ARCHES

// Day 11: Arches

The dew on the grass in the morning is the only sign of moisture in the air. We pack up our wonderfully dry tent and strike off. It is 4 hours to Moab, where both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are – a panoramic power couple. We will start at Arches this afternoon, and then decide how to go about seeing everything we want to see. We arrive in time for a late lunch in the Visitor Center parking lot, and for the first time we are making sandwiches in the sun.

We start with the one thing we most want to do: the mile and a half hike up to the quintessential Delicate Arch. The brochure we received at the entrance tells us that the parking lot is under construction, that parking is therefore limited, and that not everyone will be able to fit at the trailhead this summer. Luckily it is not peak season and there is plenty of room for us and Nigel when we arrive. Up we go. It is a lighthearted but physically exhausting going. Up until now, we have not done any real trekking, and now we are headed straight up at thousands of feet above sea level in 90 degrees with no shade in the middle of the day. The climb takes us about an hour of scrambling up sandy dirt pathways and well-worn rock plateaus. Around a final corner, the arch rises up near the edge of a drop-off, cradled by a shallow bowl of slick red rock. Around the rim, where the trail has deposited us, tourists gather and look. We find a seat and devour our afternoon snacks. This is probably the best Clif Bar I’ve ever had – up here, in the heat, finally sitting down, regaining my breath, gazing across at that bizarre erosion of earth across the bowl.

We linger for about half an hour before skipping back down, the going much more pleasant in this direction. There are ice cold Cokes in our cooler, and we guzzle them happily. We amble around to some of the other walkways and viewpoints for the remainder of the afternoon – just an hour or two – until it is time for dinner: a brightly-colored baja grill recommended by Google. The restaurant has a roof but feels like open air, the front door propped open and a breeze coming steadily through to the open bar in the back. The walls between the dining area and the adjacent alley have been knocked down to counter level and the alley has been given a glass ceiling, so the sun comes in  brightly from the edge. We are so content and pleased here, eating fresh guacamole and citrusy tacos in this colorful, breezy, place.

We scope out some of the local outdoor shops before finding our campground. It is a crowded, buzzing place just a mile or so north of Moab, nearly directly across from the Arches Park entrance. We have a tiny covered campsite that is surrounded on nearly all sides by other tiny campsites full of people. It requires parallel parking to get Nigel in position in front of the little plot. On one side of us a pair of college-aged guys sit neatly in camp chairs. On the other, parents are attempting to corral their three young children into a game of Uno at their picnic table. They have managed to erect a three-room tent underneath their small roof covering. Behind us through the worn fence we can see and hear a group of Boy Scouts – or at least former Boy Scouts – planning the multi-night backpacking trip they are about to embark on. At the front of the property, there is a club. It is playing thumping music at unbelievably high decibels. The women’s bath house smells like sulfur. Kyle tells me the men’s smells like his high school locker room. We are showered and in our tent with our books soon after dark. The college guys are gone from their chairs, presumably tent-bound for the night. The family of 5 have retired to their compound and we can hear the numerous ironically loud threats for silence through the canvas. The Boy Scouts are fighting noisily over who will carry the food for their trip. The club music thumps heavily. I don’t have to look at him to know that Kyle is doing the same thing I am doing: abandoning any attempt to sleep and staring amusedly at the tent ceiling in the sea of volume and chaos. Before 10 minutes have passed, a new and perplexing sound rises up from the noise. It might be thunder, or a hidden piece of heavy machinery close by. I listen carefully, wondering why an idling semi would have been allowed into the campground. Confusingly, the noise seems to be waxing and waning, and in a complicated epiphanic moment, I both realize and refuse to believe that the noise is coming from a human man. Three-room-tent dad is snoring, and to call it snoring is to do it injustice, really, because the sound is not unlike that of a monstrous growling animal or a train.

I don’t look at Kyle, but I start to giggle, and he starts to snicker, and soon the both of us are laughing heartily in disbelief and wonder. The Scouts bicker, the music thumps, the train snores, and we drift off in the cacophony.

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