A few days ago we were treated with the first annular eclipse visible in the US since 1994. The annular solar eclipse path crossed parts of eight western states traversing a 200 mile wide arc from Oregon to Albuquerque, which included southwest Oregon, Northern California, central Nevada, southern Utah, northern Arizona and New Mexico. Outside of this, parts of the West, Midwest and South were treated to a partial solar eclipse. Unfortunately, our friends back on the East Coast missed out on the solar eclipse entirely since the sun set there before it began.Some picturesque wilderness areas in Southern Utah, including Natural Bridges, provided the best views of the rare 190-mile-wide path of the full ring of fire.
Over 300 visitors gathered at our park to view the eclipse, first visible at around 6:30 p.m and reaching it’s peak at 7:30 p.m. An eclipse of the sun occurs when the moon revolving in its orbit around the earth comes between the sun and the earth. The moon blocks the light of the sun and a shadow of the moon is cast over the earth’s surface. According to NASA, the moon was at the furthest distance from Earth that it ever achieves — meaning that it blocks the smallest possible portion of the sun, and left the largest possible bright ring around the outside.
While gazing through our special solar filters (lunar eclipses are safe to watch with the naked eye, solar eclipses are not) the dark moon’s diameter looked smaller than the visible disk of the sun, leaving a ring of fiery light around the black silhouette of the moon. The next annular eclipse visible in Utah won’t occur until 2023 and hopefully we will be back to see it in it’s glory!
Of the three natural bridges in the park where we work, Kachina is probably my favorite for several reasons. For one, aside from the stunning natural beauty that it offers, there are also a number of Native American artifacts at its base.
One the right hand arch of the bridge there are petroglyphs and pictographs that date back over 700 years, and down a short trail to the left of the bridge one can find an old stone wall, more cliff drawings, and amazingly, ears of corn also believed to be over seven hundred years old, still preserved by the dry Utah air.
I enjoy poking around in this small chunk of ancient history. Adding to the unique atmosphere is the reddish-brown soil, a darker backdrop than provided by the other two bridges. And as there are many deciduous trees to provide shade (plus the bridge itself) it is often a cool, shadowy respite from the heat of the surrounding desert. There are some fairly deep pools there as well, homes to tadpoles and other creatures. It is not hard to understand why ancient peoples chose this site to live in.
One of the favorite areas we patrol at Natural Bridges is White Canyon, featuring Sippapu Bridge. To reach the bridge one must climb down a steep mountain trail that also includes three wooden ladders to assist in navigating the most challenging parts.
One morning, after reaching the bottom of the first ladder, we looked in to the dead trees that line the path and saw three large turkey vultures looking majestically sinister as they surveyed the canyon below. On another occasion there was a lone vulture in the same spot, who posed for us with his wings spread.
About half-way down the trail there is a wide ledge where one can view the canyon, bright green trees seen through the rock hole created by Sipapu Bridge.
At the bottom there is a stream, mostly dry but with a few lovely pools, some of them a couple feet deep, up against the cliff walls. Jonathan loves this place, and he has seen several tiger salamanders, a large, colorful amphibian that dwells alongside the leopard frogs there. The tiger salamander is the only salamander found in the park, as the desert is conducive for only the hardiest species. They are elusive and it takes a lot of patience to see them.
I’m sure we will take many more hikes to Sipapu during the next two months. It is a strange but gorgeous spot that I’m sure we’ll always remember.
After visiting the Arches, Jonathan and I got in to a bit of a debate about whether we should stay the night in a motel, or save the money and drive the 120 miles back. We opted for the latter.
The sunset on the mountains as we left town was lovely. The peaks glittered gold, but all below was turning a snowy blue, if you know what I mean.
We soon regretted our decision, realizing that the dark road was dangerous, isolated, and that if we broke down there might not be any help until morning. It doesn’t pay to be cheap! Plus, we were very tired. Tying his hands to the helm, Jonathan guided the car through the blackness, kept awake only by the strains of Blue Oyster Cult on the stereo.
It was completely dark by the time we were half-way, and as I was listening to my I-pod, Jonathan suddenly said “Wow!” I took my headphones off and asked him what was the matter. He was looking upwards and pointing. I looked up and we saw the stars. This might sound like nothing, but out here…it’s something! We stopped the car and looked at the sky. Because there are not towns producing light pollution, the stars out on that dark road were beyond anything we’d ever seen in the sky before, absolutely magnificent.
Actually, Natural Bridges, because of its remote location, is considered the premier American national park for celestial viewing. We have an astronomy program that starts in May and we’re looking forward to it. Seeing the stars on the way home from Moab cheered us up and gave us extra energy for the challenging ride home.
On our first day at Natural Bridges we were a bit nervous as we didn’t know what to expect. We walked over to the vistor center around 7:45am. Things didn’t get off to the best start when the only pair of park regulation pants I could find were a size 33 men’s waist.
Happily though we found that the staff were very welcoming and eager to train us. We first started off at the visitor center, welcoming guests – answering their questions about our park and the surrounding parks and showing them the lay of the land. We also learned how to run a cash register (my earlier work as a cashier at IGA in my teens came in handy) and how to turn on the informational video. The visitors were generally patient and understanding that we were new volunteers.
For the remainder of the day we went off on patrol in the park. Since I was still sick we decided to take the easiest of the three trails, to Owachamo, the smallest and thinnest and perhaps oldest of the three bridges. Owachomo means “rock mound” in Hopi and is named after the rock formation on top of the east end of the bridge.
It was a brisk but lovely, sunny day. We met some patrons who’d been at the visitor center and gave them more information about the trails and park. Interestingly, about 30% of park visitors are from foreign countries, most commonly Germany, the Czech Republic, France, England, and Poland.
We were pretty tired by the end of the day, but it was nice to come home to our cozy little house. We’re happy to be here. But I shan’t bore you with descriptions of domestic life. Stayed tuned for exciting posts on a variety of topics: Canyons! Prairie dogs! Mountain passes! Salamanders! Goblins! It’s all coming up soon, right here on A Trish Out of Water! Don’t miss a post…subscribe now!!