Saturday, October 28, 2017

Autumn in Colorado and Utah - Moab UT

Sunset Moab UT
We left Mesa Verde around 4:00 having decided to spend as much of the day there as possible.  We headed north through Cortez CO and eventually into Utah on US 191.  I had found a BandB on Travelocity which had a very good nightly rate and was newly built.  We pulled in as the sun was setting and very pleasantly surprised with the accommodations and the hospitality of our hosts.  It was pretty nice getting whatever you wanted for breakfast cooked to your specification and whenever you needed to eat.  Some guests had to eat as early as 4:30!  We highly recommend Arches Drive B and B.  "Owners Jeramey and Mary McElhaney are long time Moabites. Jeramey is the second generation of his family to be born and raised in Moab, and has extensive knowledge of the rich history of the area. Mary was raised just up the road in Price, Utah and has made Moab her home since their marriage in 1997."  (Quotation from web site.)

Getti, our guide, with Marilyn looking over Canyonlands...well a part of it anyway.
We got up early the next morning in order to eat and get downtown to Adrift Adventures where I had booked a half day jeep tour of Canyonlands National Park.  Mary McElhaney had been very helpful with suggestions and that was how I had found Adrift.  We arrived at 7:00 and met our guide, Getti, and a young couple from Rome, Italy that is not New York.  The five of us fit snugly but comfortably in an enclosed Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.  Since we stopped seven or eight times, the passengers rotated seats so everyone got equal chances at the best views.

Site in foreground with Colorado Rive
on the left.  The road we took is on
the right at the base of mesa along
the river.
We entered the open country on UT 279.  Our first view was of the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) Project.  Although Getti called it a super fund project, technically it is a project of the Department of Energy.  The site is "located approximately 3 miles northwest of Moab in Grand County, Utah, and includes the former Atlas Minerals Corporation (Atlas) uranium-ore processing facility. The site is situated on the west bank of the Colorado River at the confluence with Moab Wash. The site encompasses 480 acres, of which approximately 130 acres is covered by a uranium mill tailings pile."  (Quotation from web site.)  Every Monday and Wednesday, a 36 car train transports 5,000 tons of tailings to a permanent and secure storage site 32 miles away in Crescent Junction UT.  These twice a week shipments will continue through 2036 and then an unknown amount of ground beneath the tailings may also have to be relocated.  All this is the remnants of the extraction of uranium in the fifties and sixties.  This was the major source of radioactive metals for the U. S. government.  The site is highly secured and we were not able to stop and take a closer look.  The photo is from the project website.

Our first stop was to look at rock art on the rock wall as the highway skirted between the river and the wall.  These were created by those same Ancestral Puebloans we learned about at Mesa Verde.  The exact meaning of the art is not clear.  Actually the best understanding comes from the current descents of these peoples who are still living in their native cultures in the area.  Often the meaning is not meant to be shared with those who are not part of that culture...that means us!
Google satellite view with Colorado River to the
right and the road we were on going around the top
and then down on the left. 

We continued on through the Potash Company's extensive mining operation that generates potash or potassium chloride which we encounter as potassium in wide variety of fertilizers.  Some years ago the company converted from shaft mining to solution extraction both for safety and accessibility issues.  "Unlike conventional mining, which involves moving large amounts of dirt to access a mineral resource, solution mining requires boring injection and recovery wells into the ground. From there, a heated brine solution is injected into the deposit to dissolve potash salts. The dissolved salts are then pumped out of the cavern to the surface where the water is evaporated, either artificially or in solar evaporation ponds; salt and potash are left behind."  (Quotation from web site.)  Blue dye is added to the solution to speed up evaporation.

Here we are at Thelma and Louise Point
We continued on through this open country.  We had not yet entered the National Park.  We stopped at what has become known as Thelma and Louise Point where the final scene of the movie was shot.  In fact, quite a few movies have been filmed in the Moab area starting with John Ford's Stagecoach in 1939.  That starred and introduced John Wayne and began a Ford-Wayne collaboration that defined the western movie genre.  Here is a list.  I was surprised at how many there were.

