Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

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Dark Angel and the Devil's Garden

On Tuesday morning, we didn't get up until nearly 10. All right, truly it was that *I* didn't wake up until nearly 10 am, and the boys were kind enough to let me sleep until I actually woke up. We knew that we were going to explore Arches National Park the first day, and then maybe the other parks in the southern Utah area for the other days we were out there.

Once up, we went into Moab, found a nice little bakery called the Moab Bakery and had breakfast. They made their own specialty roll, from a challah bread dough, and they mixed in sun-dried tomatoes, jalapeños, red onions, and rolled it up like a cinnamon roll. Spicy and nice, and they made it especially so in an egg and bacon sandwich.

We'd never been to Arches, before and weren't sure what to expect. We didn't get to the gate until 11 am, and there were very long lines to get into the park. Once we paid our park fee for the three days, they handed John a map, and he handed it to me and said, "Pick where we're going to go."

I looked over the map, and saw, at the very end of the park, was the Devil's Garden. It was the longest trail in the entire park, and at the very end of the the Garden was The Dark Angel, a lone monolith on the end of the whole of the Devil's Garden array of arches. The Windows complex had a few things around a short trail, and the Delicate Arch was just three miles as a round trip, so I figured that if we did the longest one first, we'd be able to do any of the short trails afterward. It was only supposed to be four miles as a round trip to the very end of the trail, and the three of us did the three mile walk around Lake Macintosh on a regular basis.

Little did I account for the terrain and altitude gains of The Devil's Garden.

The Fiery Funace
Driving in was amazing. We'd driven across southern Utah before, so knew something about some of the rock formations, but the ones in Arches were pretty spectacular. Even in the overcast, I was snapping things right and left, as we went through the main drag down the middle of the park. I nearly wavered when we saw Balancing Rock and the Windows array behind it, but once I'd made the decision that we were going to hike to the Dark Angel, John was pretty much set on getting us there. We took a small detour for the Fiery Furnace, just to see what it was like, and the short path was an easy enough walk.

The surprising and wonderful thing was running into the first of many tiny juniper trees that clung to life on the rocks. These were scattered all over all the trails and the park, and they're tough little things that somehow got crushed, fell over or were knocked over by wind or lack of rain, and they kept living! The amazing thing was seeing how battered or messed up the trunks were, how twisted the branches and wood could get, and there was still green on many of them.

For me it was amazing because it was like the quintessential Chinese painting of a juniper tree in living form, with all the seemingly impossible knots, exposed roots, and splintered limbs. I started taking pictures of them during the first stop and never really stopped. There are dozens on the machine at home, now, and I'm starting to paint portraits of them in the gong-bi method of painting, like the classical plum tree I'd done from one of the lessons that Oriental Art Supply sells.

Across the Parking Lot
After that quick stop, we went to the trailhead for Devil's Garden. We were ready for hiking, after all the hiking and walking we'd done over the years, and now Jet was big enough to carry the new CamelBak pack that John bought over the winter in anticipation of the trips we were going to take this summer. Jet loved packing our lunches in the van before we left, and we brought along my canteen along with the CamelBak. All of us were in good shoes, had great hats, and brought along a rain coat in the pack that held our food.

Not everyone on the trail was quite so prepared, and there were a lot of people out on the trail. The weather wasn't exactly perfect, either, as there were great storm clouds, trailing streamers of hail and rain. They were spectacularly beautiful, but I was very glad we had the rain coats. I'd also packed and brought along a fleece vest that lent me enough insulation and warmth against the wind. I learned about layering on the mountains of Washington, where the weather could change as quickly as the wind.

The rain clouds made for some spectacular scenery, especially over the edges of rock formations. The Devil's Garden was different than the other parts of the park, in that there were several arches all along the path. The trail started out pretty well set up, paved with gravel set into the dirt and mud to keep it solid and more or less level all the way out to Landscape Arch.

Landscape Arch from Far Away
At the end of the paved path was the first big arch we'd seen. This is Landscape Arch, which has lost a 60 foot section off the right side, right where the arch is now narrowest, in 1991. The chunks of lost rock just lie at the foot of the arch itself. There was a really lovely picture spot that was well away from the arch so that most cameras could get the full length of the thing along with people.

John and I found ourselves very busy with taking pictures for a number of other groups, as everyone wanted a picture with everyone that had made it that far. That was actually pretty fun. About half of the people stopped after they'd gotten that far, and the trail turned a little more primitive and rough. Then, of course, the thing went up one of the fins.

The fins are the ridges of rock that are left when the ice and water and wind wear away at the cracks between sandstone pieces. The whole of Devil's Garden had hundreds of fins, each made of multiple layers of sandstone and other types of rock underneath. The arches came about because the hard sandstone stayed when the softer rock underneath wore away first. And while they were really amazing to see from far away, climbing up the spine of a fin with sheer dropaways on both sides could be a little nervewracking.

It seemed that coming down was even worse, as some of the people that were coming down decided it was better to brave one of the cracks on their butt than try and walk back down the fin we were going up along. I actually had an easier time just walking along the smooth back.

