Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Natural Arch

LC had a birthday this past weekend.
With an upcoming trip to northern Idaho coming up in only a week, we decided that we would keep his birthday low key.
On a beautiful Sunday late-morning we headed to Arco for a large burger at Pickles Place, and then planned on taking a short drive to the outskirts of town to find something named the Natural Arch.
I didn't even look the place up online before we left.
After all, there was no sign on the main highway directing us to the arch.
 We had happened upon a small sign on a little back road one day a couple of weeks ago, and so our expectations were low. 
Before eating at the Pickle we needed to find an ATM machine in Arco.
The first two banks we stopped at had no ATM machine.  The third (a credit union) had an ATM that was out of order.  The large truck stop had an ATM but had run out of money.  The grocery store used to have a machine, but had removed it a few months ago.  
Our sixth stop (6TH STOP) at a gas station finally produced an ATM - that was in working order - that had money - and we headed to the restaurant stunned at how difficult it had been to get money in this small town on a Sunday morning. 
After eating huge burgers (and after getting a to-go box for leftovers that had Jamie's name on them) we drove out of the parking lot, turned onto the quiet back road where we had seen the sign for the Natural Arch, and headed away from town, pleased to be outside on a beautiful day and curious to see what this arch was all about.
Within a few minutes we found ourselves driving along flat gravel roads, surrounded by hills and the emptiness that reminded us very much of Wyoming............
They can't seem to help themselves, can they?
From Tennessee to Alaska to Wyoming to Idaho I have taken pictures of signs that have happily-albeit-illegally been used for target practice.
I like the signs.  
And I like the "good ole boys" (whether the full time for-real good ole boys or the part-time temporary-persona good ole boys) that like to spend time in the middle of nowhere and shoot up random road signs.
LC had been blindly following signs that (hopefully) would lead us to the natural arch.
All the signs displayed the names of passes and the natural arch, with arrows pointing direction but no mileages.
So we were definitely heading in the right direction but had no idea how far we still had to travel.
Turning down one dirt road after another until we had left civilization (the civilization where it is apparently next to impossible to get cash on Sundays) far behind us.
Aside from one long grey haired man on a dirt bike, we had seen no other humans in over thirty minutes.
We had also seen no homes or farms or ranches or animal life.
When we came across this sign (and the farm adjacent to it) my Mountain Boy stopped the truck in the middle of the road so that I could climb out and take pictures.............
Neither one of us knew what to make of this place.
The fences were obviously maintained, but the place also looked completely abandoned.
There were two houses on opposite sides of he road from each other, and both looked to be empty.
There were no animals in the corrals.
There was no farm machinery parked (as they so often are) beside or in back of barns or homes, or out in the fields.
Maintained fences but by all other appearances, abandoned farms.
No idea what it all meant but I snapped a few pictures anyway..............
Just beyond the abandoned farms was one more sign.
We were headed to the Natural Arch to see what it was all about, but beyond that had no real plans.
I had assumed that LC and I would see the arch and then drive back the way we had come, and just head home to the house.
We had seen a number of signs for different canyons but knew nothing about them.
We had also seen frequent Arco Pass signs.
We knew nothing about the pass either.
What exactly was involved with the pass?  How far was it?  Where did it come out at?  
LC and I assumed that Arco Pass came out somewhere around Moore or Mackay up in the Big Lost River Valley, but that was just a guess and we really didn't know for sure.
Regardless, my immediate focus was seeing the arch, and we continued to drive further and further into the middle of nowhere while blindly following directional arrows.
It was a warm and beautiful day.
There were mountains all around us, and wide open spaces that continued into the horizon a million miles away..............
Still following signs we eventually turned onto roads that moved us away from open and flat gravel roads, and up into the hills.
And then the canyons.
We continued to climb, and then climb some more.
 LC and I looked at each other in excitement.  This was definitely not what we had expected.
Soon we were looking down at the enormous valley we had just left, and driving deeper into a canyon that was surrounded on all sides by mountains.
Wide open road had turned into winding single track..............
Climbing deeper into the canyon I looked up and saw it.
The Natural Arch.................
The canyon road was a winding, switchback filled narrow trail that forced us to climb steeply.
As we kept climbing I lost sight of the arch, caught sight of it again, then lost sight of it.
Over and over again, while driving a narrow road in the shadow of huge rocky mountains.
I hoped that we would not meet up with an oncoming vehicle.
One of us would have had to back up.  No small task on this steep and winding and tight little dirt road............
After climbing for what seemed like a very long time, we finally reach a dead-end and tiny parking lot.
Eagerly I climbed out of the truck and looked back the way we had come.
My expectations for the Natural Arch had been very low.
I had assumed we would find.........I didn't know.........something small and tacky and close to town.
Not this beautiful place in this beautiful space.................
LC walked a few hundred feet up the narrow trail while I continued to snap pictures of the mountains and valley below us............
LC stood on the trail.  This time it was his turn to look back over the valley far below us.
I passed him on the trail, eager to go find the arch and inspect it more closely.
Only.........I didn't find it.
As I wandered further up the trail I saw exactly where I was.
Rocks.  Boulders.  Rocky bluffs and rock faces.  Trees.  Mountains.  Narrow trail.  
A million miles from civilization.
LC was wearing one small caliber firearm, and I was unarmed.
We hadn't expected to find ourselves here.  But now that we WERE here, we both suddenly realized that we were woefully unprepared.
We both knew somebody in Cody who had his jaw ripped off by a grizzly.  Only a month before we left Cody a man out the Southfork had his nose bitten off by a grizzly.  We saw the picture of a 185 pound wolf that a man had shot in the mountains in the Northfork in the winter of 2012.
We had both seen the tracks and killing fields of the mountain lions that lived in the hills of BLM land in back of the house we rented.
LC warned me to stay close as I walked past him on the trail, and I thought nothing of it until I saw the rock walls and narrowing trail up ahead.
Instantly I knew that we couldn't hike this trail with what we had with us.
I eyed the trail up ahead, greatly wanting to go in that direction.
I snapped a couple more pictures and reluctantly turned back.
We would have to see the Natural Arch up close on some other day...............
It was beautiful in this place.
Absolutely, stunningly, unexpectedly beautiful.
We had found the Natural Arch but would have to come back again to see it more closely.
After seeing so many signs pointing the way to Arco Pass, LC and I climbed back into the truck, headed back down tight and winding dirt road,  turned left out of the canyon and started the climb over the pass.
Curious to see what we would find.................

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