Yesterday, I graduated from Penn State. Fortunately, I was spared the pomp and circumstance by being 3,455 kilometers to the west, in Cedar City, Utah. Instead of the Bryce Jordan Center, today I spent the day exploring Bryce Canyon, a huge amphitheater filled with limestone towers called 'hoodoos' created by the erosive effects of rain and frost. I definitely win.
Bryce Canyon is the fourth and final national park Bryan and I will be visiting in Utah. By my estimation, four national parks in four days is a pretty solid indicator of a good trip.
Three days ago on Thursday the 11th, we arrived in Moab, Utah, coming from Rifle, Colorado. The drive wasn't too long, so we had much of the afternoon to spend exploring Arches National Park. It was my first encounter with the desert, and I absolutely loved it. I stopped briefly to take a call from my future research adviser, seeking out cell service on the top of one of the huge limestone fins filling the park. We started our hike in 'Devil's Garden', took a primitive trail loop, and found a deep hole bored into the limestone by rushing rainfall and filled with water (and life) and a huge arch tucked away among the limestone fins. We didn't bring nearly enough water and were run pretty ragged by the end of it, but it was well worth it. For dinner: delicious pasta dishes, jalapeno fries, and a pitcher of pale ale at the Moab Brewery.
On Friday the 12th, we spent the morning taking care of logistics online before heading out to Canyonlands National Park. Also down the highway from Moab, Canyonlands borders Dead Horse Point State Park. The landscape we encountered there was desolate and alien. After staring out at the incomprehensibly massive objects comprising the view from 'The Neck', we headed out in the opposite direction down the sparsely-marked Neck Springs trail. The first two of the six miles on this trail take place on one massive slab of slickrock; hikers are guided by rock cairns constructed every ten or so meters. Through a desert prairie and up to the lip of the canyon, the trail then switchbacks its way past cacti and abandoned horse troughs to the canyon floor. The environment there was surreal: the wash drew upon a wide enough area to support surprisingly verdant plant life, which brought with it all types of insects and small mammals. As the sun set and the nearly full moon rose, a strong current of cold(!) air began rustling the leaves at the very bottom of the canyon wash. Bats flitted in the twilight. Before long we were relying on moonlight, and in the long shadows of the canyon walls, a single headlamp, to seek out the next cairn and keep moving. Snakes and chipmunks made an appearance, and the bats increased in number. We wound our way up and down through numerous tributary ravines before finally ascending out of the canyon and returning to the road. While Bryan practiced some astrophotography, I laid down and took in the stars. The Perseid meteor shower was mostly drowned out by the extremely bright moon, but a single fireball cut through and fell to the horizon. On the drive back, we saw a mule deer grazing along the road and the flashing eyes of something vaguely canid (a coyote?) picking over some roadkill. It was after 10:30 when we arrived again in Moab, but fortunately the Moab Brewery was still open. Vegetable burritos, another plate of jalapeno fries, and a pitcher of stout finished off the day.
As we left Moab late the next morning, I made note of one more thing. Right near the entrance to Arches National Park, we saw signs for the 'UMTRA Project'. While the signage indicated that it was DOE-sponsored, it wasn't clear at all what was actually happening there. Turns out: they're reclaiming the site of an old uranium processing plant, digging up 16 million tons of soil contaminated with uranium tailings (a waste product from processing) and burying it in a permanent containment site down the street at Crescent Junction. The official DOE project page: http://www.gjem.energy.gov/moab
(To Be Continued: Zion Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and 'nitrogen-enriched' gasoline)
4 years ago