Friday: Sonia landed in Denver at ~9pm. By 11 we were in a rented Ford Focus hatchbach on our way to Olivia's. Olivia has been Sonia's friend since High School. She and her boyfriend, Jules, had just been in MN and invited us to crash at their place in Denver before getting on the road. Beer, cocktails, bowl, and some of Chef Jules Italian wedding soup was perfect after a flight sitting in front of 2 screaming/kicking children.
Day 1: Denver to Canyonlands
We picked up food, a few forgotten clothes items, and fuel for the camp stove at Walmart and were on the road proper by 9am, basically driving the 5.5 hrs straight though to Moab. Everyone we talked to on the plane/airport had warned us that it had just snowed in Denver. The first evidence of recent snow was on i70 passing cars covered in snow coming down from the mountains. It was sunny 60s in Denver and I was wearing shorts and sandals. Snow appeared on the roofs and ground as we left the city and the depth gradually increased with elevation. It was snowing hard as we went through Tunnel/Pass. It seemed strange seeing snow again after it had been gone for 3 months in MN. The fresh snow quickly dissipated as we headed down the western slopes, giving way to spring green. The green turned to red cliffs and scrub as we crossed into Utah.
Being a Saturday I was worried about finding a campsite and thought it would be best to try and secure a campsite before heading to the parks. Moab is notoriously busy with its proximity to both Arches and Canyonlands National Park, as well as an abundance of climbing and mountain biking terrain. We swung down along the Colorado River and struck out at 3 separate BLM sites, all packed full of climbers and MTB'ers. Shit. It was already 2pm so we just decided to head to Arches for some hiking and just worry about where we were staying later. I was jealous of all the bikes, next time I'll bring mine, I had thought at the time. Ironic that I'm currently healing a broken clavicle as I write this.
Any concerns about it being too cold quickly left our mind as we climbed the bare slab of sandstone on our way up to Delicate Arch. The sun was cooking. The delicate are hike is a popular 3 mile round tripper to the most iconic arch in the state. It was busy with visitors, but the arch did not disappoint.
Next was Dead Horse Point State Park before Canyonlands. Dead Horse Point is so named because cowboys used to use it and its steep edges as a natural corral for wild horses. The exposure and dryness killed many a horse, but is also a great lookout point over Canyonlands. The land around Dead Horse and Canyonlands is still open grazing land so look out for cows on the road!
It was golden hour when we entered Canyonlands National Park and the gorgeous low rolling grassy hills on top of the Mesa were glowing. The road winds close to the canyon edges revealing steep walls with switch back roads crawlling up them. We arrived at Grand Viewpoint at Island in the Sky right at dusk. Looking out to the South East the land drops away to a flat plane with a second level of canyons draining into the Colorado River. I think a series of the canyons looks like a giant ancient dinosaur footprint.
There just so happened to be a NSP night sky program and rangers were busy setting up half a dozen telescopes the size of tree trunks in the parking lot. Canyonlands is designated as a dark sky park, meaning there is little to no visible light pollution. It was a cloudless night and needless to say, you could see a lot of stars. The talk was good and now I know how ID a couple more constellations. It was late and Sonia and I were both irritated that we didn't know where we were staying. After deciding to keep driving South from Moab, we ended up sleeping in the car a rest stop outside Montecello. There were maybe a dozen other vehicles there spending the night.