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  • Writer's picturevanlafaxine

week 16: natural bridges, indian creek, canyonlands

horseshoe bend

bill: horseshoe bend sucks. don't go there. there are so many friggin people crawling all over the place like ants, you can't even get a reasonable place to sit and look out over the bend without being in the way of 5 different people taking pictures. would skip next time.

Amy: But we watched the sunset and got THE shot. 3/10.


Amy: During our few short months on the road, we’ve come to appreciate and rely on state parks for the best camping experience. They’re usually around the national parks/major sights but significantly less busy, which makes them a million times more appealing and enjoyable. After spending an evening amongst throngs of people at Horseshoe Bend, we made our way to Goosenecks State Park less than an hour away. We escaped the crowds and camped right on the edge of the canyon. We had all 3 goosenecks to ourselves for sunset!

bill: we stayed at goosenecks state park, which is exactly 3x cooler than horseshoe bend, because it is 3 horseshoe bends back to back.

a lot of the vistas here are just too big, you have to fully turn your body 180 degrees to appreciate the full scope. this photo is actually 3 individual photos taken with an ultra-wide lens stitched together.

bill: we rode the bike back down through monument valley, down the forrest gump highway. again, very cool, but we hit a rattlesnake sunning itself on the highway and i still feel bad about that.

bill: i took some time to try to fix a few of the problems we have had with the van so far: the turn signals not blinking and the gas gauge not registering. i knew the turn signals was a 2 second fix, it was just a blown flasher, so i picked one up from autozone for $6, but a two second fix turned into an hour of trying to actually find the old flasher. it was supposed to be under the instrument panel but i couldn’t seem to find a match. i had out all the wiring diagrams and was tracing wire after wire through relays trying to find where it connected to the flasher. eventually i figured out that the hazards still work, so i turned those on and traced the sound of the hazard flasher to: under the glovebox. 2 second fix.

next was the gas gauge, which wasn’t registering any signal. the most likely issue was a broken fuel level sending unit, but this is on top of the tank and not accessible without dropping the tank, and also expensive and annoying to replace, so i did some investigating on the wiring first. the ground was rusty but okay, and i had recently disconnected/reconnected the joint on the positive wire, so maybe that is the problem? i followed my gut and cut out the joint and built a new bridge, and lo and behold, we have a fuel gauge again! thankfully a lot of the time so far problems with the van have had simple solutions, and we have saved a lot of money on mechanics by figuring them out ourselves. here is a snapchat i sent eric on the subject:

natural bridges

top of the moki dugway/valley of the gods

bill: natural bridges sits at about 2100m elevation, and goosenecks is at about 1500m, but there is no gradual way to make up that elevation, you have to drive straight up the vertical wall of a mesa. the road is called the moki dugway and it is super intimidating driving up to it, you keep driving closer and closer to this sheer cliff without even seeing where the road may go; there is no pass, no visible path of least resistance, you just drive straight up the face in a series of super steep switchbacks. i was on the bike and had a great time, but i was worried about amy in the van, but all for nought, the van performed admirably and we made our way up 500 vertical metres in a matter of a few miles perched on a sheer cliff. turns out that a 6 litre 3/4 ton truck engine from the muscle car era is reasonably powerful.

Amy: We decided to take the Moki Dugway scenic byway to Natural Bridges. Driving in, it didn’t look like we’d be able to get up…until we saw the steep switchbacks. With great trepidation, I drove the van up the cliffside, which ended up being far more reasonable than I was expecting. I didn’t stop along the way for fear of getting stuck, but the views were incredible and we stopped at the top to admire the sweeping Valley of the Gods below us. At the top of the mesa, the temperature had dropped about 5 or 10 degrees with the elevation gain. Brr!

Amy: We pressed onwards, and arrived at Natural Bridges by lunchtime. Although bridges and arches seem like the same thing, they are actually distinct formations: bridges are carved by water erosion (ie a river flowing under them) and arches are carved by wind and ice. Our original plan was to hike all three bridges in a continuous loop, but flooding in canyon made that impossible so we hiked down to first bridge (Sipapu) separately. From the edge of the canyon, the bridge didn’t look like much. Since it was below the horizon, it was camouflaged amongst all the other rocks. But from below, the bridge towered above us in all its splendour. The trail took us beneath its striped, zebra-like underbelly, and we stared up in awe at the many tons of rock suspended above our heads. We decided to link the other two bridges (Kachina and Owachomo) into one hike. We hit Kachina first, the youngest, thickest, and least spectacular bridge. We followed the meandering trail along the stream in the canyon, and eventually ended up at Owachomo bridge. We saved the best for last! This was the oldest, and most delicate bridge. It spanned a few hundred metres but appeared to be only a few meters thick at its middle. Impressive.

Sipapu bridge

bill: the rim of the canyon is freezing, the wind is howling and it is thoroughly unpleasant, but as you descend it gets warmed and calmer, at the base of the canyon is is very reminiscent of mid spring in ontario: the trees are budding, the air is crisp but the sun is so warm and pleasant, and the river running through smells like mud. even after skipping a lot of winter there is something so special about spring.

Owachomo bridge

indian creek

Amy: On our drive toward Moab, we made a pit stop at a local library to do our taxes at a real desk with stable wifi. Yay for public libraries! We met up with Em and Dan south of Moab, outside of Canyonlands National Park, in an area called Indian Creek, a famous climbing spot. But first, a few interesting things about this part of Utah!

