Our long weekend on the Colorado Plateau began on Friday, February 11  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!
I was groggy when my alarm woke me at 6am, and I wasn’t completely dressed when our prescheduled Lyft arrived fifteen minutes early at 6:45am. Oof.
It was weird being back at O’Hare for the first time—for me—since we went to New York on the eve of the pandemic. We returned to an old tradition, eating at Frontera, but Sean added a new “hack,” going down the concourse and getting McDonald’s hash browns to put into his torta bowl, while I waited for our food.
The Filipino gate agent tossed some Tagalog slang at Sean as he booped his boarding pass.
It was overcast until we were well into the Rocky Mountains, then the view opened up for a pretty spectacular descent over the Great Salt Lake.
Salt Lake City International Airport is sprawling. It felt like we walked for miles before we got to baggage claim. As we walked I was hit by waves of nostalgia from my tween years. Every March for a time we’d drive from my aunt and uncle’s house in California to Park City to go skiing. So being in Salt Lake in winter brought back a lot of really good memories.
We collected our bags, picked up our rental car (we chose a blue Honda hatchback to visually connect with our blue Subaru at home), and drove into the city to grab lunch and do a Whole Foods run.
We noticed that the car’s cruise control wasn’t working. But it felt too late to go back to Enterprise and go through the rigamarole of exchanging it.
As we headed down to Provo, I shared a few stories and reminiscences from ski trips.
We turned onto US-6 and went up and over the Wasatch Range. As we drove, we listened to a great couple of episodes of The Experiment about Spam.
Then we dropped down onto the enormity of the Colorado Plateau. In going to Arches, we’d actually be getting fairly close to Colorado National Monument, which we’d visited the previous September.
It took about three hours and forty-five minutes to drive from Salt Lake to Moab. As we drove into town, we saw a sign that said, “Be like a local. Don’t speed through town. Stay on the trails.” Nice
We pulled into the Radfliffe’s parking lot and went inside. They were playing Lord Huron in the lobby. Nice. We checked in, gathered our bags, and went up to our room on the third (top) floor.
Once inside, Sean kept saying, “Oh, it’s so nice!”
I was thrilled, since I suspected he’d really like it from the pictures when I booked.
He said, “This is what I want our apartment to look like.”
And, “It smells like a spa.”
We even had a balcony, although it was a bit too cold to use it.
We were basically completely charmed by our room. What a great place to spend a few nights away from home, post COVID infections.
After we settled in, we walked down the main drag to the state liquor store and stopped at the grocery store across from our hotel to get a few more things for the next couple days.
Back in the room, I had a few quick things to check in on for work before our evening could really begin.
That evening, we had a celebratory dinner at the lovely Italian restaurant, Il Posto Rosso, in the Radcliffe’s lobby.
We chatted about Sean’s work philosophy over cauliflower, scallops, lasagne, and pappardelle.
Back in our room, we had a dessert of brown butter cookies and watched the Olympic Games while we got ready to to into the Park in the morning.
I slept fitfully because I was so excited, and I woke before dawn the next morning, Saturday, February 12 .
Out on the balcony, the sun was ready to come up over the La Sal Mountains to the east.
As we got ready to go, I called down and ordered some food to take with us: some panini sandwiches and a little charcuterie. We were able to use a complimentary cooler in our room for our day’s adventures. Nice.
We grabbed some lobby coffees as we left the hotel at just about 7:30am.
We drove the short distance to the Park entrance, just on the other side of the Colorado River.
At the entrance station we purchased an annual National Parks pass—for the first time ever.
Which seems just perverse given this entire project…but each year the cost/benefit always seemed to not make sense…until it did.
We drove up, literally up, into the Park. Happily, I was unbothered by the switchback road with its dropoffs.
We started gawking at the formations almost immediately, but we pulled over at the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint to orient ourselves to the spectacle in front of us.
We stopped at a few pullouts before we reached the parking area for Balanced Rock.
There was a strange, thin layer of clouds to the east that muted the sun, making the light almost thick. It was perfect, though, for some moody silhouettes of Balanced Rock. One Sean shot now hangs in his office in the Loop.
Balanced Rock is enormous. From base to top, it’s 128 feet high. The boulder alone is fifty-five feet high.
Across the Colorado Plateau, rock layers of different compositions, hardnesses, and densities erode in different ways. Here at Balanced Rock, the boulder is made of Entrada Sandstone, which the largest and most famous of the arches are formed in. The base is an older mudstone/siltstone layer called the Carmel Formation. It is eroding faster than the boulder, which protects the layer below it. But inevitably, someday it will fall.
Balance Rock is situated on a rise, and from here we could get a good look other major features of the Park.
Out across Salt Valley was the Fiery Furnace, a literal maze of hoodoos, fins, and arches, which visitors can only access on a ranger-led tour or with a special permit.
While we had some hikes and arches we didn’t want to miss…and although I had a strategy for trying to see Delicate Arch without its being mobbed with visitors…we really didn’t have a specific plan. So we decided to go out to the end of the Park Road and work our way back.
So far, we’d seen few other visitors. And this would be a theme throughout the weekend. Out at the end of the road, the parking area for Devils Garden, usually very full according to the guides, was all but abandoned. Yes, it was February, and yes it was fairly cold, but still.
Looping back onto the Park Road headed the other direction, we pulled over at the empty parking area for Skyline Arch.
We wandered up the short trail to have a look.
The arch has a span of seventy-one feet and is thirty-three feet high.
At its base are the shattered remnants of an enormous chunk that fell out of the arch in 1940.
We had the arch to ourselves. It was the first of nine arches we’d visit over the next two days that we had a look at without others around.
But graffiti reminded us that visitors can be really awful.
It was only just after 9:15. We’d seen some great stuff already, and the day had really only just started. Where to next?