Monday, June 17, 2013

From Arches to Capitol Reef, by way of Goblin Valley

We woke up early for our walk through the Fiery Furnace, hoping to check out the Windows site within Arches National Park on the way.  But first we stopped for breakfast at the nearby Jailhouse Café, a place that serves ONLY breakfast, and so named because the building was the town’s original courthouse and jail rolled into one.  We were sorry we had not had breakfast there every day! the venue offered pleasant outdoor seating and a good menu – Nancy liked the whole wheat waffle and I was especially taken by the ginger pancakes with apple butter, which was so good and served in such plentiful quantity that I was having leftovers for lunch the following day.  The wait staff repeated a phrase which I have come to identify with Utah – instead of telling me that she would take my bill and credit card whenever I was ready (rather than my having to take my check up to the cash register), she told me, “I’ll be your cashier.”

Then we drove into Arches, stopping first at the Windows. 

Window in Arches National Park

But we had lingered so long over breakfast that we could not visit them all, not to speak of checking out the arches across the road, but rather hurried up to the Fiery Furnace so that we would not be late for our ranger-led tour.  And what a tour it was, easily one of the highlights of the entire vacation.  The Fiery Furnace is a medium sized maze of formations including arches, fins, spires and other features, and bears its name not because of high temperatures — in fact, the hike moves in and out of a cooling shade – but because, our ranger guide told us, some of the rocks in the formation glow a fiery red at sunset.  Entry requires either reservation for the ranger-led tour or acquisition of a special permit.  It was not clear to me how groups entering the maze would have found their way through some of the exceptionally narrow spaces

— maybe I was just being lazy and not look hard enough because I had a guide, but I did not notice blazes or rock cairns defining the path through, which in fact included a fair amount of doubling back.  Completion of the walk also required some elementary canyoneering skills, to which the guide introduced us as we went along, such as duckwalking with each foot on a different boulder over a gap between the two

Traversing crack between two boulders in Fiery Furnace, Arches National Park
or walking with feet on one boulder with nothing approaching a flat service, while leaning against a wall nearby, then switching to a seated position to complete the traverse

Traversing a boulder in Fiery Furnace, Arches National Park

or leaping across cracks between boulders.

The ranger led us through the “Walk Through” Arch, then allowed the more adventurous of the group to return through the “Crawl Through” Arch.  An arch, we learned, is an opening at least three feet high or across, formed naturally.  Thus defined, there are more than 2000 arches in the park.

Crawl Through Arch in Fiery Furnace, Arches National Park

Crawl Through Arch in Fiery Furnace, Arches National Park

The tour culminated in a visit to Surprise Arch, a slender formation that is reached by walking along a narrow ledge.

Surprise Arch in Fiery Furnace, Arches National Park
We sat on a large boulder near the arch while the ranger concluded his talk about the park.

Our guide carried a backpack with a number of demonstration items, as well as picking up bits from the ground and discussing their significance.  For example, he showed us this little clump of dirt that included filaments reflecting the coalescence of apparently-lifeless ground, as life in the desert regenerated itself. 

This gave new meaning to signs we saw throughout the park, urging visitors to stay on trails lest their footsteps mistakenly disrupt the efforts of plants to reclaim the desert for vegetation. 

For example, some of the black spots in the foreground of these prickly pear flowers represent concentrations of incipient vegetation

as do what appear to be no more than clumps of sand in this photo

From some of what he said, as well as bits and pieces from other national parks staff, we learned about the significant stress on the human resources of the park staff.  Apparently full-time, permanent park rangers are getting to be fewer and further between, as the parks rely more and more on seasonal employees, temporary staff and even volunteers who hope and compete for permanent, long-term status.  We worried about the resulting drain on institutional memory and experience that is needed to give visitors the information-rich visits that we have always been able to enjoy from park rangers.

Atop this boulder was what looked like a dead remnant of a tree, except that part was still green.  The dead-looking section on the far left is actually the taproot, reaching far down into the rock toward a source of water.

Tree growing atop rock in Fiery Furnace, Arches National Park

We left Arches and made a beeline for Torrey, Utah, the town nearest Capitol Reef National Park , hoping to reach our destination before dark.  But on the way, we followed a recommendation that we had received from several Utahans, stopping off at Goblin Valley State Park; we were glad we did.  This park features amazing forms in a much darker brown color, looking very much like frozen mud figures.  We wandered through the main valley, checking out “creatures” like these
 Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley

The ground was covered with thin slices of caked mud, like this

Approaching Capitol Reef National Park
After we left Goblin Valley, we passed just north of the Henry Mountains, which we had seen in the distance, and awesome landforms began to rise around the road.  We had reached the beginning of the Waterpocket Fold, which runs through Capitol Reef park.
Approaching Capitol Reef National Park
Approaching Capitol Reef National Park
Finally we reached Torrey, and checked into our hotel, the Broken Spur.  It was getting late, so we quickly unloaded our gear into our room, and headed out for dinner.  Torrey was a much smaller town than Moab, with much less in the way of stores and restaurants, and those that there were closed up much earlier, but I liked its feel as I watched clumps of teenagers strolling together by the side of the road on the way to the local burger joint that sells ice cream cones. 

We arrived near the end of the dinner hours but were lucky to be able to get a table at Café Diablo, an excellent local restaurant featuring local products and creative southwestern cuisine.  We entered through a lovely garden in which many of the herbs were grown.
Garden at Cafe Diablo, Torrey Utah
It featured a collection of two dozen tequilas, so I had to try one even though the beer list was attractive.

For appetizers, we had the lettuce rolls and “firecrackers," a collection of finger foods such as mashed potatoes, shrimp and chicken, wrapped in wonton skins and then deep fried, and served atop a spicy salsa. 

Lettuce Rolls at Cafe Diablo

Firecrackers at Cafe Diablo

Our main dishes were the pumpkin seed trout, using local fish cooked just enough and very tastily, and the enchiladas verduras.

Enchilada Rancheras Verduras at Cafe Diablo

Pumpkin Seed Trout at Cafe Diablo

I was feeling satisfied by the end of the meal, but everything had been so good that I decided to try their pastry, each of which comes with a scoop of homemade ice cream.  I tried the baked mousse, which was delicious although very rich –

Baked chocolate mousse and drunken monkey ice cream at Cafe Diablo
the best part of this dessert was the scoop of “drunken monkey” ice cream.

We left with ample left overs and also feeling we had had the best meal of the vacation to date.

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