Arches National Park, UT
Elevation: 5,186 ft.
Distance: 64.4 mi.
Odometer: 2,338.9 mi.
Headed out of Green River on the "frontage road" for the first 13 miles. The frontage road is actually about a mile or two off the main highway and probably used to be the lone highway in the area. The pavement was horrible, but I did have the advantage of low traffic. I only saw one car the whole time.
Turned south towards Arches on a road that was flat at first and gradually got a little hilly. Absolutely no human establishments on the way, with the exception of a single gas station. Right before getting to Arches, descended into a canyon and got some nice views. But the best was yet to come.
Met a couple on bikes outside the entrance of the park. They were from Akron, OH, but they weren't touring. Chatted for a bit, and they offered me to stay with them in Moab if there weren't any campsites open. Nice folks. Went to the gate and got the very last campsite! Just had to ride to it, 18 miles away. Stopped by the visitor's center for a minute, refilled with water, and got back on Freebird.
The road to the campsite was 18 of the hardest miles of the ride. Started off with a huge climb full of switchbacks, and it was mostly uphill the whole way, with a descent every now and then just to make you climb again. There was a net elevation gain of about 1,000 feet, but the total amount of climbing was probably more than twice that. I had to use my granny gear on more than one occasion. On top of that, it's hot again, for the first time since New Mexico.
I was told to find the one empty campsite and take it. When I got there, it looked like several were empty. I picked one with a nice shady spot, put up my tent, and settled in. It was only after that when I noticed the tag at the front of the site saying it was taken. I started looking for an empty site, and upon not finding one, started looking for a park ranger. By the time everything was sorted out, there were two confused Belgians standing in the site I'd taken, wondering what a tent and a bike were doing in their campsite.
The Belgians were two young ladies, both English majors, visiting the United States after finishing college. They had a car and graciously offered to drive me to the Delicate Arch trailhead that evening. I gladly took them up on it, as I didn't want to pedal Freebird on that road again. The three of us hiked to Delicate Arch together. I tried to imagine what is was like for the first person that saw it, not previously knowing it was there. I imagine it was something like a religious experience.
I hung out with the Belgians some more that night, mostly watching the stars. Somewhat high elevation, clear desert air, and no cities nearby made for excellent skies. It seemed like every 60 seconds, we saw a shooting star, sometimes two at a time!
Arches is a place to see before you die. By far the most unique and beautiful scenery all summer. I've now hiked over half the park, and I'm debating whether or not to do one last trail on my way out tomorrow. We'll see.
It's a beautiful and fascinating world we live in.
from Pedal for Potatoes