Thursday, June 17, 2010

The unexpected detour will often prove to be the highlight of your day. I was driving around the outside perimeter of Arches NP looking for a view that I might like to revisit at sunrise the next day when I spotted a sign for a trail that I had not read about. It was a 5 mile out-and-back trail through Negro Bill Canyon. First, a bit on the etymology of this particular canyon. The name, which has obviously been awkwardly reworked into something only slightly less offensive actually refers to a part black cowboy named William Granstaff who ran cattle here in the late 19th century. I was surprised to learn that despite the seemingly racist overtones of the name, it referred to a man who, by what I can tell, was a business partner in equal standing with white cowboys in the 1870s.
The trail through the canyon is exceptional. You crisscross the canyon floor and climb up and down the canyon walls to work your way upstream without getting wet. The trail ends at Morning Glory Natural Bridge, which is one of the largest natural arches in the world with a span of 243 feet. It is also not technically a "bridge". A bridge is what an arch is called when it spans over running water. This distinction has to do with the mechanisms that formed the arch, running water being a very different process from normal weathering. However, this arch is merely next to a running stream and was actually formed by the collapse of part of the wall it is attached to, the correct term being "alcove arch".
As I made my way along this trail, I apparently missed one of the points where the trail crossed the stream and I continued further along the narrowing bank. Eventually the stream came so close to the canyon wall that I had to shuffle sideways with my back against the wall to continue. I had just completed a tricky jump and balance maneuver on a tiny rock in the stream when I noticed a couple of hikers on the opposite side of the stream. I asked them where they had switched sides and it was far enough back that I decided to risk it and hop the rest of the way across the stream.
As I caught my breath on the other side, I took a drink from my water bottle and noticed that it was already half empty. I hadn't thought to refill it before setting out from Arches not knowing that I'd be doing any long hikes. The trail had been pretty level so far, but I resolved that I'd turn back once I had drank half of what I had left.
Just around the next bend, the canyon walls narrowed and progress was made only by alternately scaling and descending the sandy cliff base. Not knowing the distance to the end of the trail I tried to ration my water intake, but still found the canteen quickly depleted. Just as I was about to turn back, I spotted the natural bridge in the distance. I realized that it would be unwise to continue and had to admire the bridge from a distance content in the knowledge that i would return again someday soon.

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