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Rodeo, New Mexico
December 13, 2006
The narrow canyon walls of Park Avenue are formed of Entrada sandstone, which originated in Jurassic era tidal flats, deserts, and beaches. Fantastically shaped structures loom on both sides of the canyon. Two figures near the top remind me of Star Wars aliens talking to one another, one with a big head and elongated brains, the other a tiny-headed reptilian. I later learn that the big-headed one is named Nefertiti; not brains then, but wearing a classic Egyptian headdress.
On the east side, canyon walls are sheer layered slabs, depicting the different "members" of Entrada sandstone: lumpy reddish-brown Dewey Bridge on the bottom, extensive fine-grained Slickrock in the middle, and barely discernable lighter-colored Moab Tongue on top. These massive slab walls are called fins, and they are the first step in arch formation. Over time, erosion by wind and water wear away portions of these fins, and when the middle wears away faster than the edges, an arch is formed.
Hiking Park Avenue also provides an opportunity to become familiar with plants and animals of the Arches area. Piñon pines and junipers, with scraggly and contorted twisted branches, somehow manage to survive in this dry environment. We came upon small lizards scurrying on and under the rocks. If you’re lucky, you may spot a jackrabbit or cottontail.
The Three Gossips on the west side of the canyon resemble three women in long dresses standing close together. Just beyond them stands sheep rock, which may have formerly been part of an arch that collapsed. At the bottom of the trail and across the road lies the massive Organ.
It’s a little confusing because the viewpoint is called Courthouse Towers, and I first thought that was the name of the huge monolith next to it, but Courthouse Towers actually refers to the high peaks southwest of Sheep Rock and the Gossips.
The Tower of Babel stands just a bit further down the road, but it’s not the tallest. Its leading highest edge is lower than the Organ, dominating the landscape at 4735 feet. Another unnamed butte dominates the view north at the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint. In 1933, mapmaker Frank Beckwith with a group of scientists and assistants named many of the arches and landforms, but not this one.
From journal Magical Arches in the Rain
Cleveland , Ohio
September 10, 2001
It is possible to enjoy this area from the road, but we found this to be a great mile to hike. We chose to walk this section of the Park toward sunset, and were rewarded with a beautifully lit landscape. Since we had no one to provide a shuttle, we hiked the trail each way, starting at the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint. This turned out to be a good choice as it meant that we ascended the trail first and then had an easy downhill hike to end our day.
We crossed the Park Road and walked through desert vegetation to a slickrock canyon floor. The farther we moved up this dry wash, the more Park Avenue’s "skyscrapers" towered above us. We climbed the end of the trail past juniper trees and spent some time at the Park Avenue Overlook. Here we enjoyed the show put on by the late day sun. As we watched, the reds became more intense and Nefertiti’s Profile was unmistakable.
We descended from the Overlook and retraced our steps. By our feet, potholes in the Avenue’s slickrock had caught the rare desert rain that had fallen during the past 24 hours. As we passed a Ranger on the trail, she urged us to look for fairy shrimp in the water. We had read about these short-lived creatures, but never expected to have an opportunity to view them. Despite dim light, we stopped at every puddle and watched carefully for independent motion. After scanning several pools, we finally spotted something that seemed to be moving on its own. Sure enough, we had found the tiny, translucent shrimp! It was impossible not to recall that we had passed this way once before and walked past the standing water without a second thought. Had it not been for the suggestion of the park Ranger, we would have missed our most memorable wildlife encounter in Arches!
From journal Arches National Park - Red Rock Fantasy