We drove straight to Bryce Canyon National Park, where we only had time for a short hike, much like my previous visit. We parked at Sunset Point and walked around the rim of the enormous amphitheatre, crammed with strange orange hoodoos, up to Inspiration Point; the air was noticeably thinner again. The midday light didn't really bring out the best in the place - next time I'd have to stay for sunset and sunrise. At Inspiration Point I chatted to a photographer from the Cotswolds whose wife mentioned that her son had a double-first from Cambridge within about 5 seconds; a fact I had no interest in whatsoever! I imagine that she told everyone she met. I wanted to ask her why she was telling me that, given that I'd literally just met her and couldn't possibly be remotely interested in her son's academic achievements. Instead we said our goodbyes and moved quickly.
On our way back to the car we could see dots of people hiking down on the canyon floor; again, next time I'd hike down between the hoodoos to get a sense of their size, which you couldn't really get from a walk along the rim. The sun was struggling to come out, and finally began peaking through as we walked back, beating down hard on my un-suntan-lotioned bare shoulders.We stopped at Upper Sunset Point where a woman told me that she'd just met the great-granddaughter of Bryce himself, after whom the park was named; again, I imagine she'd be dining out on that meeting for the rest of her life.
After a lunch of cold pizza in the car we were off again, heading east and then north along the Scenic Byway 12, in and out of the Dixie National Forest and across the Boulder Mountain pass. The scenery varied enormously as we headed across the mountain pass and down again, with various forests, slickrock canyons, badlands and lush river valleys.
Driving through the forest was a pleasure. I had stopped to admire the view from the top of the highest pass when I'd driven in the opposite direction 9 years earlier when the aspens had displayed bright green new leaves; now the leaves were all yellow.
Eventually we reached Capitol Reef National Park, but we had no time to head into the heart of it. The road takes you through the park, though, so we got a little look as the road meandered for miles along a river valley, with small hills on either side that were littered with round black lava rocks, presumably from some long-past eruption. The scenery began to change again, with huge strange ash hills to the north. After a long, straight section on the 24 that seemed to go on forever, we reached the Interstate 70 and were able to drive a speedy 75 mph without worrying about being caught by the police (after a hefty fine in Norway, we were taking things slow). I wanted to get to Arches National Park in time for sunset, although that was unlikely, so this quick section was welcomed. We hadn't even stopped for me to take any photographs for hours.
We got to the park entrance, a few miles north of Moab, just as the sun was setting, and drove a little way in to see what we could see while there was still some light; most cars were leaving the park. It darkened extremely quickly, with some brief pinky-purple light on the clouds above the silhouetted rocks, but we drove on a bit further. By the time we stopped the clouds were blue-grey and it was almost dark. We stopped to watch the full moon rise behind the Balanced Rock. We decided to call it a day and return later in search of the blood moon (total lunar eclipse) which was due in the early hours. A photographer there commented as I was leaving that you have to make sacrifices to get the right shot (ie. he was alone and was clearly planning to stay around a while). I told him that we'd driven 350 miles and had been on the road for 10 hours, so had to get something to eat. He's right, of course - you do have to make sacrifices, but the way in which he said it was so condescending it made me snappy and defensive. I mentioned that we planned to be back out there in the early hours to see the moon when it was eclipsed. He hadn't heard about the eclipse. As well as sacrifices, I thought to myself smugly, one also has to do some planning to get the right shot and find out about things like eclipses.
I'd booked us into pretty much the cheapest place in town, the Redstone Inn, but it was an okay place with a small kitchenette (with a box of crockery and cutlery in it!). It was also a stone's throw from the Moab Brewery which had a selection of strong bottled beers (including a delicious Belgian-style one) in addition to some reasonable draught beers at 4%. They also served food - all very convenient as we were exhausted after the long drive and couldn't face going further afield.
Next stop: The Blood Moon