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"River Deep Mountain High "

The Sculptured Sandstone of Arches and Canyonlands:

Canyonlands National Park Guide Arches National Park Guide Hiking Canyonlands and Arches National Parks Arches National Park Day Hikers Guide Best Easy Day Hikes in Canyonlands and Arches National ParksGuide Book to Arches National Park National Geographic Guide to the National Parks - Southwest

Snow fell steadily, although already into May, on the long climb on Interstate 70 from Denver - the "Mile High City" - to the 10,660 foot Vail Pass on the Continental Divide - the chain of mountains forming the watershed of the North American Continent and a major obstacle to the early pioneers - but cleared on the descent as the broad highway emerged from the Colorado Rockies into flat, open country.

Late in the afternoon, beyond the sprawling, low-rise town of Grand Junction, a turnoff wound up through arid scrubland to the top of a vast mesa - the Colorado National Monument - and skirted round the rim of a deep canyon. From the edge unfolded superb views of huge, sandstone monoliths rising from the valley floor. Strangely eroded by the wind, they are named according to their appearances:- "Kissing Couple", "Pipe Organ", "Coke Ovens" with the isolated 450 foot "Independence Monument" being the most impressive .

Independence Monument in the Colorado National Monument

Independence Monument

in the


National Monument

Continuing west through flat, featureless plains Interstate 70 turns south to enter Utah and a region of red-sandstone cliffs where a twisting side-road leads up onto an extensive plateau and over a narrow, 40 foot wide isthmus to the "Island in the Sky" - the northern section of Canyonlands National Park.

It was only a short walk from my tent, pitched in the sandy soil amongst a grove of pinyon pines, to the "Green River Overlook" where one looks down from the edge of a 1000 foot precipice on a vast plain dotted with occasional mesa and gouged out by river gorges - it looks as if a piece has been removed from some gigantic jig-saw puzzle.

Green River Overlook, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands

Green River Overlook


"Island in the Sky"



An equally dramatic view obtains from the nearby "Dead Horse Point" on a gooseneck bend in the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado, and a splendid series of tiered cliffs carved out of the sandstone bedrocks.

At a campfire talk that evening a Ranger told of the Anasazi Indians who had once inhabited the mesa tops of the region before mysteriously disappearing - probably driven out by marauding Apaches.

30 miles further south lies the entrance to Arches National Park with the greatest concentration of natural stone arches in the world. From the highway one climbs beneath towering, orange-sandstone terraces to pass the monumental monoliths of the "Courthouse Towers" and the tall, vertical fins of the "Fiery Furnace" to reach the camping grounds amongst the great boulders of the "Devil's Garden".

Several excursions are necessary to explore the many fantastic features of the extensive park. A first foray was an all-day hike from the campsite through an arid waste of wierd, wind-battered rocks including seven of the amazing arches - the most spectacular was "Landscape Arch" with its astounding 300 foot span - one of the longest in the world and only a matter of time before it collapses. I was almost back at my tent when the sky suddenly darkened and a fierce sand storm blasted through the rocks - a taste of the elemental forces in action.

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

Landscape Arch



National Park

A second foray via the abandoned log cabins of Wolfe Ranch and across a bare rock plateau led to the elegant and astonishing "Delicate Arch" poised on the outer edge of a huge sandstone bowl. Framed within its portals lay the distant, snow-capped peaks of La Sals. A third foray through the mountain-desert wilderness of the Klondike Bluffs gained the secluded "Tower Arch" in a remote corner of the park.

Leaving Arches, with the sandstone cliffs glowing a fiery red in the morning sun, I continued south through Moab before heading west past the two "Six-Shooter" Peaks to enter the Needles District of Canyonlands.

From the carpark at Elephant Hill a cairned trail leads across desert scrub into a startling landscape of gigantic, orange-and-white banded, rock pinnacles and spires. Enclosed within the spectacular array lies the extraordinary Chesler Park with its broad expanse of green, grassy meadows. A profusion of colourful butterflies, grasshoppers and darting lizards abounded but other hikers were few and far between.

