Fiery Furnace – Must Do Hike at Arches NP

(OMG – another unpublished post just sitting in my draft folder. Well – better now then never I say)

Read about Arches – and you’ll read about Fiery Furnace – a 3 hour adventure hike into the fins, canyons, and crevases that are the Fiery Furnace. You can take the ranger lead version (which we did) by either signing up 90 days in advance – and paying your $15 – or you can take a chance on the ranger led version having space when you arrive. There are also numerous privately led hikes into the Fiery Furnance – smaller groups of folks led by qualified guides for lots more $$.

I knew when we’d be at Arches – and I knew we wanted to do this hike – so I opted for the Ranger led version – and signed up the requiste 90 days ahead. So worth it!

I’d orginally thought it would be Sophie – my husband – and myself. So I got 3 tickets. But my husband got scared by the description – they certainly don’t make this hike sound like a walk in the park – and he opted out. The good news – the description didn’t scare 9 year old Sophie one bit – and my friend Kit decided to join in! So the 3 of us rose early, ate a quick breakfast and headed out. One ranger – and 30 hikers made up our group. The composition was interesting – easily a majority of the hikers were from across the seas – Holland, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand – and of course France. Ok – we speak french, so it’s easy for us to spot folks from France – but even so – I’m thinking that if I did a visitor head count – I’d find that folks from France out-number visitors for all other countries – including the US! And I’m begining to feel like the token Canadians. I can count the Canadians I’ve met on one hand – minus 3 fingers!

But as usual – I digress.

We start the hike with a ranger check list – Welcome to the Park, Protect and Preserve, Bring and Drink Lots and Lots of Water, No leaving trash, No grafetti. We are at altitude – say something if you feel dizzy, see stars, get grumpy!

The first sign of dehydration is often grumpiness – some people have been dehydrated their whole lives…

Ranger Sue does a quick shoe check – yup, we all read the warnings and we are wearing proper shoes for the hike – and off we go.

A weather note – we are seriously lucky today. It’s cooled down a bit after last nights rain – it’s a decidedly moderate 90 – and there’s a bit of cloud cover. Should be great in the fins.

Sophie bounces to the front of the line – along with all the other younger folks on the hike. She’s the youngest – but not the smallest – so she feels like she fits right in – and she and the other kids set the pace behind the ranger.

The old folks – and that would be me – at 68 I’m the oldest on this hike – bring up the rear guard. The good news – there are 3 gentlemen in the group that take turns helping Kit and I navigate the steeper, deeper, narrower, more challenging portions. We scramble up stone faces, slide on our butts down rock slides stopping ourselves against carefully positioned stones – do a duck walk across a carvass – and wiggle our way thru some seriously narrow slits. It’s a hoot! I’m loving this! The beauty is simply astounding, when I take a moment to enjoy it! Fortunately, Ranger Sue is very aware of the old folks struggling in the back – and sends the kids off to explore a crawl thru arch while we get a chance to catch up with the crowd.

Once inside the fins, there are no obvious trail markers – although Ranger Sue clearly knows where she is going. And we pass at least 2 ‘private’ tours – headed in other directions thru the narrow canyons, winding stone faces, and arches that make up the Fiery Furnace.

Along the way – Ranger Sue takes time to talk a bit about the geology of the land – but mostly we are concerned with not falling, not slipping, not hurting ourselves!

When we arrive at a ‘room’ that Ranger Sue calls “Hidden Arch”, we take a breather, learn about the juniper, which apparently ‘self prunes’ to keep the healthy portions alive – and do a very cute exercise.

Ranger Sue says that there are 4 reasons folks come to Arches – To make Memories, To have an Adventure, from an Eco perspective, and for the Beauty. She asks us to divide up into those 4 groups – and probably not surprisingly – I’m in the Adventure group with all the younger folks! In thinking about it – it’s not really ‘Adventure’ that got me here – it’s the challenge. Can I still do this – and more importantly – for how much longer.

Challenge aside – this has been a wonderful 3 hours – I’ve decided that I’m still young enough to handle at least this much scrambling, wiggling, and rock climbing – and still have a smile on my face.

We get back to what passes as civilization in Arches – a pit toilet, a parking lot, and a sign showing information about the trail – and say thank you to Ranger Sue.

On to our next challenge – signing off for now – The Soup Lady

Canyonlands NP – Junior Ranger Style

August 2016 (better posted late than never I say….)

My 9 year old grand-daughter has discovered the joys of the Junior Ranger Program. Each NP park has it’s own unique version – and depending on the park – is more or less hands on. The best part – you get an awesome badge at the end – and there’s a different one to be earned at every park. She is seriously excited by the prospect of trashing her sister’s record of just one Junior Ranger Badge – and has already earned 2 (Arches and Capitol Reef). (A

The Canyonlands version – a bit like Canyonlands itself – is more of a look and see rather than a touch and do version.

