It has been an entire month since we were hiking and scrambling over rocks in Utah. We spent Good Friday at Arches National Park, and it was a good day for a hike in the Fiery Furnace.
This particular hike is one you have to plan in advance: either by being familiar with the area and obtaining a back-country permit, or by signing up for a ranger-guided hike. We chose the latter, which came with the additional benefit (besides not getting hopelessly lost in the maze of canyons) of learning about interesting things, such as the creatures that live in the pools of water (and burrow into the sand when the water dries up, until it rains again) —
and that the blackish crusty stuff that sort of looks like dead moss is actually the foundation of all plant life in this desert environment. It is primarily made of cyanobacteria and is often called cryptobiotic soil.
These are just two of the examples of how fragile the environment is here at Arches National Park and the main reason our tour was conducted in single file. (Although there were times that single file wasn’t even wide enough and we had to go sideways, too.) Arches N.P. isn’t just a bunch of cool rocks! 😉
We wouldn’t have learned this information without Ranger Karen in the lead. (Yes, really, that was her name.)
[click on any pic to embiggen]
Everything I know, I learned from our park ranger…
The Utah Juniper is a fascinating tree for more than its incredible textures. To preserve itself in times of severe drought, this tree can stop “feeding” one or more of its own limbs in order to ensure that another part is able to live. This self-selection is apparent on many of the Utah Juniper trees that we saw.
She also told us about Mormon Tea — a natural version of Sudafed that can quite easily become a dangerously powerful diarrhetic, depending upon the abilities of the person who brews this plant into tea.
This information should make a person wary of playing herbalist, but all I could think was, “Either way, you’re no longer ‘stopped up’!”
*I did not say this aloud at the time.*
[H-J, my teenage son, thinks I have an odd sense of humor. My husband thinks that middle-aged women are supposed to uphold society and that I am not doing my part. I’m too busy laughing.]
The Fiery Furnace hike is one you sign up for after considering your personal abilities. From the website:
The hike lasts about three hours and is considered moderately strenuous. Everyone attending the tour should be aware of the demanding nature of this hike…
During the hike, participants must walk and climb on irregular and broken sandstone, along narrow ledges above drop-offs and in loose sand. There are gaps which must be jumped and narrow places that you must squeeze into and pull yourself up and through. In some of these places, you must hold yourself off the ground by pushing against the sandstone walls with your hands and feet.
On a hot summer day, this might just be one of the coolest places in the park, thanks to the narrow canyons formed by towering rocks.
So if it isn’t a hot and miserable place, why is it called the Fiery Furnace?
Late in the day, the sun touches the rocks with a red glow. Apparently it reminded folks of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. (I’m not even going to attempt an explanation of the weirdness of using Wikipedia to explain a reference from the Old Testament. We live in strange times.)