Arches National Park: Tower Arch Trail

On the morning of Saturday, February 12 [2022], we decided to do our first real hike at Arches National Park, an out-and-back to Tower Arch. The sandy, sometimes steep hike is a very scenic 3.4-miles ending at an arch that spans an impressive ninety-two feet. Tower Arch is one of the most remote large arches in the Park, so getting over to the trailhead was fun too.

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Arches National Park: Balancing Out on the Colorado Plateau

Balanced Rock

Our long weekend on the Colorado Plateau began on Friday, February 11 [2022] after a very busy week. I would have a little trouble keeping Bold Bison work at bay until the weekend properly started (in Pacific time because of some cool projects we had in the works). We’d also had a later-than-usual night the previous evening with dinner out and a program of Barber, Rachmaninoff, and Elgar at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. But even with some distractions, it felt great to be going on a trip!

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Arches National Park: Planning

La Sal Mountains from Arches National Park

Arches National Park was established as a National Monument in 1929 and upgraded to National Park status on November 12 (my birthday), 1971. It protects 76,679 acres of the Colorado Plateau in eastern Utah just north of the town of Moab. It also protects the highest concentration of natural arches on the planet. Over 2,000 arches with an opening of at least three feet exist in the Park. With over one and a half million annual visitors, the Park is quite popular (sixteenth among the sixty-three National Parks). It is, therefore, often quite crowded. So we always knew we wanted to be a bit strategic about when we visited. It turns out that an unhappy circumstance ended up offering us a great opportunity.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park on the Way Home

On Saturday, November 20 [2021], I departed Taos, headed ultimately home to Chicago. By the time I reached home the following Tuesday (two days before Thanksgiving), I had passed through Denver and Kansas City. But before that, I couldn’t resist stopping for a short hike at Great Sand Dunes National Park. After all, it was only an hour and forty-five minutes from Taos. And it was on the way. Sort of. It would be the first time I ever visited a National Park by myself.

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Interlude: Taos

As soon as Sean and I knew we weren’t going to be having company for Thanksgiving, I knew I wanted to extend my time in the west by working remotely in Taos for the second half of the week after my birthday. I even knew where I wanted to stay. Sean flew home from Albuquerque on Tuesday, November 16. I spent November 17-20 [2021] up on the Taos Plateau.

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Detour: Petroglyph National Monument

Established in 1990 and co-administered by the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque, Petroglyph National Monument protects 7,236 acres of West Mesa west of Albuquerque, New Mexico and the Rio Grande. One of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in North America, more than 20,000 petroglyphs dating as far back as 5,000 years are found in the Monument.

On Tuesday, November 16 [2021], Sean and I visited the Monument’s Boca Negra Canyon area for a morning of exploration before he flew home to Chicago.

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Detour: Valles Caldera National Preserve

Valles Caldera National Preserve protects 89,766 acres of the volcanic Jemez mountains west of Santa Fe and the Rio Grande in north central New Mexico. It encompasses most of the gigantic caldera at the heart of the massive volcano that is the Jemez Mountains. The Preserve was established by Congress in 2000 with an experimental structure that created a trust to purchase a 95,000-acre privately held ranch. Small portions were incorporated into Bandelier National Monument and Santa Clara Pueblo. The rest was held by the trust until 2015 when it was transferred to the National Park Service.

Late in the afternoon of November 13 [2021], Sean and I drove the twisting, somewhat frightening road from Bandelier National Monument’s Frijoles Canyon to the heart of the volcano.

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Detour: Bandelier National Monument

Established in 1916, Bandelier National Monument protects 33,677 acres of the Pajarito Plateau on the southern slopes of the volcanic Jemez mountains, located west of the Rio Grande Valley and Santa Fe in northern New Mexico. Over twenty-three thousand acres of the Monument are federally protected wilderness. But the heart of Bandelier is the thousands of Ancestral Puebloan sites scattered across the plateau and its steep canyons. Among these, the many sites in Frijoles Canyon are the most famous and dramatic. The hub of visitation in Bandalier, this canyon was where Sean and I headed for our all-too-short visit to the Monument on November 13 [2021].

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Detour: Pecos National Historical Park

Established as a National Monument in 1965 and then expanded and reestablished as a National Historical Park in 1990, Pecos National Historical Park protects roughly 6,700 acres in three parcels at the very southern tip of the Rocky Mountains. The Park’s primary focus is protecting and interpreting the remains of Pecos Pueblo, perched above Glorieta Pass in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Glorieta Pass it the primary gateway between the Great Plains to the east and the Rio Grande Valley to the west. The Park also preserves the site of a crucial 1862 battle in the Civil War, when American troops rebuffed a Confederate attempt to expand beyond Texas into the Southwest.

On Saturday, November 13 [2021], Pecos was the first of three National Park units near Santa Fe that Sean and I visited.

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