In the morning we get up slightly earlier than usual and head back north to the Arches National Park, a little way outside Moab and the reason for the town's existence. The park is famous for its unusual rock formations, the towering red fins and impossible arches that you'll probably recognise from the silver screen. We'd decided to hike up to Delicate Arch, the most famous of the rock formations in the park, so much so that it's actually included in Utah's state emblem.
The ascent to the trailhead was pretty jaw dropping in its own right. Boulders larger than buildings balance precariously on the top of rock columns, looking like they're just waiting for Wile. E. Coyote to come along with his TNT to finally stop the Roadrunner. The scenery is still scattered with snow and, although it's a beautifully sunny day, you can still be cold when you're in the shade. I think we're really lucky to see the landscape like this, as it's not how most people will experience it - Utah is baking hot in the summer, so much so that the trail guide for the route we're taking advises you not to undertake the climb if the weather's warm.
We pass more of these deeply suspicious looking rock formations on the way to the trailhead, as well as the desert like plains that sweep between the karsts and, once we've arrived, we get ready for the hike which should take no more than three hours based on the literature. Nick's excited by this sort of landscape, and I'm feeling a bit lazy given how much time we're spending in the car, so I decide to push on up the trail at a faster pace. I must have really felt energetic, as once I reach the large slickrock escarpment that comprises the majority of the ascent, I stow my bag and begin to run up, walking boots and all. It's cool, but actually incredibly comfortable for running, and it feels great to stretch my legs.
The route passes some incredible sights, many of which have been torn from the Westerns that are a second-hand part of my childhood, and I see Native American wall paintings, narrow creeks and even a jackrabbit bolt out from under the gorse bushes that are scattered across the trail. It's a beautiful day and, as I climb higher, the scale of the landscape begins to reveal itself to me - some of these formations are as huge as only geography can allow and it's clear that I'm actually much higher than I thought.
The actual ascent to the Delicate Arch was the cause of some consternation though. I must've taken a wrong turn on the trail and ended up trying two different routes to reach the Arch. The first involved skirting the arcing bowl of the basin that sits beneath the Arch, which was solid rock but grew increasingly vertical as I edged around the five storey basin and started to disagree with my inflexible walking boots. I got tantalisingly close to the ledge in front of the Arch, and could see other hikers taking their selfies, but it got too sketchy for me and I had to retreat. I then tried to actually scale the Arch itself, which was an even less advisable route as it had me teetering on the edge of a 150m drop. Clasping only the remains of metal posts, cut out long ago, I tried my best but again was forced back. The attempts left me coursing with adrenaline - not all of it the good kind - as I made my way back down, but I can see why rock climbers do what they do. It was thrilling to be on the edge of things.
I eventually found the 'approved' route up, which was still pretty harrowing - it involved a steep climb up some icy steps, which were seemingly designed to throw the unwary on their backsides at the first opportunity. When I did reach the top, it was well worth it. The arch itself is impressive, but not half as impressive as the views of the landscape surrounding it. It's humbling to see geography on this sort of scale, but I find it incredibly rewarding.
I sat in the sun, warm and content, awaiting Nick's arrival - his ascent was also marred by some ill conceived routing, but when he appeared (and after he'd put his lens away), we had some water and took our usual 'challenge completed' selfies and headed back down. We both agreed that this might be our favourite day of the trip so far and I would encourage you to visit Moab and the surrounds if you get the chance.
We got back in the car and oriented ourselves southward towards Arizona and one of our most anticipated destinations - Monument Valley. As we drove on, the landscape levelled out, becoming flatter and gentler, but the weather began to worsen. Lead grey clouds promised snow, and there has clearly already been a lot of snowfall over the past few days and weeks. We passed Cowboys driving cattle along the road, blanketed fields and tens of wind turbines hidden in a shroud of falling snow. It was a serene moment in a trip that's been pretty full of activity - something I think struck us both as a valuable experience.
Then we saw a handful of small black dots on the horizon - these grew, and continued to grow, until they were the recognisable structures of Monument Valley. Snow-covered and dark red against the moody sky, it's almost impossible for me to describe how accurate the name for this place is. The rock formations are truly monumental and, powder dusted as they are now, seem other-worldly in their scale and presence. Hopefully the pictures will communicate some of the spectacle, but Arizona and Utah are quickly becoming places that need to go on your itineraries.
We carried in through Arizona, accompanied by the sun settingbehind the mesas, and arrived in Page, a small town dominated by an enormous power station that sits just beyond the city limits. We checked in to a hotel and headed out to find some food, eventually settling in a local bar that seemed to be the only place with any life in it. After an excellent burger, we got chatting to some of the locals, particularly a couple of teachers and an ex-cop, Travis. They were there for a friend's birthday, but we essentially hijacked their night, talking about Travis's experiences in London when he was training, discussing the survival probability of Native American culture (we're deep in Navajo tribal lands here, and Native American faces are commonplace) and, in Nick's case, fending off the affections of an increasingly drunk 46 year old teacher.
We moved on to the local bowling alley, a local hotspot apparently, having just missed Ladies Night (dammit). We were greeted by a guy from the previous bar, who had traveller stamped all over him (backpack, ponytail, South American trousers etc), performing some of the wildest dance moves we've ever seen, and not in a good way. After a couple of drinks, we're advised to move on to another bar which is closing so we only have time for one drink before we leave. On the street on the way out a young kid accuses me of talking about one of his friends in a less than positive way (some what ironically, in this case I'm actually sure I'm innocent) so I look around for my backup, my buddy, my partner - somewhat predictably he's half way down the street attempting to chat up some of my accuser's friends. Luckily, my silver tongue got me out of the situation that it (almost certainly) didn't get me into and my Britishness manages to shame the young guy into actually apologising and throwing a hug on me. +1 for my diplomacy, -5 for Nick's reliability.
Another small town adventure concluded, we head to bed. Tomorrow is our night in Vegas, by way of the Grand Canyon