Southwest Trip: Part 2

Hello all! Long time, no see. I'm back to tel you about part 2 of my Southwestern road trip that I took last month. This time we'll be in Southeastern Utah and Northeastern Arizona, visiting Moab, Utah and Page, Arizona. 

Day 4: Arches National Park

So, we're back on the road. Waking up at 6am was becoming the regular for me so it definitely wasn't as horrifying as it used to be on the first day. We were headed from Richfield to Moab, Utah (about a 2 hour drive). After a drive through desert land and mountains in the distance we began to see the highway signs for Moab. The little town was becoming clearer, but nestled just outside of the towns limits was Arches National Park. Here, we faced our longest wait to get into the park (about 25 minutes if that says anything to you). Once inside the park, we continued our routine of going to the gift shop and securing some of the souvenir goods before heading into the park for our day. The interesting thing about Arches is that once we left the visitor center, we drove up switchbacks to reach relatively flat land and then had to drive approximately 10 miles before we began to see our first arches. 

Our first stop once inside the park was the Balanced Rock formation. This rock formation is one of the first things you see once inside the park and is the introduction into the Windows Section of Arches National Park. 

After Balanced Rock we headed deeper into The Windows section to see the notable Double Arch and the North and South Windows. The small parking lot was packed to the brim with cars, some circling the lot as they searched for a parking spot. That was us. Luckily, my dad let my sister and I out to go explore until he could find a place to store the car for the time being. Together, my sister and I walked the dirt path until we reached a fork in the road. To the left was the trail to the North Window Arch and to the right was the trail to the Turret Arch. We chose to head towards the Windows Arches for sweeping views of the Windows Section with the La Sal mountains in the background. Atop the hill, we located our dad in the crowd and watched as he took the opposite trail towards Turret Arch (sigh, I know right?)

We found each other between the two arches and decided to head on the *literal* less traveled trail that took us into the desert terrain behind the two windows arches. While traveling through the sandy desert, we were rewarded with amazing views of the window arches sans people (a rare occasion). What we came to learn about Arches National Park is that it was nearly impossible to get a photo of a single arch in the park without getting a person in it who was climbing on the formation. So, a piece of advice for anyone who is reading this and might be headed to Arches: do expect to see people climbing all over the arches and don't expect to get a photo of the arches without people in it. BUT, it is a good thing that Photoshop exists right? 

But anyway, as we completed the trail and headed back towards the parking lot, we were able to see Elephant Butte, a rock formation that resembles a heard of elephants looking out over the windows section, towards the La Sal mountains. The one thing that my father did note is that the most prominent section of Elephant Butte greatly resembled Darth Vader... arguably more than it resembled an elephant. We spent the next couple of minutes arguing over which rock formations looked like storm troopers before we were graced with the presence of a small lizard that skipped across our path. Before we risked seeing what other lovely desert creatures we would be lucky enough to meet, we headed back to the car for one of the final section of Arches. 

Due to the reoccurring construction inside Arches National Park, we were unable to travel to the farthest point in the park: Devils Garden. So, we reached the furthest point in the park that we could access: Delicate Arch. When we arrived at the Delicate Arch trailhead we had to make the ultimate decision whether to make the 3 mile roundtrip hike to see Delicate Arch up close and personal or to do the drive to the less strenuous half mile trail to see the arch from below. Ultimately, we made the decision to do the hike -- a choice that I hated in the moment but have since come to realize that it was one of the best views we saw on the whole trip and one of the most rewarding hikes on the journey. 

We began the hike climbing up some switchbacks which, after our journey on the trails at Bryce Canyon, were nothing. We hiked for what felt like a mile before we looked up and saw basically a cliffside with people going up and down it. Instantly, my mind was thinking "Oh hell no. There's absolutely no way that that is the trail to the arch!" Well, it was and the ranger warning signs stating that the Delicate Arch trail was very hard were not lying! So, we slowly but surely began the hike up the cliffside, taking breaks every few steps. The blazing summer heat and the heavy camera gear we were all lugging on our backs, did not make it any easier. When we reached the top of the cliffside we thought, "Surely this is it. Surely the arch is just around the corner here". Well, it wasn't, but we still kept telling ourselves that whenever we reached another peak or turned another corner. Finally, we climbed a small set of makeshift rock stairs and then looked in front of us. We were sure that just around the bend was the Delicate Arch but in order to get there, we had to survive the very thin and small ledge on the cliffside. I'm not joking, the cliffside was just barely enough room for two people to fit. Once we completed the terrifying passage across the ledge, the terrain opened up to people lounging on the rock in front of the great Delicate Arch. Just through the center of the arch you could see the La Sal mountains and the view was breathtaking. 

