit to look for the Navajo Arch and the picturesque Partition Arch. I didn’t stop to draw as the family were still in the waiting room below, and I didn’t march off to the Double O Arch, so I’m saving the rest of the Devil’s Garden for next time. We had plenty of other arches to explore.

 

 

We went and looked at Pine Tree Arch, before doing the sandy trail between the narrow slot canyons around Sand Dune arch. That was a huge sandpit full of kids playing, while others bounced about the rocks. We then walked across a plain of cacti and desert brush to reach the magnificent Broken Arch. That one isn’t actually broken at all, but was definitely one of the more impressive arches we saw. There were a number of people there making large echoes boom through the arch but when they left the silence was grand. A good time to stop and rest up the feet; a good time to sketch. This was one of my favourite ones to draw.

Broken Arch

(Interjection – can I just say I really hate this current WordPress editor with all these clunky blocks? The old editor was much cleaner and easier)

After this arch we were getting tired, so we made only one more stop, and what a stop. The Park Avenue trail is short but looks exactly like the backdrop of a Western. I walked into the valley for a bit before heading to the giftshop and back to the hotel for a rest. Arches was well worth the effort, and now that we are officially hikers we’ll be back some day. 

Park Avenue, Arches

 

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