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March 3-10, 2010

Photos by Henry Kisor,

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ARCHES AND CANYONLANDS National Parks in southeastern Utah are reachable by train if you're willing to rent a car and drive two or three hours west from the Amtrak stop in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Our trip there involved a pleasant overnight ride from Chicago on the California Zephyr to Grand Junction, an overnight in a hotel near the station, and the next morning that rented car to the parks near Moab, Utah. (You can read more about the rail trip here and get more details about our visit to the parks here).

Following is a selection of photos my wife, Debby, and I took in the parks.

On the way from Grand Junction, Utah 128, one of the most scenic roads in the West, parallels the Colorado River from Interstate 70 down through the majestic Utah desert to Moab. This view is through the hazy cliffs of the Colorado Plateau sixty miles south to the lordly La Sal Mountains on the eastern border of the state.

Just past the entrance to Arches National Park outside Moab, the red sandstone fins and monoliths of the rock formations collectively called "Park Avenue" stop the visitor in a cloud of deja vu. Where have we seen them before? In the 1991 film "Thelma and Louise."

Debby used a 17-70mm lens racked to its widest angle to capture Courthouse Tower, the massive rock formation that anchors the stately Courthouse Wash bluffs near Park Avenue.

One of the most popular photographic subjects in Arches National Park is this curious sandstone formation in the Courthouse Towers section aptly known as the Three Gossips.


Down the road from the Three Gossips are the spectacular Windows Arches, easily reachable from a car. Luckily, a couple of hikers appeared at North Window Arch at just the right moment, giving the photograph a sense of scale.

Balanced Rock, the most photographed attraction of Arches National Park, is 128 feet tall, the balanced portion the size of three school buses and measuring 55 feet high.

Debby took this wide-angle shot from atop the Island in the Sky mesa overlook in Canyonlands National Park. The viewpoint stands more than 1,000 feet above a flat and broad sandstone plateau through which the Green River has cut a maze of meandering box canyons, themselves another 1,000 feet deep, over millions of years.

There's no mystery in the name of this sandstone formation -- Wooden Shoe Arch -- on the road to the Needles District in the southeast corner of Canyonlands National Park. Debby took the photo.

For 2,000 years Native Americans have been drawing mysterious petroglyphs in the desert varnish on a 200-square-foot sandstone rock on Utah 211 south of Moab on the way to Canyonlands Park. They're both hard to date and hard to decipher, and the reason for the concentration of so many figures in a small space is also a mystery. Debby took the photo.

Not all spectacular Utah stone arch formations in are located in a national park. Wilson Arch lies just off US 191 some 24 miles south of Moab and is easily accessible from the highway. Its opening is 46 feet high and 91 feet wide. Debby took the photo.


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