Originally, we had no plans to visit Arches National Park, but Hitomi liked what she saw in her guidebook and since it was only a few minutes drive from Moab, it seemed worth a look.
We took our raft leader's advice and drove up into the park (after taking a shower and having dinner) for a sunset visit. Many of the arches and monuments are visible from the road, and we stopped on our way to the Delicate Arch at the Balanced Rock. We've seen quite a lot of rock formations at this point, but what really struck us as impressive was how much like a sculpture garden it resembled, where formations seem placed in isolation. And unlike Bryce's fairly similar hoodoo formations, each "sculpture" seemed independently crafted by different artists.
We continued to Delicate Arch as the sun was setting. Unfortunately, the arch itself is quite small from the roadside viewpoint, and really only photograph-able (with ordinary camera lenses like we have) if you hike a few miles up a fairly steep trail. Hitomi wasn't up to it in the dark, and she felt seeing in the full moon wouldn't really be worth it, she said.
We decided the park was certainly worth another visit the next morning before departing to the Grand Canyon. Hitomi has pictures of us in the Courthouse Towers. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to hike the north end. I would really love to see the Landscape Arch (a span of 300+ feet) before it eventually erodes and collapses.
Back on the road: South out of Moab was road construction and delays. But despite delays, the drive certainly was scenic and Hitomi was happy to be driving this portion. One of the stops we made was to photograph a formation called "Mexican Hat", which really resembles a thick plate balanced on a narrow round blob more than a sombrero. A short dirt road takes you around the formation, and isn't part of any park so you find garbage and signs of off road riding.
Further south into Arizona, we entered the Navajo Indian Reservation, which has its own famous park, Monument Valley. Although we had no time — and no inclination to drive on gravel dirt roads in our rental — from the highway you can see pretty much all the gargantuan towers of rocks, like you were driving past a city of stone skyscrapers. Like Arches, this would be another place worth exploring if we returned.
Hungry for some lunch, we stopped at a fairly dilapidated town inside the reservation. There was a strip mall with a supermarket, and several fast food businesses (McDonalds, Burger King) around, and no appetizing restaurant we could find. The supermarket had a deli and instead of a sandwich, they had wraps, which were not Mexican tortillas but Indian tortillas or I guess Indian flatbread. We also bought some supplies for our hiking trip into the canyon.
The drive turns pretty monotonous as you head out of the reservation and head higher elevation into the Grand Canyon area. The brushy, scrubby land eventually turns into pine trees and vegetation that reminds me of Eastern Washington. To the right, you get glimpses of the edges of the canyon, which before the park, seems to abruptly drops off into a chasm, and you don't really get to see into it from the road. Along the way are countless Navajo jewelery stands, which do offer a view, but since we weren't interested in jewelry at all, saw no point to stop.