Needles District, Canyonlands National Park

Needles District



National Park

An intricate return route followed an elementary trail, marked by discreet signs, along narrow ledges, over polished, "slick-rock" surfaces, and through a maze of sandy-floored, dry-wash canyons surmounted by giant, mushroom-shaped pedestals of red-sandstone columns and white, domed caps - it was an exhilarating experience but a relief to escape the labyrinthe to rejoin the main trail.

Continuing south I reached the Navajo Indian Tribal Reserve of Monument Valley where an extremely rough, unsurfaced track, barely negotiable by two-wheel drive vehicles, enables a dusty circuit of the great sandstone buttes jutting proudly from broad, arid plains - the renowned setting for John Ford’s epic movie "Stagecoach".

The Mittens, Monument Valley

The "Mittens"


Monument Valley

The primitive campsite on a windy terrace overlooks the mirror-image "Left-hand Mitten" and "Right-hand Mitten" - two of the marvellous monoliths. Were it not for the neighbouring RVs ( Recreational Vehicles - American term for mobile homes ) it would be easy to think one had returned in time to the days of the Old West.

( The Commentator, Glasgow Herald, 8th July 2000 )




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Travel & Guide Books & Maps - USA:-

14,000 Feet A Celebration of Colorado's MountainsGreat Sand Dunes National MonumentGreat Sand Dunes National Park 

Lonely Planet USA Independent Travellers USA 2003 Lets Go 2004 USA Road Trip USA Road Trip - California & the SW USA SW USA & Las VegasMonument Valley & Navajo Reservation

Rocky Mountain National Park - Complete Hiking GuideHiking Rocky Mountain National Park Rocky Mountain National Park - Hiking Map Rocky Mountain National Park - Day Hiker's GuideEssential Guide to Great Sand Dunes National ParkSangro de Cristo Wilderness & Great Sand Dunes National Park Hiking Colorado's Sangro de Cristo Wilderness

Colorado's FourteenersRocky Mountain National Park - Estes Park Valley - Climbers GuideRocky Mountain National Park - The High Peaks - Climbers GuideColorado's Fourteeners - Maps Package 100 Classic Hikes in Colorado Hiking Colorado

Canyonlands National Park Guide Arches National Park Guide Hiking Canyonlands and Arches National Parks Arches National Park Day Hikers Guide Best Easy Day Hikes in Canyonlands and Arches National ParksGuide Book to Arches National Park National Geographic Guide to the National Parks - Southwest

Rough Guide USA Rough Guide SW USA Lonely Planet: Driving thru AmericaLonely Planet USA Lonely Planet SW States SW USA & Las Vegas - DK Eyewitness GuideSW USA: Driving Guide Let's Go SW USA Let's Go USA

Insight Guide to Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park Day Hikes Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park including Long's Peak Best Easy Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park Guide to National Parks: Rocky Mountain National Park Bicycling America's National Parks: Canyonlands to Rocky Mountain National Park Climbing Guide to Colorado's Fourteeners SW USA: Insight Flexi Map Lonely Planet: Hiking in the Rocky MountainsLonely Planet: Rocky Mountains

Grand Canyon and American SWGrand Canyon Country Best Easy Day Hikes in the Grand CanyonAnsel Adams - Grand Canyon and the SW Frommers Guide Grand Canyon Photographers Guide Grand CanyonArizona & Grand Canyon Insight GuideThe Lost Continent - Travels in Small-town America - Bill Bryson Notes from a Big Country - Bill Bryson

Made in America - Bill BrysonExploring Arches & CanyonlandsUtah's National Parks Easy Hikes in Arches & Canyonlands Short Hikes in Arches & CanyonlandsLonely Planet: Hiking in the USARough Guide - SW USA Into the Wild A Walk in the Woods - Bill Bryson

Hiking in the Rocky Mountains - Lonely Planet The Rocky Mountains - Rough Guide The Colorado Guide Denver - Insight Pocket Guide Rocky Mountain States - Lonely Planet Pocket Guide to the Colorado 14ers The High Peaks - Rock & Ice Climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park:

Backpackers HandbookBackpackers Field Manual Backpacker MagazineWilderness TrainingWilderness SurvivalOutside Magazine

Solo Hiking Essentials101 Hiking Tips Epic Stories of Survival on the World's Highest PeaksComplete Climbers Handbook Climbing Magazine Training for Climbing Climbing in North America

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