Friday, January 06, 2012

A Long Strange Trip: Exploring in Moab, Utah

This is part 3 of a 4 part write-up on our winter break trip from California to Chicago and back. However, what I'm not writing about is the time we spent in Chicago over Christmas and up to New Year's. That will be for another post! So what follows is the story of how we made our way back to California in our VW Bus. Along the way, we stopped in Golden to visit Romy's side of the family. There wasn't much snow, even in Colorado, so our plans of skiing along the way back were basically thrown out the window! So instead, we decided to stay in southern Utah for a good part of the ride back to do some hiking and exploring. There were so many places around Moab that we didn't yet see, so we planned on heading over that way and checking stuff out. Plus our friend Will was going to be in town, and we thought it would be fun to hang out with him for a few days. So I guess the story of the trip back to California actually already starts deep in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. After leaving the Denver area, we headed towards Glenwood Springs along I-70, through the very scenic Glenwood Canyon. I read about a place in Glenwood Springs where there was a natural cave, and inside of it a natural hot spring! The place was called a vapor cave because of the steamyness inside, similar to a wet sauna. Being on a tight budget, we decided to go check it out since it was one of the cheapest hot spring things you could do in Glenwood Springs. Only $12 bucks! According to a guide book, the cave was once visited by the Native Americans who took their sick there for healing. It's the only natural vapor cave in North America. I really liked this place (although Romy was not as enthusiastic). It was very dark inside and super steamy! There was water running along the base of the cave walls, and the water was so hot that it heated up the entire cave to a sweltering temperature! We had to go in and out a few times to cool down. If you're ever in the area, go check it out! We didn't get any pictures, as it was so steamy I think the camera would've broke!

The Corona Arch
Jenn and the Corona Arch outside of Moab.

After getting all steamy in the vapor caves for a little bit, we continued our journey west. It was just getting dark as we crossed the Utah border. But the moon was really bright, so we were able to see outside pretty well. We headed towards Moab through Cisco (the weird semi-ghost town). We took the road that goes towards the Colorado River and then stays along side it until you get to Moab. That's the best route in my opinion. The moon was shining down on us and illuminating the towering red canyon walls. It was reflecting off the river water, and the stars were shimmering too! The bus was running well, and we were rolling into Moab enjoying the scenery. It was so cool! Soon we got into Moab, and decided it was time to eat and drink. Last time we were here, we liked the microbrews at the Moab Brewery, so we decided to stop there again in hopes that maybe Will would answer his phone and join us for a beer. But when we got there, the brewery was closed down for annual cleaning! Oh no! Just as we were turning around to get out of the parking lot, a Jeep showed up. And guess who it was!? By some freaky coincidence, the stars aligned and it was Will! He said he saw an orange VW Bus and knew that it could be no one else except us! Wow! So instead of dinner and beer at the brewery, we took some beers we bought back in Colorado over to his friend's place and had dinner and beer there. It was fun!

The Corona Arch
Close-up of the Corona Arch.

That night, after hanging out, we found a camping spot at Ken's Lake, just south of Moab. It was peaceful (since it was mid-week) but pretty chilly since it was also at higher elevation. But we didn't care because we got pretty cozy inside the bus with two sleeping bags each. The next day we decided to go hiking to the Corona Arch, also known as Rainbow Arch. Moab is right outside of Arches National Park, which we've visited before. I think we've seen a majority of the arches and windows inside the park, but there are actually a lot of natural arches outside the park too, and Corona Arch was one of them. It was a short hike from the river to the arch. It actually resembled the corona of the sun (which is what I think its named after). We spent a good part of the morning exploring that area, and then we decided to give Will a call. We made plans the night before to go looking for arrowheads in the washes. So after a quick lunch of whatever food was still left in the fridge of the bus, we met up and headed towards the Klondike Bluffs.

Will and Romy
Will and Romy 'walking the wash' looking for stuff.

