Friday, July 3, 2009

Arches by Scooter

We are at the Goose Island BLM campground
(map), along the Colorado River about four miles from Moab and Arches National Park.

We left the Willow Flat campground in Canyonlands yesterday morning, and stopped at the Mesa Arch trailhead on our way out of the park, taking the half-mile loop to this impressive formation. I even walked across it, which is surprising given my acrophobia and the several-hundred foot dropoff on either side.

It was less than an hour's drive to Arches National Park, where, unsurprisingly, the sign at the entrance said the campground was full. We inquired anyway, eliciting a snippy response from the ranger about the campground being full year-round. Given that nearly half the spaces are unreservable first-come, first-served only, it's not really an unreasonable question. A more helpful response might have been to let us know by what time of the morning the unreservable spaces are normally sold.

It was early afternoon, and after poking around the visitor center, we debated leaving Odyssey in the parking lot there, which had several large spaces for buses and RVs, and seeing what we could of the park in the afternoon on the scooters. It was fairly warm by then, in the 90s, and since the forecast had said it would be cooler today, we opted instead to find a spot to park, and return in the morning. In hindsight, we should have stayed, because it was mostly overcast yesterday, whereas today turned out to be brutally sunny.

Nevertheless, we proceeded here to Goose Island, the first BLM campground along 128, just four miles from the park. I was a little surprised it was not full -- when we pulled in around 2-ish, several prime riverfront sites were still available. We got parked, paid for two nights at $12 each, and decided to set up the hot tub, given the unlimited supply of river water.

It takes a couple of hours to inflate the tub, set up the river pump, and fill it with water, depending on "lift." The Colorado lives up to its name here, a muddy reddish-brown and full of suspended particulates -- I had to wade into the river more than once to clean off the intake screen, and the water in the tub is still so brown you can't see the bottom. Also, I think the fresh 10-micron filter I put in the hot tub pump is already fairly clogged.

So it was that at nearly 5pm we were still outside "setting up camp," which was just about to include staking down our patio mat, which spans the gap between the front door and the tub. That's when the temperature dropped from ~95 right down into the 80s, the sky grew dark, and several 30-40mph gusts of wind blew through the campground. Our chairs blew over, and only the two of us jumping on it kept the mat from blowing away, although the dog managed to get rolled up in it like one of those cocktail wieners. Also, a whole pile of fine gritty dust blew into everything we owned, including my eyes containing hard contact lenses. Louise finished stuffing the mat into the cockpit while I went upstairs to pry my eyes back open and get the contacts out.

No sooner did I have them out then I heard Louise scream from a dozen yards away. The word was simply "NO!" but the scream told me something very big was wrong -- the kind of tone that's used when, say, the awning is ripping off the side of the coach, or the cat gets run over. So I jammed my glasses on and ran outside to find her bolting through the campground upriver.

It turned out that the tent from the site next to ours, whose owner/occupants were out someplace for the afternoon, had been caught by the wind and sent 50 yards upstream and into the river. It immediately began floating downstream in the very fast current here, and promptly snagged on some old tamarisk roots jutting into the river -- unreachable from solid ground ashore.

I was still in my swimsuit and flip-flops from having to wade into the river earlier, and so I climbed out onto a protruding but sawed-off section of tamarisk trunk (all the tamarisks were chopped down here, or killed by introduced beetles, in the last couple of years, part of a program to abate non-native species in the area), where I was able to get my hand on it. Unfortunately, it had already started to sink and was heavy from being water-logged, as well as still snagged on some protruding roots, and I could barely heft it up -- yet it was clear to me that if I let go, the swift river would take it in short order. I was just beginning to make progress when the tamarisk I was standing upon gave way and I started plunging toward the river.

Louise was able to grab me within the first foot or two of my fall, as I released the tent and lunged off the stump for shore, but the tent (and the tamarisk) went into the river and were quickly swept away by the current.

We ran downstream to our own site, where I waded in again and watched carefully as the tent came within feet of my position, sinking the whole time. It went under completely just as I grabbed for it, and I ended up neck-deep in water (still in my shirt) trying to snag it, but it was too late -- with no way to see under the muddy water, the channel deep, and the current swift, there was nothing to be done. At least it was still warm enough out that I hardly noticed the 68° water (as measured by our tub thermometer while we were filling it), but when I finally climbed back out I realized I had a pretty good scrape up my leg from when the stump let go.

All we could do was leave a note for the poor folks, and we also put one of our orange cones in their site, which now looked vacant. They rolled in about an hour later and we chatted -- they decided to drive to Moab and buy another tent. Fortunately, they said the tent was empty. I had feared that perhaps sleeping bags or some personal items might have been inside.

The storm blew over quickly, and we took the scooters out and rode off to town for dinner, at Buck's. We left the chairs folded and the patio mat stowed, in case it got blustery again. I picked up my cone when we got back, and someone in a class-C nearly stole their space, prompting me to put it right back. They did finally show back up with a new tent just after sunset.

We also ended up being the Goose Island Hardware Store yesterday, as the Kiwi couple across from us asked for an axe to cut up some kindling (no axe, but I lent them the chain saw), and the French guys three sites down borrowed my engineer hammer during the storm to stake their tent down, along with some other hapless campers'.

This morning, we slathered up with sunscreen and headed back to the park on the scooters. We managed to cover all the paved roads, including the loop through Tantalus' campground, located, appropriately, at the Devil's Garden. I would say Odyssey would easily fit in over half the sites, 30' limit notwithstanding. We did a couple of short walks to scenic overlooks as well, but this is not the weather for serious hiking in the park, and we opted instead to view most of the formations from a respectable distance with our hefty binoculars.

I figure we did around 60 miles to, from, and around the park, and, added to the 25+ we did in Canyonlands, we nearly coasted back into Moab on fumes. We ended up nursing our little one-gallon tanks along for the last 15 miles in the park, somewhat to the annoyance of some of the 10-parks-in-7-days crowd occasionally stuck behind us.

We plan another dinner in town this evening, and a departure sometime mid-day tomorrow, south on 191. Although the current weather is tempting us to look into raft trips on the Colorado, which might extend us a day here if there is even any availability on this holiday weekend.


  1. You were fortunate to get a river site. We stayed at Goose Island the week of Memorial Day and people were waiting on the river sites as soon as someone pulled out. Maybe it's too hot, now. We also had a thunderstorm every afternoon we were there, with strong wind gusts and lots of blowing dust. Saw a tent blow down the road but not into the river. Almost lost our awning one day. Otherwise, it is a great, convenient place to stay near Arches and Moab.

  2. A very good article. It made me nostalgic. I wanna travel again.


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