The arid northeast Utah desert is extremely fragile. It’s covered in a layer of cryptobiotic soil crust, comprised of a collection of algae cyanobacteria, moss, lichen and fungi. Together, these tiny organisms bind the sandy soil particles together. The resulting hardened crust is crucial for the ecosystem: it supports basically all plant and animal life in this part of the desert. Without it, the soil would be quickly eroded by wind and rain. We’ve been warned to stay on trails because even a single footprint can kill the delicate crust, which can take upwards of TWO HUNDRED YEARS to recover from a footprint. Some undisturbed crusts can even be THOUSANDS of years old! It looks pretty inconspicuous, but the thick black knobby dirt is pretty important here.

bill: i hate the stupid crust. you can't walk goddam anywhere in utah, the whole state is covered in crust.

Amy: While we were in the area, we checked out Newspaper Rock, a big cliff face covered in many layers of petroglyphs. We saw depictions of hunting, as well as strange mythical horned creatures carved into the rock. Apparently the carvings were made by many different groups of ancient peoples over many thousands of years. Their purpose is unknown, but it was fun to imagine how ancient peoples may have used this space for storytelling, or teaching.

After taking time to learn about our surroundings, we climbed. And it was hard. The first day, I did not have fun. There is no easy climbing in this part of Utah, and we had a very steep learning curve. Thankfully, our friends were there to walk us through the crack climbing technique, and we slowly improved.

bill: indian creek is a very special place. it is another of the extremely famous climbing meccas we wanted to check out on our way through utah. there is a lush, green valley filled with trees and purple flowers blanketing the valley floor, surrounded by these big sandstone cliffs with sheer, vertical walls, there are snow capped mountains looming over.

the rock here is unlike anywhere else; the faces of the cliffs are completely blank, not a handhold or foot hood in site. they are completely vertical. the only means that you have of climbing them is by the perfect parallel splitting cracks up the faces. we have done some crack climbing before in joshua tree and vegas, but those places were different, a little bit of crack climbing, then maybe some face climbing when the crack wasn’t quite right, maybe there is some texture in the crack to use to your advantage. here there is nothing, only a long, smooth, perfect, featureless crack. with nothing to pull on or stand on, the only means of gaining any purchase to pull yourself up is by “jamming”, where you stick your hand into the crack and squeeze it so it expands enough to push out on the walls of the crack to give some friction. you then stick your foot in sideways and turn it to expand it, then repeat. simple enough. oh i should also mention that both of these actions induce a fair amount of skeletal pain. there is a special sort of masochism in crack climbing.

the real problem arises in that these cracks are almost totally parallel: they don’t have constrictions or variances in the size to use to your advantage; everyone has a different hand and foot size, and so for amy, a thin hand crack (about a #1 cam) is perfect, but for me i can’t even get my hands past the knuckles on a #1, and so it is super hard. for me, a big #3 cam sized crack is perfect (many jokes have been made at the expense of my "big, meaty hands"), but amy’s hands can’t expand big enough to fill up that gap. so for everyone, there is a size of crack that works, and for everyone there is a size of crack that is going to be very hard. what do you do when the crack isn’t the right size? you struggle, and flail, and suffer. you can try stacking your hands two tall, but then how do you move them up without falling? you can jam your foot heel/toe, or jam your calf or you knee, or your whole arm or shoulder like a chicken wing, but all this is extremely hard (this is called "off-width" and is an even more special kind of masochism). if it is too small, you can jam your knuckles in and turn them and hang off your the bones in your joints, but his hurts like hell.

resultantly, the climbing here is very hard. like starts at 5.9 hard. and that is 5.9 when you have a good grasp of crack climbing technique, which we do not.

em on supercrack

we climbed at the famous super crack buttress, and even got a chance to get on the famous “supercrack of the desert” 5.10+. even though this was a perfect crack size for me, (number 2s and 3s the whole way up) i fell 4 times. not even because of slipping, but because i was so physically exhausted i couldn’t move another inch (and this was on toprope). i have never been so tired on a climb in my life. crack climbing is really burly stuff, and my technique definitely needs some work.

amy really started getting the hang of it after a few days

we climbed here for a while but now our bodies are toast and a rest day is in desperate need.


bill: in lieu of a rest day, we opted to hike from our campsite in canyonlands national park to the druid arch, a 26km 700m affair. this is probably one of my favourite hikes i have ever done. the first (and last) 5km were delightful class 2 scrambling up and down sandstone slabs in and out of canyons, mostly hiking cairn to cairn since there is no dirt (read: crust) to wear a trail into. we even crawled through a small arch! the last km was also class 2, but on more the familiar territory of loose, chossy rubble. the arch is actually a double arch and is absolutely massive. very cool.

Amy: We had two nights booked in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, so we headed out to hike the Druid Arch the next day. It was one of the longest hikes we’ve done to date, but the views were incredible. We scrambled up steep red sandstone with steps carved into it, then descended into a meadow, careful not to step on the soil crust. We traversed through a narrow canyon, then onwards past mushroom rocks (layers of rock that eroded at different rates, creating a mushroom shape!). We slowly worked our way towards the ‘needles’: towering pillars of striped multi-coloured sandstone. The trail merged with a sandy wash, with bright purple and turquoise rocks at the bottom. Eventually, we wound our way up a steep slope until the Druid Arch came into view. It towered above the horizon, and was much larger than I was expecting! And that wasn’t the only view. The surrounding Canyonlands unfurled around us - wavy, blobby, organic sandstone formations, sheer red cliffs, and spiky needle-like spires. After lunch, we trekked back (why does the hike back always seem to take longer?!), and had some nice outdoor van showers. What a day!


we took an actual rest day, played a round of disk golf in moab and ate some well deserved pizza.

here is this week's video:




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