Funny how long a day can feel. This morning I was camped in Arches National Park campground (where every site is reserved months in advance, but asking an RV to use their ignored tent sites works out pretty well), waking up to just a hint of eastern glow. The desert sky holds color like no other sky and even in the night seemed painted in different shades of dark. I packed as the light seeped around the sandy landscape, like it was coming up from the earth. Packing began to trigger muscle memory in my body: first deflate the pad, now change under the sleeping bag, now put that bag in that pocket, and so on. I was slow this morning. I will get faster.
From the campground the trail passed one last arch before heading back into Salt Valley, crossing it along a natural gas pipeline cut. A hot air balloon rose in the sky to the east, it’s patterned fabric becoming distinct as it bobbed up and down and I drew closer. They must have had a spectacular view of both Arches and the Island-In-The-Sky district of Canyonlands. I watched them (watching me?) as I made my way to the park’s eastern fence line and then turned south, picking my way through cacti paddles and cryptobiotic soil colonies until I reached the first scramble of the day, and of the trip, a nice little slickrock descent into a small wash.
Toward the middle of the day, Erin and I left the wash we were in and climbed onto a large slickrock formation that stretched for miles to the south. The route often travels in wash bottoms because they can be decently navigable terrain, but I wanted to follow an alternate suggested by a previous hiker. The alternate route shot straight across the slickrock towards the La Sal Mountains: open air, far-reaching views. Eventually the route came to The Great Wall, a band of cliffs maybe 600 feet high. Though the alternate I was following came with a couple GPS waypoints, they weren’t perfectly placed and finding a route down the cliff was exhilarating. I had to throw my pack down steep slabs a couple times and then carefully follow, looking for hand toe holds and making judicious use of sliding. Slow, steady, like putting together a puzzle, eventually we found our way to the bottom intact except for one of my full water bottles which rolled free when sent my pack down first and leapt off a great precipice.
I’m now camped in Courthouse Wash which feeds into the Colorado River about a half mile from here. I’ll cross the Colorado tomorrow on the way to Moab, the first of four Colorado crossings on this journey. Courthouse Wash has flowing water in it which lets the brush grow mad, which lets the beavers build a home, which makes the hikers cross the creek over and over when it backs up and fills half the wash bottom to the canyon walls. Beavers are busy around here, but I didn’t mind. The wash was so lovely, in the reds and pinks of the desert and flanked by cliffs.
This trip so far does not disappoint. The off trail work is interesting and challenging and the scenery is stunning. Sand is in everything, filling up my shoes like cups which makes me think hikers are simply machines for transporting ground up rock from one place to another. I think I’ll be emptying my shoes many times every day over the next couple months.