We had such a good time just wandering around walking through all of the washes in the Klondike Bluffs region. We were picking through the rocks and pebbles in the sandy ground, feeling them and looking at them. I found some rocks that were clearly chipped or flaked by a human (ie not random). There were others I found that we shaped to be very ergonomic hand tools. Tools for punching holes in leather, cutting, scraping, etc. We would take our finds to Will and show him, since he was kind of the expert of the group. Then he would tell us what he thought they were. Sometimes when I was searching through all of the rocks on the ground, and found one that fit my hand so perfectly, it felt like I was literally taken back to the ancient times when these people used stone tools. I felt connected. Its very indescribable how perfectly these tools fit in your hand, and how instantly you know their purpose! Now I have to admit, at first I thought it was a lot of B.S. and that what I found were just a bunch of randomly broken rocks that resembled tools. However, later on when we went to the visitor center at Valley of Fire State Park in southern Nevada, they had some stone tools on display. They looked EXACTLY like what we were finding in the washes. I could've spent hours walking the washes and just looking. But the sun was going down and it was starting to get really chilly, so we headed back to the cars and went to get some dinner.

View from Gemini Bridges Rd.
Climbing up Gemini Bridges Rd. outside of Moab.

The next morning, we found another place on the map outside of Moab to explore. It was called Gemini Bridges Rd, and it took you deep into the back country around Moab (as deep as you can go on a dirt road). It went right past a set of natural bridges called Gemini Bridges. We were in the Bus, but we decided to go try and see how far we could drive down the road in the Bus. Why not? We figured we could always turn back if the road started getting nasty. So there we went, full of excitement and hope that we could make it. The road started climbing pretty steeply up a windy road that was literally etched into the side of a red rock cliff. The picture above is at about the highest point of the road. That cliff in the picture is what the road somehow got up. I'm still not sure how it all happened, but after we got up, the road flattened out and started following a valley. Then it climbed its way out of the valley into a broad plateau region, which was speckled with eroded sandstone fins and washes. We didn't see many other people, but the few we did see were all in pick-up trucks or jeeps. We were the only people in a VW Bus, but hey, the road was okay for the Bus, and we kept going. After about an hour, we reached Gemini Bridges. A short walking trail took us to the bridges, which we were actually standing on top of. There was no safety rail or anything. It was left completely natural, and you could walk across the top of the bridge, which was pretty wide, but it was still a couple hundred feet drop if you wandered off the edge of it! Below the bridge we saw a trail and also a rough dirt road. We decided to turn the Bus around and try to find that road. Eventually we found something that looked promising according to our map, so we kept driving. Eventually the road dropped into a sandy wash, which we didn't feel the Bus was going to handle very well. So we found a good parking spot, and started walking to see if we could get to the bottom of the Gemini Bridges.

Frozen Spring
A frozen spring in the desert!

Eventually, after a good 45 minute hike, we got to the bottom of Gemini Bridges. I have to admit, it wasn't as spectacular seeing them from the bottom as it was walking across them on the top, but the hike was cool. We then found a small side canyon not to far away and started to explore. As we were hiking deeper and deeper into the side canyon, we thought it might turn into narrows or something. Instead, we found frozen spring water! It was so bizarre! I mean, I realize it was winter and all, but it was still strange to see a creek completely frozen over running down the middle of a dry red rock canyon! Hiking further, we eventually found the source of the creek. It was a slowly trickling cold spring that just came out of the base of one of the cliffs. Very cold! But I bet it would be nice in the middle of summer! I think I prefer cold weather to hot, though. Even so, one of the things that sucks about winter is that it gets dark so early. It wasn't even 3pm and we had to start heading back towards the Bus, otherwise we would risk getting caught by the setting sun. We made it back just in time though. There were some crazy thunderstorms brewing off in the distance as we were driving back to Moab. They all seemed to miss us, but they were dumping rain all over. As long as it didn't rain or snow on us, we were happy! That night, we decided to camp close by the dinosaur footprints along Potash Rd. It was Friday night, so the campground was a little busy. We found a spot away from the party people and got comfy. It was warmer at lower elevation, so we didn't need two sleeping bags, just one was ok.