At this point, we still had not entered the park.  There were many more overlooks and other interesting features where we stopped and learned more from Getti.  Once we did enter the park, we were treated to some marvelous views that could only be captured with a panorama image like this one.
From the intersection of Shafer and White Rim Roads looking toward Dead Horse Point
Marilyn at Musselman's Arch
We turned onto White Rim Road and drove up to Musselman Arch, which sounds innocent enough until you learn why it is named that.  It is named for a local guide who would drive his VW bus--apparently filled with tourists--over the "bridge."  When you see it and then find out that it is six feel wide, 187 feet long and 300 feet down, you begin to question the sanity of the people of this area.  While I am sure that some people still walk or even bicycle across, the park rules prohibit anyone from being on the bridge.  Just to put it in context, a 1962 VW bus had a wheel base width of 67.7 inches leaving a margin of 2.1 inches on each side when crossing the "bridge!"

We returned back toward Sky Island Mesa and began our 2,000 foot climb up a twisting turning road up it face to arrive at the Visitor's Center of that part of the park.  This video gives an idea of what it was like.

A view to forever

Once we arrived at the top, we were treated to a view that was hard to describe.  Well, here is a photo...which is supposedly worth a 1000 words.

After a rest stop, we headed back to Moab, grabbed some lunch and headed off by ourselves to tour Arches National Park, a short five minute drive from Moab.

Arches National Park is an entirely different experience.  Getti had characterized Arches as a personal, even intimate experience compared to Canyonlands.  As soon as we entered, I could see what he meant.  At each viewpoint along the road, short walk or hike brought us into direct contact with these giant sculpted red rocks.

That's Colorado in the background.  Imagine them snow covered!

It is hard to believe that 65 million years ago all this was a dry seabed with these sandstone structures buried thousands of feet below the surface.  "First, geologic forces wrinkled and folded the buried sandstone, as if it were a giant rug and someone gathered two edges towards each other, making lumps across the middle called Anticlines. As the sandstone warped, fractures tore through it, establishing the patterns for rock sculptures of the future.

Next, the entire region began to rise, climbing from sea level to thousands of feet in elevation. What goes up must come down, and the forces of erosion carved layer after layer of rock away. Once exposed, deeply buried sandstone layers rebounded and expanded, like a sponge expands after it's squeezed (though not quite so quickly). This created even more fractures, each one a pathway for water to seep into the rock and further break it down."  (Quotation from Arches NPS web site.)  Today what we see is in a constant process of destruction mostly due to the forces of water.  Eventually all these structures will be flattened to await the next series of geologic cataclysms.  

We spent the afternoon among these dramatic structures.  Around 4:00 the sun peaked below the clouds providing the kind of light that shows the formations at their best. 

We ended our time in Moab with dinneer at the Sunset Grill which is high above Moan in the house built by Charlie Steen, the "Uranium King" who put Moab on the map in the 1950's and who was probably also responsible for that massive cleanup mentioned at the beginning of this post.  However, that was then and this is now so Charlie is somehow fondly remembered.

We left the next morning for Vail where we met Brendan and Maria White, friends of Marilyn and now friends of mine as well.  Brendan has been in Colorado and the Vail area for many years and participated fully in the life of this beautiful mountain area.  We worked for many years as a designer and jeweler for a major jewelry store in Vail Village and now works on his own.  They showed us around Vail and Beaver Creek.

While we were there I did get a chance to review the current political situation with President Lincoln who provided me with much needed perspective and, I must say, hope.  

After driving over Vail Pass during the end of a snow storm, we made our flight home through Chicago and ended our ten vacation in Colorado and Utah.  I was able to get one last image, this one of downtown Chicago on our final approach to O'Hare.

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