The sun was perched far into the sky and the day was quickly fading, but we still had so much left to do. We began the descent back to the parking lot and once there, we hopped back into the car and headed to the second to last point inside the park: Sand Dune Arch. Walking on the trail of heavy sand we entered the rock formation that allowed us a sliver of shade, even if just for a moment. Around the bend, just between the rock formation sat the Sand Dune Arch. The red rocks combined with the shadow light inside the cavern allowed for a beautiful mixture of warm tones.

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So our day at Arches was nearly over. We got back in the car and began the 10+ mile journey back towards the exit of the park. We stopped at the Park Avenue Overlook that was just before the exit to the park. The overlook was dubbed Park Avenue because of the sky high rock formations that resembled the skyscrapers of my current city: Manhattan. The view was a great way to say goodbye to Arches and to seal off a wonderful day inside one of the most notable National Parks in the country.

Canyonlands National Park

After a quick check into the hotel and a bite to eat at the Broken Oar in Moab (great sweet potato fries if I may say so), we were headed back to the outskirts of Moab, just past Arches to another one of Utah's National Parks: Canyonlands. 

This park is most famous for the notable Mesa Arch, where photographers gather daily to catch the sweeping views as the sun rises over the canyon behind the arch. I opted to go for the sunset to catch the mixture of warm tone colors that are cast over the canyon as the sun fades away behind the rock formations. 

After Mesa Arch the sun was quickly beginning to set and we drove from one end of the park to the other, chasing the sun before it slipped away for the night. We pulled up to the Orange Cliffs Overlook, where I set up my camera for the sunset. 

The sunsets that I was able to catch while out West were putting the sunsets that I get back here in Manhattan to shame. The pink and purple filled the sky as we were driving back towards the exit of the park. 

Our day in Moab was coming to an end. It was time for bed because we had an early wake up call the next day for our trek into Arizona.

Day 5: Antelope Canyon and Page, Arizona

The alarm went off at 5:30 and it was time to go. We packed up the car and headed Southwest towards Page, Arizona. The small, Native American area was home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the area including the colorful and extremely photogenic Antelope Canyon as well as the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Horseshoe Bend. But, before arrived there we were scheduled to take the notable drive through Monument Valley. 

We knew that we were approaching the famous Monument Valley viewpoint when we saw crowd of people standing and laying in the street, cameras in hand. Rather than battle with the crowd of people on top of the hill, we drove a few feet farther down the hill where we had a spot all to ourselves. I got out of the car and stood in the middle of the empty street (something I can rarely do back home) and looked out. There was a car for as far as the eye could see. 

The drive through Monument Valley was unreal. The rock formations jutted out of the ground around us and aside from them, there wasn't a single thing around us. It was just pure desert. We headed deeper into Native American land as signs were advertising little makeshift huts that sold Navajo jewelry and exotic flavors of jerky. The four hour drive was coming to an end as we could see the power plant that sat just outside of Page, Arizona, in the distance. 

Not before long, we pulled into the parking lot of Antelope Canyon. Tour buses full of tourists were unloading and the line for the tours was out the wazoo. I was thanking my dad that we booked our tickets online a couple of months before we left for the trip. Unfortunately, I would be parting ways with my dad and sister to go on my own photo tour of the canyon. Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon that is famous for the light rays that slip through the cracks and cast colors throughout the canyon. 

After spending nearly 2 hours inside the canyon that was packed to the brim with people (believe it or not from those photos), I had ingested more sand than was probably healthy and was ready to feel the air conditioning again. I headed back to the car and waited for my family to return. After checking into the hotel and grabbing a quick bite to eat, we headed out to Horseshoe bend for a light hike in the 100+ degree heat.

Having seen pictures of the rock formation on the internet, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into but I definitely did not. The rock formation that just out with the Colorado River flowing at the bottom, is larger than life. There are not words or pictures that I can use or show you to describe its massive size. You'll just have to go and see it yourself. 

Fearing to get to close to the edge, I stayed a comfortable 6-10 feet away from the ledge at all times as I look over the cliffside and into the canyon. The landscape of this part of the country was continuing to blow me away. 

Our last stop on our journey was the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell. We drove to the waters side and got out of the car. The wind was ripping through the area and I was finding it hard to stay balanced. My dad and I thought we were quite literally going to blow away. It was golden hour and the sun was beginning to set and the orange color of the rocks was popping even more than usual. It was a dream to photograph this landscape at this hour of the day. While I was busy fawning over the rock formations and the colors of the setting sun in the sky, my dad was a couple yards away, climbing the rocks to get a better view of the Glen Canyon Dam.

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So, the sun had set in Page, Arizona and it was time to head to bed. The days were counting down on the trip and our time left out West was becoming less and less. Yet still, some of the most notable and exciting parts of the trip were ahead of us.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of the series where I take you to the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and more!