The Return to Delicate Arch, plus a visit Goblin Valley State Park (and other places)

Back in May of this year, I traveled for a brief weekend of hiking and exploring in Utah, where my friend Shawn lives. It’s odd that I haven’t written much about it yet. This week, while talking to my parents, who are out in that same area having an epic vacation, I suddenly felt the desire to write about that little trip.

It started with a bit of a meltdown on a short hike called The Living Room in Salt Lake City, but that’s a story I’ve already told. This post is about the next few days, which were full of great views, adventures and some (well, ok, a lot) of introspection.

The morning after the Living Room we drove up into Big Cottonwood Canyon, not too far outside of the city, to do a short and easy hike called Donut Falls. It’s apparently quite popular in all seasons based on it’s easiness, and I got a huge kick out of doing it in the snow (the first snow I’d seen, really, since leaving Boston). When we got to the falls, they were covered in snow and ice and we got to show off our microspikes, which earned us some admiring/envious looks from our fellow sneaker-clad adventurers. We climbed up to an opening in the ice where we could see a tiny portion of the falls, but really what was remarkable was that we were actually climbing on top of the falls.

I am literally standing on the falls for this picture, looking back the way we came.

It was a lovely, sunny day, and the trek back down, wearing our spikes, zoomed by in a flash. 

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Next we drove out to Antelope Island State Park, which is on the Great Salt Lake. This was the first time I’d seen the Lake, and it didn’t disappoint in terms of views.

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It did disappoint, however, in its overwhelmingly annoying no-seeum infestation; we tried to walk down to see some wildlife but bailed because we were getting chewed up by those little bastard bugs.

So it was back to the city for us, where we had some tasty barbeque and did a rare thing, for us, anyway; we chose not to do another hike and instead watched a movie, drank beer and enjoyed some homemade cobbler. My flatlander legs appreciated the leisure time.

The next day, we headed south to Moab. I’m pretty sure this portion of the trip was accomplished under protest from Shawn’s point of view, but he had little choice as I was determined to visit Arches National Park (one of my favorite places on earth) and find redemption at the Delicate Arch.

See, on our first big adventure together back in 2016, we’d ended our trip at Arches, and after a long day of hiking, decided to try to get to the Delicate Arch at sunset. We started too late, and I was really tired, so I sent Shawn ahead and the long and short of it is that we got separated. I took the established route and he, well, lets just say he found his own way.  We both made it up, though we missed each other at the top, and while I managed to pick my way back down the trail in the pitch black (headlamp for the win), by the time I got back to the nearly empty parking lot –alone– my imagination had started conjuring bad scenarios, many of which involved me having to tell the rangers that I had no idea where in the Utah desert my friend was. The story ends happily, as he made it down soon after I did,  and didn’t seem fazed in the slightest.

So, I suspect he was doing a fair bit of eye-rolling as we climbed up the trail in the blazing midday sun, with me generously narrating my previous experience (this is where I saw you veer off to the right, and I wondered where you were going, etc), The trail seemed far less intimidating in the daylight, and it’s also worth noting that my level of confidence while hiking has grown since that evening in 2016.

Anyway, we got to enjoy the beauty of the Delicate Arch, together, without any drama this time, and that was all I wanted.

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A pasta lunch/dinner in Moab was next, and then we headed west into the nothingness to visit Goblin Valley State Park. We drove through some of the most remote country I’d ever seen, the kind that makes you want to check that you have gas in your tank.

Goblin Valley as the sun set felt like being on another planet. Indeed, sci-fi movies had been shot there in the past, and you can see why.

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We had hoped to camp at the State Park, but the campground was full. Somehow Shawn knew that there was a primitive campground on nearby BLM land, and we headed just a few miles from the park and pitched our tents in a canyon. We were not alone; there were other folks camping there, and an RV park about a mile away with a bathroom if we’d needed it, but it was still pretty isolated.

We laughed at how poorly we’d prepared for this part of the adventure; no firewood, no marshmallows, no beer, but we made the best of it, setting up our chairs and just sitting for hours as twilight turned to dusk, watching the millions of stars start to appear overhead. It got chilly enough that I wished for a blanket, but my towel made a nice substitute. Conversation, in a setting like that, takes on a certain sheen of whimsy and mystery. In the silences, I pondered why I seem to connect with this part of the country so much; it’s odd, considering that my ancestors came from another continent entirely. There were so many stars, flitting in and out of view as the occasional cloud glided by. It was a lovely night, my first camping in a remote place like that, and I hope it’s not the last.

The next morning, we ate rehydrated food for breakfast and set out for Capitol Reef National Park. It was a glorious day, but all the travel and the bug bites were taking their toll, and we were a little tired. I don’t have a lot of sharp memories of our first hike up to Hickman Bridge (but I do remember these pretty orange flowers):

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We drove through a green and glorious valley where Mormons had settled, en route to an 8 mile adventure hiking the Grand Wash (2 miles of flat in a canyon) and then up to Cassidy Arch and then back out again. The sun beat down on us for most of this hike, so we were pretty spent when it was over.

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This arch is named after Butch Cassidy, for some reason. It takes about 1000 feet of sleep hiking, over a couple of miles, to get to it.

As a sign that we’re either getting older or wiser (even odds, I’d say), we decided to pack it in and head back to Salt Lake City after a late lunch and about a gallon of water.

The next day I headed back to Virginia, but not before we decided to walk to get pizza, and ended up trekking a mile back in the pouring rain. Always an adventure, I guess. Next time, we’ll just get takeout.

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