The photographs I have seen of the prominent arches may have in some small way spoiled reality for me. I knew what to expect, more or less, on this trip to Arches National Park. What I was fabulously surprised with was the relatively-small impact the arches have on the aura of this sandstone ocean. Like most people, I was initially fascinated by the unusual and unique arched-rock formations around which virtually all roads, trails and pit-toilets in the park are constructed. Before long, however, I was conscious of the amazing beauty contained in all the rocks; the tall thin wafers rising vertically for hundreds of feet from the sand, the smooth melted-wax globs and blobs heaped one on another in chaotic splatters, the thin jagged spires rising like teeth into the blue sky, even the smooth and gently-sloping rock of the ground itself with delicate striations and bands of color. 

Friday Ė Arrival, Park Avenue

The first look I ever had of the Park was under late-day cloudy skies in February. I drove alone into the Park from Moab, leaving Andra behind in the $25 motel room we had just moved into Arches National Parkon East 200 South. I stopped my car briefly at the abandoned entrance kiosk and swiped my credit card for an instant park pass, good for 7 days. Easier than an ATM machine. The pavement led up a couple of switchbacks from which the town of Moab was laid out like a map. Over a hump of sandstone lay the other world beyond. Suddenly there were no power lines, no lights, no houses. Just me and the thin strip of rain-blackened pavement snaking off through the bitterbrush-pocked flats. I smiled at the immense Entrada sandstone cliffs with their sun-scorched faces and crumbling towers. Before long at all, I spied a place to pull the car off and get out for a close up look and feel of the rocks. Park Avenue, read the trailhead sign. Stay on the trail. Donít walk on the cryptobiotic crust. Watch for ice. Beware falling rocks. No pets. Donít litter. Donít pick flowers or harass wildlife. For every sign to be posted here, there was once someone who created a problem by doing that very thing. In a park with 750,000 annual visitors, common sense is often swept away in the wind.  I trotted down the steps carved in the stone into a wide park bounded on north and south by towering walls of sandstone, non-descript brown at the moment, red with sunset, orange at sunriseÖthe evershifting colors. The top of the north wall was jagged and dramatically sloped in various inclines, much taller than thick, much longer than tall. One can envision this wall flopping over like a slab at any point. One also knows that it is likely no human will ever witness that event. Down into the sandy wash I went, leaving deep footprints in the soft sand with my vibram-soled boots. Being February, almost all vegetation was dormant, steadily soaking in winter precipitation in anticipation of the spring explosion of green. In the fading evening light, under ominous and all-darkening clouds, the wet stems of the bitterbrush looked black, the shells of last years cheatgrass shoots lay flaccid on the ground in some places, broken and barely standing in others. Behind me, higher up, I heard a car door, and voices. I continued on, trying to ignore the voices and pretend I was alone. Further down the wash, I gained a vantage of the road not far beyond. I watched a car pull into a small lot near the road, and a figure emerge. The voices behind me were silent, so I gathered the figure below was the driver there to pick up the lone hiker behind me. Feeling oddly consicious of the hikerís presence, boxed in between them, I turned back and hiked up the wash and to my own vehicle, passing a man my age on the way. I smiled quickly at him and gave a curt nod as I passed. Only one other person on the trail is all it takes to change the feeling of the place. Where it is natural Park Avenue, Arches National Parkfor one to seek out solitude, it is also natural for one to resent anything that destroys that solitude. It is of no fault of the other hiker that I resent his presence. I understand that he also resents my presence, not me personally, but only my presence. I hold no personal grudge against him, just him being there. There is a fine line there. I like my fellow man, but I donít have to like being around him all the time do I? Even married folks get away from each other every now and again, right? Is it selfish to want this trail all to myself on this beautiful, brooding evening? Perhaps. Look you now, here is something to consider. Anyone who feels a twinge of resentment at seeing another in the wilds gives in to his natural and healthy inclination to be alone, that one singular quality that is lacking in this modern techno-hyperindustrialized society of ours. I am often bedeviled by others for this view, but I hold that it is only a natural response to the stresses of unsustainable population density. I know I am not alone in this view, and the occasional self-righteous email from a "letís enjoy the parks together" guru has not, of yet, changed my mind. If I were to live in the remote hinterlands of the Yukon, with only 3 visitors per year, I would be ecstatic to see anyone who came my way. As it is, I live in the city, seeing hundreds of thousands of humans every year, and wanting nothing more than to have a little time and space of my own, thus, my twinge of resentment. Nothing personal, I just want this particular time and space to myself. 

Park Avenue,  Arches National ParkBack on the road I drove up past Courthouse Wash and ended up in the last light next to the Great Wall, with car parked and the quiet complete. I walked along the deserted black road next to the sand, wondering how one could explore this place without contributing to the damage to the cyrptobiotic crust and small plants. A small truck roared past me, with a cresecendo and dimmuendo of engine roar breaking into a sudden and complete silence as it disappeared over a hump in the road. The long chain of unbroken rock lay to the west, and to the east lay a sea of sandstone domes called the Petrified Dunes. Do you know the place? Beyond them, a dark crevice hinted at the tiny Coloradoís flowing ribbon, and on the skyline, 30 miles away, stood the cloud-shrouded La Sal Mountains, their bases covered in snow. I decided to observe the following dayís sunrise from this point. Thus I went back to the motel as the colors of the landscape merged into the grey twilight.

Andra greeted me with the demand of knowing where dinner was to be had. We quickly determined that pizza was in order, so we skipped off two blocks down the road to a nice little pizza spot called Zax, which had great pizza but a lousy Big Cookie. Back at the hotel room, we caught all but the first 3 minutes of Runaway Jury. Gene Hackman plays such a great mean bastard.



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