We signed up for the last ranger-led hike of the season in Fiery Furnace, one of the permit-only areas inside Arches National Park. This complex sandstone labyrinth is unmarked and can be difficult to navigate both logistically (GPS signals do not work in there) and physically.
Many National Park rangers are furloughed for the winter months so we were delighted to have secured these spots. There were twenty other members in our group, ages 12 to middle sixties. Ranger Alice set a leisurely pace and gathered us around at several points to discuss vegetation, geology, animal life, soil biology and the effects of global warming, all of which were interesting.
There were a number of dicey sections to this short sojourn into the rock fins and vertical formations of Entrada sandstone. The rock walls are very close to one another. To make progress, hikers need to straddle two walls and walk like a penguin (just legs on either side), scorpion (using arms and legs on either side); spider (legs one side, hands on the other). You get the hang of it, and when twenty other people are doing the same thing, it’s easier to comply. Sometimes you just shimmy and slide on your butt down a chute. A few times we had to leap across a chasm of sorts which some ladies with shorter legs and more years under their belts may find more mentally than physically challenging. Just sayin’.
Arches is where Edward Abbey spent his short career with the Park Service, and the site of his landmark book, Desert Solitaire. I read it back in the 1980s and it continues to resonate with me now as it did back in my own desert-adobe-and-tepee dwelling days. The book also featured one of my all-time favorite artists, Peter Parnall. My grandmother Elsie owned a few of his prints (a desert owl atop a cactus) and I remember meeting him when I was still in high school (he had very wooly ears). Ink drawings by Peter Parnall, my grandmother’s Arizona Highways magazines, Desert Solitaire— all very strong threads that I feel pulling me towards the desert these past 40 years. But I digress…