Hiking and Bicycling Greeneville & Greene County Tennessee
Arches and Canyonlands
During the first week of June 2005, the Greeneville Hiking Club made their annual trip to a national park, this year choosing to visit the Moab, Utah and Denver Colorado region. The seven members that went were Mike Church, Andy Daniels, Katrina Rogers, Ned and Rob Sanders, Paula Stanton and Pam Shelton.
Flying into Denver on Saturday, June 2, the group rented a van and drove through Vail and Parachute, Colorado on Interstate 70, eager to get a taste of the wild and scenic landscape.
The first stop was near Grand Junction at the Colorado National Monument, one of the grand landscapes of the American west. Bold, and brilliantly colored, this plateau and canyon country, with its towering masses of naturally sculptured rock, embraces 32 square miles of rugged up and down terrain.
The Rim Rock Drive had views of the distant Colorado River 2000 feet below. An interpretive tour with the park ranger showed the various characteristics of the many layers of sandstone, slate and other sedimentary rock-taking millions of years to form. The ranger pointed out giant rockforms rising from the canyon floor like skyscrapers-in-stone. Some of the formations had names like “Pipe Organ”, “Kissing Cousins”, “Praying Hands” and “Sentinel Spire.” The remarkable colors: vivid reds, purples, oranges and browns, were created by iron and other minerals in the rocks. These formations were truly masterpiece of erosion.
Five days were spent in Moab. Utah. On Sunday and Monday, the group hiked in Canyonlands and Arches National Park. The most magnificent trail was Devil’s Garden, ranked as one of the ten top hiking trails in the United States. The primitive loop trail, marked with small piles of rock called cairns, was 5.9 miles of difficult terrain. Hiking this area required walking on “slickrock”, steep, sloping sandstone surfaces, many with massive dropoffs on both sides of the trail. Nine different arches were viewed in Devil’s Garden including “Landscape Arch” one of the world’s largest stone spans, stretching 306 feet, yet only eleven feet thick at it’s center. The “Dark Angel” monolith was also very impressive against a beautiful sunset. The rock formations took on eerie forms as the sun and evening shadows began to enhance the various curves and indentions of the sandstone.
By far, the most difficult experience of the trip was the Tuesday mountain biking trip on the White Rim Trail, 23 miles of spectacular canyon and desert scenery made treacherous by 105 degree temperatures. The terrain was so rugged that walking the bikes was required in many areas. The trail began in the “Island in the Sky’ section of Canyonlands with a steep descent down the “Shafer Trail,” a historic cattle trail. This trail was literally cut into the side of the canyon wall complete with many narrow, rocky switchbacks accompanied by awesome views. After reaching the canyon floor, the trail continued around the Colorado River Canyon Rim and ended with another descent into Lathrop Canyon, a section consisting of deep sand dunes which required quite a struggle to navigate with bicycles.
The Green River canoe trip planned for the rest of the week had to be postponed a day due to high winds with gusts over 60 m.p.h.. Although the temperatures had reached over a hundred for several days, a cold front pushed the temperature into the thirties and it snowed in the nearby La Sal Mountains. During the unsettled weather, the group visited the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage located on the scenic Highway 128 at the Red Cliffs Lodge.
There the group enjoyed seeing where many westerns were filmed starring such screen legends as John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Ronald Reagan. Over 120 movies and hundreds of TV series, specials and commercials have been filmed in the Moab Monument Valley. This area was also used as a backdrop for such recent films as “Back to the Future”, starring Michael J. Fox and “Mission Impossible”, with Tom Cruise.
After visiting the museums, the group returned to Arches and took a short, but steep difficult to view one of the strangest natural formation on the planet, Delicate Arch. This is the most widely-recognized landmark in Arches National Park and is depicted on both Utah license plates and a postage stamp commemorating Utah’s centennial anniversary of statehood in 1996. Later the group also hiked to “The Windows”, “Double Arch” and “Balanced Rock”.
On Thursday, the weather cleared and the group spent the next two days canoeing over 24 miles on the Colorado River instead of the Green River as originally planned. They were shuttled by “Wall Street” a sheer rock wall which contained many Native American Petroglyphs; then on to the Potash ramp, where three canoes and a kayak were launched. After a float of about 12 miles, the group camped on an island below “Dead Horse Point” State Park, the site of the final suicidal plunge of Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in the 1991 film, “Thelma and Louise”.
On Friday, The group continued for another twelve miles through the awe inspiring red-rock walls of Canyonlands National Park and finished the float with a pickup by Jet Boat which took the group down to the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers, then back to Moab.
The group left Moab on Saturday and drove through the Rockies to the ski resorts of Aspen and Snowmass. The group spent the afternoon hiking to Crater Lake in the “Maroon Bells” a set of alpine peaks over 14,000 feet above sea level. The Maroon Bells are one of the most photographed mountain ranges in the world along with being one of the most dangerous. Locally known as “The Deadly Bells” because of the loose, shifting rock structure; many climbing fatalities have occurred near the summit. This hike was very different from the earlier hikes in the semidesert conditions of Moab, with aspen trees, wildflowers and snowfields against the beautiful blue sky. A welcome change of climate.
On Sunday, the group crossed the Continental Divide at Independence Pass then followed the Arkansas River for nearly a hundred miles, making a short stop at Royal Gorge, the highest suspension bridge in the world. Ned Sanders reminisced about his unforgettable visit to Royal Gorge with the President’s Drum and Bugle Corps nearly 48 years earlier. Lunch was in Canon City, the largest intact historical district in Colorado.
The group ended their trip with a ride on the “Cog Railroad” through Pikes Peak National Forest. The 200 passenger train left the station in Manitou Springs and took a hour to reach the 14,110 foot high summit. The panoramic view from Pike’s Peak inspired Katherine Bates to write “America the Beautiful!”