At Tom Tom's
Trying to stay warm at Tom Tom's.

Our short stay in Moab was unfortunately coming to an end. But no trip to Moab is complete without a drive-by of Tom Tom's VW "museum." So the Saturday morning we were rolling out of Moab, we decided to drive by the place. Every time we've been here, the place seems completely abandoned, yet there are always new Beetles or Buses parked, and sometimes the Buses are re-arranged. So somebody has to be busy, but nobody is there when we've knocked on the door in the past. It was about 8am, we already got our morning coffee (well I did anyway), and so we tried to knock on the door of the garage building that is attached to the huge lot that is just saturated with VWs. Nobody was there. So I just sat in the bus trying to keep warm (it was FREEZING outside) and Romy went to explore the part of the lot which was open to the street. Then, a car pulled up. OMG I was now kind of afraid for Romy, who was probably technically trespassing, although he was just wandering the part of the lot that was not fenced in. I guess Romy wasn't too deep in, because he met the man who pulled up in the car and started talking. After a while, the man went to unlock the garage door (!) and Romy came to the Bus to tell me that the man that just pulled up was in fact Tom Jr!!!! OMG!!! After literally years of stopping by this place every time we've driven past Moab, we finally met the owner of all those VWs. He let us in the lot to see them all. There must of been hundreds of Beetles, Ghias, and Buses of all years just sitting in that lot. He told us he's been slowly selling them to interested parties, and also restoring some himself. Some of the cars were so packed in, I have no idea how he would get them out if somebody wanted it.

At Tom Tom's
The fence at Tom Tom's is almost artful.

Of course we had to ask how much he was selling the stuff for. The prices he quoted were kind of high. But whatever. Its probably because he didn't really want to sell them. He's a collector-type (well, his dad was anyway). And what a collection! I think we stayed in there wandering around and talking to Tom for over an hour. Even though the sun was coming up, it was still really cold, so we walked around very briskly. Tom Jr started up the heat inside of his garage, which was just slightly warmer than outside. After a while, we headed out just as some more people he knew started showing up. What a great way to end a trip to Moab!!

San Rafael Swell
On our way out of Utah, over the San Rafael Swell.

Our next destination was Nevada. We still had a precious few more days before we had to be back, so we decided to spend them in the state that we always intended to go see, but have never come around to exploring. But standing between us and Nevada was the San Rafael Swell, a huge exposed anticline (a piece of the Earth's crust that is bent in a rainbow shape). I think this region is being lobbied to become a national park in the future. One day we would like to go hiking and exploring in the baja before that happens. But we already decided to go spend the last of our days in Nevada, so we drove on through along I-70. The two days of so that we had left wouldn't be anywhere near the time we would need to really see Nevada, though. But it would be enough time to go check out the Great Basin National Park, and some hot springs!

Awesome Nevada Dirt Road
Almost in Nevada! We took a dirt road for a good portion of western Utah.

We drove all the way to Cove Fort, Utah, where I think I-70 ends and butts into I-15. At that point, we decided to get on a tiny gravel road which would eventually take us into the national park, because that was the most direct route. We must of been feeling pretty adventurous, as this was more than 100 miles of dirt road ahead of us, some of it with a good dusting of snow! But what is a road trip in the Bus without a little adventure?! It ended up being one of the most scenic parts of the whole trip, in my opinion. This part of western Utah is the far eastern part of the great basin desert. I really like the great basin desert, and seeing it from a dirt road was even better. We didn't see any other car along the entire 100 mi + stretch before we got to the national park! Bad if we broke down, but the Bus was running just fine and we had plenty of gas and food and water, so we went for it. It was Romy's idea!