There are crossword puzzles to solve, scambled words to desciper – and pictures of what folks in the park should and shouldn’t do. Best of all – the rangers take it as seriously as the kids do. Despite the massive number of visitors, the lines of folks waiting to ask their critical questions – the rangers stop everything when a kid with a completed Junior Ranger program book walks up. They carefully discuss each and every page with the kids – asking meaningful questions – and slowly reading their way thru the often hard to desciper handwriting of kids keen to be part of the National Park System. As a teacher – I’m truly impressed! And because Sophie is determined to get all the Junior Ranger badges she can – we’ve been talking to rangers in all the national parks we’ve visited – in depth!

Uniformly – they have stopped what they were doing to pay full attention to Sophie’s questions, to respond to her comments – to treat her as a desirable visitor! Impressive.

Back to Canyonlands. There are 3 different sections – Island in the Sky, the Mazes, and Needles. We are staying in a proper campground (ie: we have electricity) in Moab – and thus we’re pretty much equal distance (45 minutes one way, about 1.25 hrs the other) between the entrances to Island in the Sky and Needles. Mazes is not on our list of to-do’s. It requires 4 wheel drive Hummers to explore – not to mention an experienced guide – and several days. We’re skipping that.

Yesterday we did the drive thru the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands. Impressive is just about the only way to describe these breathtaking vistas. Hundreds of feet below us winds the Green and Colorado Rivers – the steep cliffs and rock plateaus left by the rivers either below our feet – or on the opposite side of the vista – or both! I’m glad for the log fences strategically placed to keep me – and my grand-daughter safe. But these are few and far between. More often the only thing between you and a hundred or more foot drop is the quality of your hiking boot soles! Grippy is the only way to go.

Today we decided to take the longer drive to the Needles section of the park – past an absolutely outstanding example of pre-historic Rock Art. Called Newspaper Rock – it’s a vast blacked section of rock covered by an overhang high above. The overhang acts as a shield, without blocking the view of the space. One of the talks we heard on this art suggested that perhaps they were used as signposts for other travelers – which explains their fairly strategic locations at river cross-roads. Maybe this is so – but the images themselves suggest other explanations – there are animal hunts including stickmen on horseback with drawn bows (considered to be later art since Europeans introduced horse back riding to the native americans). There are numerous hand and foot prints – the hand prints look fairly normal – but the foot prints more often then not feature 6 toes. Hmm – wonder what that was about?

The dark surface that serves as the “Blackboard” for this art is naturally occuring – a combined effort between mineral oxidation, primarily managanese and micro bacteria that capture the minerals holding it fast to the surface. The art is often (but not always) created by incising the images into the black surface. Over time, the art darkens as the oxidation and bacterial actions continue.

We all found this ‘art’ intriguing – and we’ve seen several examples – but Newspaper Rock is clearly top of the crop. Way cool – if you find this stuff intriguing.

After time spent admiring the art – we drove on past red pillars, towering cliffs, and a lovely stream bed packed with green plants to the Visitor Center. This one had a wonderful little ‘museum’ on the creating of the spires, mushrooms and factures that dominate the landscape outside. The short animation explaining how the red and white striping occured was absolutely worth seeing – twice! Blowing sand, alternating with red silt flowing off the rocks over several million years created the stripes. Then cracking of the earlier salt layer followed by 25 million years of erosion created the other wordly landscape. No wonder this area is used as “Mars” or “Other Space Planet” in so many movies. Clearly no props are needed to make this place appear strange!

We did a short walk – Cave Springs – that climaxed in a climb up two vertical ladders to the top of a rock dome. Fine – until a flash of lightening and a roar of Thunder made us realize that we were quite obviously the tallest things for miles around! To say that we scampered off the dome would be an understatement. We took shelter under a rock alcove for a few minutes – but the crackle of electricity right over our heads drove us out and we made a very fast headlong dash to the relative safety of the car. Nice rubber tires, nice rubber tires…

Like all the storms we’ve experienced here in the high southwest – this one was short and over quickly. We drove to several viewpoints – did some more (but less spectacular) rock climbing – and just enjoyed the views.

Our drive home in comparison was pretty bland – although the car crash in the campground made for an interesting finish for the day. Apparently someone washed their car at the carwash next door – went to drive the car out of the wash – and fainted. The car went over a ledge and down a fairly steep incline before hitting a tree. First responders got everyone out quickly – and the car was towed away within the hour.

Just another boring day ….

(Ok – quick interuption – I’m in a campground – with a pool. And a woman wearing an american flag bikini and talking on a cell phone just walked by. Welcome to the USA.)

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Rovos Rail – Cruising Across South Africa

I’m on the Pride of Africa – an over the top luxury 20 car train that is currently snaking itself from Pretoria to Cape Town.

And it is truly a cruise on land. All the things that annoy me about cruises – too much food, and not enough exercise – but oh so relaxing. My fellow travellers are an eclectic mix of South African, Dutch, Canadian, Australian, and American. English is the language de jour, although one occasionally hears Chinese (from Vancouver), Africaans, and Dutch. It’s all together kinda neat – in an decidedly too elaborate way for my simple mind.

And alarmingly – no Wifi. Nada. For a full 3 days and 2 nights. Which means I’ve been out of contact for all that time. I just spent a few minutes chatting with the train manager – and he assures me that in a year or so, they will have solved that problem. Bit late for my purposes of course.