The path leveled out to dirt, went up to a gigantic stair steps of stone. At the top of that mesa and to the right of us was a gorgeous view of all the land that was well underneath us and the storm that was rolling over it all. The golden rock was underneath us, but there were also fins of white sandstone. Underneath was the dark, crumbly stuff that had big boulders in it and was black. The white of the hail falling showed up beautifully below.

It then went along the top of another fin, but this one had cracks in it, that we had to jump. With the storm going on to the right, the wind picked up and it was pretty hairy trying to cross, jump, and concentrate on not worrying about the drops to either side. So I didn't take that many pictures going out, but coming back we did a lot better job. *laughs*

Luckily, after that spectacular climb, the trail dropped back down to earth. The Double-O arch was the next big one down the line and we skipped two of the smaller ones in order to see if we could even make it all the way out to Dark Angel. The Double-O was 2.1 miles out from the trail head, so it was most of the way there. When we got to it, it looked like a small arch with a big arch over it, but the cool thing was that the path went through the lower of the two arches!

Tucked Away
The wind had picked up on the trail side of the arch and the rain started to come down, but when we went through, we found some nice shelter for our lunch and a pretty great place for a view back through the upper arch as well! It was a wonderful lesson in just going a little further to see something far better than one would without those extra steps.

I remember, as a kid, that we'd drive through the National Park, just catching glimpses of the spectacular things through the windows. We'd almost never get out and really hike all the way out to touch or see all the surrounding landscape. It was amazing to have my back to the warm, smooth rock, see the raindrops scattered all a bit beyond where we rested, and just be out there.

Jet loved his sandwich. During the Biloxi trip, last Spring break, he started really enjoying being able to make his own lunch. He'd put together a sandwich that was exactly what he wanted, add the chips and fruit he liked, and then, every day out on the work site, he'd sit down and eat with everyone. And he took that same pleasure to having made, brought, and eaten his lunch here. There was just something that deeply satisfied him at the whole cycle of getting exactly what he wanted after a hard hike.

Looking to Dark Angel
I was pretty tired by the time we'd finished lunch, and I while I was sure I'd still be able to make it back, some part of me was daunted by going the rest of the way to Dark Angel, until we saw it from the Double-O. It's the very last thing on the trail, and stands by the edge of the mesa that holds the whole of the Devil's Garden.

It looked closer, and, as John put it, "We're not going to get this close again for a while."

So we went for it. There were only two other people, going the other way, on that trail, compared to running into dozens and dozens of people all along the rest of the trail. The surprising and pleasant thing was that after one steep downhill and uphill, it all went flat. Most of the rest of the trail was level and on rock, so it was relatively stable footing.

End of the Trail
We made it. *laughs*

And the views from there were from an entirely different direction than the panoramas we'd seen from the trail. That was well worth doing, and it was so nice to be out on the path less traveled.

The Dark Angel was the only black rock formation on the entire set, and I loved how it brooded over an entirely different landscape. Jet asked, "Is it evil?"

And I answered. "Just because the angel is dark doesn't mean it's evil. It's still an angel."

"Oh. Okay."

Going back was significantly easier than going out. I'm not sure if that was just because it was familiar now, or if it really was downhill most of the way back. There really wasn't an estimate on the elevation gain, but when I looked at my fitbit, out on Dark Angel, we'd gained nearly 70 flights of stairs! Which is approximately 700 feet. I think that there were a lot of downhills to go with some of those uphills, and the overall altitude gain wasn't quite that high, but it was a lot of scrambling and climbing in places.

Light and Dark
The storm also blew mostly by, so on the way back we were treated to scenes like this. And there was far less wind on the way back than on the way in. We also managed to stop by a number of the smaller arches that we'd skipped on the way out. Navajo Arch and Partition Arch were each on the ends of their own sub-trails.

And near the beginning we went down a steep grade to see Pine Tree Arch, which neatly framed a gnarled juniper, and look up to see the two Tunnel arches which could not be seen from the main trail. By the time we got back to the trailhead, my fitbit said that we'd gone 27,000 steps and over 100 flights of stairs!!

And we felt most of them. *laughs* The sky had cleared, too, while we were out, and we drove back out the way we came, and circled some of the other parking lots just to see what was there. Some of it was just trying to figure out the good lighting for certain areas. With the camera, it's nice to set it up so that we'd get the best light for the things we could see. It was pretty clear that we really wanted to discover more of Arches. Our tentative thoughts had been to look through Canyonlands as well as Arches, but given that there was still a three mile hike to Delicate Arch and the whole massive complex of arches around the two Windows arches and the Double Arch (which is in nearly every collection of pictures from that park), we had more we wanted to see.

That night we didn't bother with walking too much. We just drove to and ate at one of the local bars, Zach's, and had impeccable service, good food, and infinitely refillable drinks. I went through three iced teas. I also asked to go to the Moab Coffee Roasters for gelato, after, and had a small cup of vanilla and pistachio gelato and felt that I'd earned every creamy spoonful. Jet and John discovered The Three Stooges on TV and giggled themselves into bed. Sleep was easy after all that.
Tags: adventure, travel

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