Thursday, July 26: Arches and Canyonlands / Island in the Sky
What were we thinking?!!!
We slept in an extra hour, until 7:30, then had breakfast again at the Chinese place. We then stopped at a grocery store to get snacks and some sandwiches. Then we drove into the park to Double Arch again, where Michael could spend some time climbing around.
Afterwards, we had the “main event” for the day. We drove to the end of the road and hiked to Landscape Arch. Actually we started, but by then it was about noon, and Mike was hungry. Our original plan was to eat lunch after the arch, but instead we ended up finding some meager shade and eating lunch then. Afterwards, Michael was able to complete the half-mile hike to see the arch.
A “primitive trail” continued on to other arches, but Michael was not up for it, so we headed back. Amy and I did take a short detour to see two other arches on the way back.
Afterwards we stopped at the picnic area there, so that Michael could climb on the butte/rocks there, despite the temperature being close to 100.
We left the park and drove a half hour to Island in the Sky part of Canyonlands. We got a map at the visitor’s center, then we had a decision to make. We could drive around the limited roads, or we could try one of the 4WD roads.
There is a 4WD loop around the outside of the park, called the White Rim Road, but that is 100 miles long and takes several days (camping along the way).
We were considering taking Shafer Trail down to the rim road, and then possibly continuing along Potash Road back to Moab. This is what we did on my trip 25 years ago.
We took a look at Shafer Trail, and it didn’t look too bad (except for the sheer drop 500 feet next to the road), so we decided “no guts, no glory”, and tried the road.
For obvious reasons, Amy drove. I was a nervous wreck, particularly when I was on the outside. In places, there was literally a several hundred foot drop only a few feet from the wheels on my side of the car.
We eventually got to the junction with Potash Road, where we found another car that was about to start. They had just come back from some bicycling. They didn’t know the condition of the road, but we figured that it couldn’t be that much worse than the previous one.
Very shortly we found that it was in fact very much worse than the previous road. One really needed 4WD (not AWD, which we had) and high ground clearance. But we were in the situation that I had feared: We couldn’t back up and we couldn’t turn around, so we had to continue onward until we got to a point where we could turn around.
The worst spot was a deep rocky trench across the road. We made it over that and then found a place to turn around. The other car was coming down after us, so we had to wait for it to pass before starting up.
We did so, but we got stuck at that “trench”. The front wheel would spin and the back ones did not. I guess it wasn’t a limited slip differential. At this point, I thought we were totally hosed, when fortunately another car came down and stopped just above the obstruction.
They came out and suggested that we could fill in the lowest spot with rocks to help us over. They did so. But Amy still spun her tire on the rocks. The main problem was that she was too tentative.
One of the other guys offered to drive it over for us, which we gratefully accepted. He backed up a bit, got more of a running start, and then cleanly got over the obstruction. He made it look easy.
Amy drove the rest of the way back up that horrible set of switch-backs, with a deadly drop-off a few feet from the tires. We were somewhat concerned about the engine getting hot, so we opened the windows and cranked the heater. At this point I was decidedly NOT having fun. I just wanted to be up and out of that road and back onto pavement.
We eventually made it safely, and I started breathing again. My worst case scenario was that we were down in the canyon, out of cell reception, in the middle of the desert, and we get the car stuck so that it can’t go, or we break something and the car dies. Fortunately, neither came to pass, although I don’t know what we would have done if that second vehicle had not chanced upon us.
We then drove back to Moab, had a dinner (again at Zax), and called it a night.