I've long been a huge fan of the desert; particularly the American southwestern deserts. There are actually a lot of different American southwestern deserts; the Mojave, the Sonoran, the Chihuahuan, the Great Basin, etc., all defined by different types of plants the flourish there, mostly. Which in turn are defined by how high, how hot, and exactly how dry the deserts really are. So anyway, on the second part of our trip, we stopped in Moab, Utah. Curiously, I also just discovered that the new John Carter movie, which isn't due out for about nine more months, but which finished shooting already, did a number of location shots right here nearby, in Grant, Wayne, and Kane counties, as well as all around Lake Powell. One of the defining and most interesting and most fondly remembered episodes of my teenage years was a "survivalist" hike I took with my church youth group for a week out in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the shores of Lake Powell.
Moab is the "gateway to the canyonlands", it says, and that's not a bad call. Both Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park are right there. In fact, you can't continue driving up northwards towards Provo and Salt Lake from Moab without passing literally within a couple of hundred yards of the Arches visitor center. Because my brother had previously reported that Arches was kind of a small park where you could see much of what there was to see in a few hours, mostly all off a main road, we decided to do that. We got there very early in the morning; before the visitor center or even the gate was open, so we just drove in. While this was really nice in terms of having some cooler temperatures for much of our exploration of the park, it meant that we struggled to take good pictures for a few hours either because the shadows were too long and ubiquitous, or later because the sunlight was too harsh and bright.
While we drove all across the main road and saw the sites "from the road" we only got out three times; once for the Park Avenue hike, once for Balanced Rock, which isn't so much a hike as it is just walk around this big ole rock, and then we did the Delicate Arch hike, which was a three mile round trip, including several hundred feet of ascension, most of it over a short distance on a bare slickrock surface. It was hot and reasonably hard work for older and tireder sorts of folks like me, so you can imagine it was even moreso for my folks. Although it was a really cool hike, and we're all glad we did it, we kind of lost our appetite for doing any more that day. But what an incredible place Arches is. I wish we could have explored more, included the Devil's Garden and the Double Arch trail, but we not only ran out of time, but it was getting really hot and really crowded. I even started picking up a tinge of heat exhaustion, I think, an artifact of my continued out of shapeness compared to when I used to do this kind of stuff as a teenager.
Despite the smallness of the park, I still felt like I need to go back, because we didn't really explore it like I'd have liked to. Sounds perfect for a spring or fall trip, actually. Maybe I can go with the kids sometime on our Spring Break in April. Besides subbing in for the surface of Mars in the upcoming John Carter movie, several locations within Arches were also locations used in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, including the cave that teenaged Boy Scout Indiana Jones comes running out of saying, "Everybody's lost but me." Curiously, it's not even actually a cave, it's just a hollow in the rock wall that's on its way towards becoming an arch someday. And also curiously, it's right beside the main entrance road into the park.
From Arches we continued on up north. We ended up spending the night in Centerville, UT, a city along the interstate north of Salt Lake; considered a suburb of the Ogden area, with my aunt and uncle, who've lived in that same house for over thirty years now. I've been to Utah many times. In fact, I was born there, but moved as an infant or toddler, and have only been back as a visitor since, but since many members of our extended family have always lived there, it was a popular location for summer vacations. And in the many, many years I've been to Utah, I've never, ever seen it so green as it was this trip. Green, rolling fields of grass dotted the hillsides and presented an almost bizarre contrast with the sagebrush growing beside it. Utah (and most of the American northwest, for that matter) has had tons of rain and snow. My uncle even told me that campsites up in the Wasatch front were still buried under 12 feet of snow in some cases. This was in stark contrast to our west Texas experience, but we saw evidence of it all through the rest of our trip--swollen rivers, lakes who's shoreline trees were underwater, closed roads due to flooding or avalanches, or just plain still buried under unusually dense mountain snowpack.
We also stopped in Idaho Falls for a little while to do some minor sightseeing, but our more interesting stop was in Bannack, MT. Bannack at one time was the territorial capital of Montana, but it withered gradually, and became a ghost town. It was later converted to a kind of state park, although it's still mostly abandoned; there is a ranger station, a couple of staff, and at any given time, maybe two or three families at most wandering over several acres of abandoned and rotting old cowboy buildings, including a hotel, a saloon, several houses, a school, a Masonic temple, corrals, a jail, and a few hundred yards past town, a gallows.
I actually found old Bannack to be an interesting stop. True; once you've seen a few rotting old empty cowboy houses, you've probably seen enough, but just wandering through the single street, or through the overgrown town, or walking out to the gallows and sitting there in solitude thinking of the men who hanged there in days gone by was an interesting experience.
Curiously, when I started heading back from the gallows, a grandpa and two or three 13 or so year old grand-daughters were walking out that way, and the girls were freaking out. There's a sign at the visitors center that warns to watch out for rattlesnakes, and they thought that the sound of crickets in the grass were rattlesnakes. After correcting them as gently as I could without laughing at them too much, I went on my way.
We made it all the way to Helena that night, driving through several national forests. Sadly, southern Montana has been hard hit by pine beetle infestations, and depressingly high amounts of trees are either dead or dying all around Helena, and both into and out of the area. As we got further north the next day, pine beetle damage was noticeably less severe.
Since I still haven't sorted out my own pictures of the trip yet, I found another one of an ancient abandoned car in Bannack. I actually got a picture of my dad sitting in the driver's seat--or, well, in the driver's seat area. I don't think the actual driver's seat survived. Imagine this same scene, except with all the yellow grass bright green.