There are almost as many wait staff as there are guests – I suppose that is not surprising given the cruise motif. But there aren’t any shows, other than the food of course, and there is no pool or exercise facility. Instead, we have an Observation Car, a Lounge Car, a Smoking Car (glass walled to keep them in – and us out), two dinning rooms, a car devoted to a huge kitchen, and the rest of the train are the cabins.

The private cabins are huge. Our cabin is a mid-sized version and features two comfy arm chairs, a bathroom with a full sized walk-in glass shower, and a Queen sized bed. I think most cabins are the same size, although one group I was chatting up complained that their cabin didn’t have the two chairs. And I did peak into a cabin that had a bit more space between the chairs and the bed. Apparently it also had a bathtub, but that’s just a rumour. But never mind – everything is leather, or wood, or glass, heavy brocade materials, old fashioned lamps, and lots and lots of AC units.

Wouldn’t want someone to get either too hot or too cold!

And the views out the absolutely clean windows are of Africa. We started our journey in Pretoria (just a few kilometres from Jo-burg), and for the first two hours or so we go past station after station with primarily black customers patiently waiting for their commuter trains. Young folks and old, in traditional dress and today’s standard jeans and a T-shirt – they were, as we’d been warned, primarily blacks. Apparently the white population of South Africa has abandoned their rail system to rely on cars. This is a terrible mistake, but given that the trains we saw (other than ours) had no AC – and it’s over 90 degrees – I suppose I’d be hesitating to use the public rail as well.

A more disturbing view is that of the corrugated metal tiny shacks that serve as home for countless folks. We rode past whole towns of these shacks, some with fenced in yards – some with nothing but dirt in front and in back, and others with carefully planted gardens. The sheer numbers is astounding. But even more disturbing is the casual attitdude towards garbage. There is literally tons of garbage in just the section between the rail lines and the homes – it’s very clear where ‘no-man’s’ land begins – and that’s where the garbage is left. I asked about social services to clean up this mess – and was told that it is done often, but the lack of places for these folks to put garbage properly makes dealing with the problem an endless task. Maybe so – I must admit a lot of it looked to be ‘fresh’. And sometimes it was just a question of where you looked. On the right side of the train – clean as a whistle. On the left – coloured garbage bags lie everywhere, and those light weight plastic bags are as common as Christmas Ornaments on the bushes.

Back to Rovos Rail. This is a private rail service that offers luxury travel on several ‘Journey Itineraries’ thru Africa. We are taking the journey to Cape Town, but they also go to Victoria Falls, Durban, and Namibia. The train is glorious – it’s hard to find issue with the abundance of silverware at dinner, the constant inquiry as to your happiness and needs, and the over abundance of delicious alcohol on offer. Naturally, the Pride of Africa’s wine cellar specializes exclusively in the high end South African options – including a Port and a Brandy that blew my socks off.

Breakfast offerings include lattes of course, Lunch offered as much as you can drink white wine and port, and we’ve been promised a 5 course tasting menu for dinner tonight – paired with 5 other South African wines.

My issues are pretty much as predicted – the scenery, while lovely, is huge and perhaps a bit boring. I mean we saw a massive flock of Pink Flamingo’s – from a distance, and a herd of Springbok fled when we quietly came past, but generally it’s hours and hours of flat dry lands – going from the more bushy grasslands near Jo-Burg to the Karoo Plains. Eventually we will enter the mountain passes and tunnels that herald our arrival into Cape Town – but right now – after almost 2 full days – I can’t say the scenery has been stunning by Canadian Standards.

And sleeping last night, despite the amount of alcohol and the soft as down duvets, was problematic. The train did stop for 5 hours – but I actually find it easier to sleep when the train is moving – for some reason I kept waiting for it to start moving, even though our all so competent hosts had made it clear that we were deliberately stopping so that folks could get a good night’s rest.

Just like a good cruise, there are excursions. Today’s ‘off the train’ trip was a 2 hour tour of the Diamond Museum in Kimberley. I was thrilled by the prospect, but disappointed in the reality. Our guide was very careful to explain that they no longer use the methods on show – but there was no description of how they are currently mining diamonds. Even more disappointing – our ‘mine’ tour was a fake. Concrete, wood, and flashing lights to convince us that we were underground. Having actually taken a real mine tour – where we actually descended in a still working miner’s lift – and walked thru actual stone tunnels – this was quite disappointing. I did enjoy the movie, and there’s a fair museum to visit – but despite renovations in 2009 – it’s at best a ‘less than Disney’ experience. There are much better museums in the UK – I suggest you read up on some of my other blogs.

Another source of disappointment – we are just two. So if conversation lags, we must chat up strangers. Not a problem – but lots of our fellow travellers came in groups – so the pickings have been slim. And since I’m not travelling with The Intrepid Traveller, I can’t rely on her ability to instantly appeal to strangers.

On the other hand – food has been excellent (I always wondered what Ostrich would taste like – and it’s like lean beef, not ‘chicken’ at all). The service can not be faulted. The wine selections have been superb – and we still have a day to go.

Signing off with hopes that things will improve in the next 24 hours – The Soup Lady