I need to get back on schedule as I should have seen Arches National Park yesterday, but the rains forced me to delay my visit. So, Iím in the park before 8 AM. And I canít believe what Iím seeing. The rock formations here are simply staggering. Every turn reveals a different wonder; every corner unveils a new spectacle.
300 million years ago, a sea flowed over the Colorado Plateau. Eventually the water evaporated and the tides retreated. Sand and silt slowly compressed into stone over layers of a salt bed, thousands of feet thick. Eventually, erosion did its trick. And the results are unbelievable: Red rock arches hundreds of feet across. Fields of sandstone spires. Balanced rocks perched atop seemingly inadequate bases. You simply canít believe your eyes.
Arches National Park contains a scenic drive that whirls you past these magnificent sights. You begin at the Courthouse Towers and then cross the Petrified Dunes. A turn-off takes you to the Windows Section where short trails bring you right under the arches. Continuing down the road you reach the Fiery Furnace and finally end at Devils Garden. Here the trails take you past Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Wall Arch, Navajo Arch, and Landscape Arch, which measures 303 feet across. Almost all of the parkís arches are just a quick walk from the road. If you had the time, a great way to see more would be with a backcountry permit and an off-road vehicle. This would also be the best way to visit Canyonlands Park.
I could spend all day here, but I canít. After three hours I need to get moving. There is still a whole day ahead of me. As I head out of Arches the crowds are coming in. I turn up route 128 and follow the curves of the Colorado River Scenic Byway. The route winds below sheer cliffs of Wingate sandstone as I swim upstream. Canyon walls crowd the road, eventually widening as the lane leaves the river. This road is so beautiful that car commercials are filmed here all the time.
My next stop is Colorado National Monument, a great preserve of brilliantly colored canyons and plateaus. The 23-mile Rim Rock Drive offers breathtaking views along the parkís highcountry. The drive dumps me in Grand Junction and I race across US-50 to turn southeast across route 92. After a few hamlets, this road turns into a magical passage along the rim of the Gunnison National Forest. Soon Iím looking over the Curecanti National Recreation Area, turning swtichback after switchback, rising and descending over and over again. I ascend to 8,000 feet and then swing back down again. Aspens fill the hilltops, interspersed with fields of dark green pines. Glistening blue waters fill reservoirs, thousands of feet below.
I cross the Blue Mesa Dam, stopping at the Lake Fork Visitor Center for the stamp, and then turn back west across US-50, towards The Black Canyon of the Gunnison. An awesome gorge, the canyon is unlike any other in North America. Some canyons may be longer, some may be deeper, some may be narrower, and some may have walls as steep. But no other place combines all these features in such a striking fashion. Carved by the Gunnison River as it hurries to join the Colorado, the Black Canyon is 53 miles long, over 2,600 feet deep, and at one point only 1,200 feet across. The river drops an average of 95 feet per mile, one of the steepest descents for a river in North America. Sunlight barely reaches the dark gray walls of schist and gneiss, shrouded in shadows most of the day.
I reach Montorse and turn south towards the San Juan Mountains. My stop for the night is Ouray, on the western slope, the other side of Telluride. By the end of the day Iím numb from all the scenery. I relax with a hearty dinner at the hundred year old Bon Ton Restaurant in the St. Elmo Hotel. I never even stopped for lunch, and Iím starving. Itís good to sit down for an hour and absorb the day.
Happy Birthday today to Toby Young. Iím not going to reveal her age, but let me just say sheís quite a wise-ass for her age. See you in San Francisco, Toby.
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