I wonder what John Muir would think, standing in Aisles 13 and 15 at City Market, perusing the trail mixes, dried fruits, nuts, and granola bars. And how about the yogurt-covered raisins, banana chips, and M&M’s Minis? What would this environmentalist icon have chosen for his next hike?
Born April 21,1838, in Dunbar, on Scotland’s North Sea coast, Muir’s childhood diet was “a poke of oatmeal, a luggie of parritch and a bicker of brose.” In plain English, that’s oatmeal, oatmeal, and, well, oatmeal. “We were always hungry,” Muir wrote. “About as hungry after as before meals.” Biographer William O. Douglas wrote that Muir “acquired the habit of eating very little—a habit that was to stay with him all his life.” To begin an adventure, Muir said, “I rolled up some bread and tea in a pair of blankets, with some sugar and tin cup and set off.”
Muir arrived in the U.S. in 1849, a skinny 11-year-old kid, all eyes and ears as his family disembarked into the New World. My sketch of John Muir is pure fantasy, though. Muir traveled to Utah but never as far south as red rock country. As a correspondent for San Francisco’s Evening Bulletin, he wrote about his 1877 Salt Lake City trip in his articles “The City of the Saints,” “Bathing in Salt Lake,” and “Mormon Lilies.” He became the Sierra Club’s first president in 1892.
I’m revisiting the Windows Loop Trail, checking out the Spectacles. Nine miles from the Visitor’s Center, take the first right after Balanced Rock, then wind around to the parking lot. Though called “windows,” which are rock holes well above ground level, these formations are indeed true arches. The paved trail and steps, plus an optional primitive hike behind the North and South Windows, make a perfect athletic combo for winter-stiffened locals and visitors alike. I’ve seen these arches in all weathers: rain, sleet, hail, brilliant sunshine, and the spectacular rise of a Supermoon. But you’ll want to get into Arches early. No complicated restaurant breakfast or standing in line or waiting around. Take some simple snacks with you and do the more complicated dining afterwards. Of course, if your timed entry is later in the day, you can also bring lunch and dinner treats.
I’m packing my own customized trail mix. Commercial mixes sometimes seem too salty or contain an ingredient or two that I don’t care for, so I mix raisins, caramel corn, Spanish peanuts, and Moonflower’s dry-roasted edamame. I’ve designated a “nibble pocket” in my jacket (a tip from Colin Fletcher in The Complete Walker) for easy munching. My brother Chris, who has hiked, climbed, or summitted nearly all of Colorado’s 14ers, carries his own mix of peanuts, cashews, almonds, M&Ms, raisins, and Honey Nut Cheerios. “I tried Mini Oreos once,” he says, “but they were too crumbly.”
Turret is a stand-alone arch west of the Spectacles with its sidecar rock tower, looking like the turret of some desert castle. From this castle, you look east to the La Sal Mountains, sculpted in alabaster from our generous winter snowstorms. The “spectacles” are the arches of the North and South Windows, connected by the Nose Bridge band in the same sandstone fin. On the eastern side of the specs, you also enjoy pinyon pines, Mormon tea, and cheery calls of rock wrens.
These three arches were all part of an original 1,600 protected acres President Herbert Hoover included in Proclamation No. 1875, establishing Arches National Monument in 1929. April 12 is Arches’ 94th birthday. This region is of course much, much older than just those 94 measly years. Formed during the mountain-building uplift of the Laramide Orogeny, tectonic forces warped and buckled the entire geologic column in this area approximately 70 to 35 million years ago. That’s a lot of candles.
Kathy Grossman is a southern California cartoonist and writer who has lived in Moab since 2011. That same year, she traveled to Scotland and visited Muir’s birthplace. You can read more about Muir at Sierraclub.org, including J. Parker Huber’s “John Muir’s Menu” and Muir’s “Bathing in Salt Lake.” See also kathygrossman.com/writing for “Feeling very American at John Muir’s birthplace.” California celebrates John Muir Day on April 21.