I have a fond place in my heart for Arches National Park. We arrived there after a day in Monument Valley and, before that, a day in Mesa Verde. I was looking forward to staying some place for more than one night. In advance, we’d planned to spend one day mountain biking and another day and a half exploring Arches. We actually arrived at Arches in the early evening, unlike so many other late night arrivals on the trip, and so we had time to enjoy the campsite a bit upon arrival.
Arches is an odd place. For one, it’s the only national park I’ve been to where immediately upon entering the gates, you pretty much start climbing up a very open system of switchbacks up to higher ground. As you climb, you can see part of Moab spreading out below to the south. It’s kind of intimidating climb, especially in an RV. And it’s pretty much 18 miles from the entrance to the campground at the very end of the park. A slow 18 miles. But beautiful and scenic.
My eyes were constantly drawing pictures and scenes from each structure so it’s very easy to understand how all of these structures got names like Courthouse Towers, Garden of Eden, Parade of Elephants, and Dark Angel. They are huge and they make you feel very small. Besides the magical names, I have to admit that Arches (and Bryce Canyon) really made me wish I knew more about geology. I constantly found myself asking, “How does something like this get made?” I read every sign I saw in that park, struggling to comprehend a lot of the information it was giving me, trying to grasp the enormity of the time lines they were describing. Thousands of years is hard for me to fathom. I tried to picture all of the events described in the signs, but I admit that I probably only understood a fraction of what I read.
Still, you don’t need to be a geologist to appreciate Arches. Just a set of eyes to appreciate the beauty. And there was so much beauty there that I–not for the first time on the trip–found myself just exclaiming, “Wow!” repeatedly.
The first day we were in the area we actually went mountain biking at Dead Horse Point State Park which overlooks the Canyonlands. I don’t know what I was expecting the Canyonlands to look like, but, wow. The scenery blew my mind and gave me a taste of what I might see at the Grand Canyon later in the week. Of course, every canyon is different so it wasn’t exactly the same. The shades of brown and the rock layers still stand out in my mind. The first half of the 9-mile mountain bike trail followed the canyon rim, offering magnificent views of the valley. We stopped a few times to take some pictures and enjoy the view.
This was also the first time that I truly enjoyed mountain biking since I first tried it last year. It was still scary, for sure. The trail was described by the guy at the place where we rented the bikes as beginner…. But much like how beginner skiing hills vary depending on the region, the same could be said for mountain bike trails. I had to walk a few places still, but I also did let go a few times and try something that totally scared me, and I survived! The lack of trees was definitely a plus for me… Trees are my most feared obstacle when mountain biking out here–they really disrupt your ability to see what is coming in the path ahead and they have to be maneuvered around quickly. Without the trees, I felt a little more daring. I still have problems, though, navigating quick downhills followed by immediate quick uphills.
It was such a great experience that ever since I left, I’ve started thinking seriously about buying a mountain bike. I can’t always bike at places like Moab but now that I’ve been exposed to what it could be like, I’m a bit more willing to keep trying.
The evening adventure was a bit strange. The ranger had told us on our arrival about a place we could go swimming in town. From the description and directions he gave us, I got the impression that perhaps we’d be swimming in a river, but I pictured that it was something like a beach with a lot of people and a lifeguard or something. When we arrived at the parking lot that was supposed to be “the place,” we only saw a trailhead with a bunch of parked cars. We thought we’d missed the swimming hole. But after driving back down the dirt road and searching the area, we went back up to the trailhead just as some people dressed in various states of swimming apparel (ie, women in cut-off jeans with a bikini top, shirtless men in swimming trucks wearing Tevas). We learned that the swimming hole was literally a series of pools along a trail that people swam in.
Before we got on the trail, we witnessed two kids and adult taking a jump off of what had to be a 15 foot drop into a tiny river below! It looked scary and the river didn’t look nearly deep enough to support the momentum of such a drop. Crow and I both agreed those people were nuts. I vaguely wondered how many times a year the park has to rescue people who injure themselves doing stupid things like that.
The trail was primitive and a bit of a walk to find the next pool. We passed a lot of people coming the opposite direction on our way in. We ended up swimming at the first pool we encountered where a group of children were taking turns jumping off a 5 foot rock ledge. We both waded into the freezing cold water and eventually went for a swim. The water was not very transparent so it was a little creepy. We swam for a half hour before calling it quits. We did try to find the next pool up the stream, but it wasn’t immediately obvious so we turned around. I’m not sure even today what I thought of that experience… But at least I got cooled off after a really hot day!
(Sorry, I don’t have any pictures from that adventure. You will have to take my word for it.)
Our second day at Arches we actually hiked around the trails at the park. Since our campground was closest to the Devil’s Garden, we started with that trail. We headed right for the longer, more rigorous trail to the Double-O Arch. It was a really fun trek with varied terrain. The paved trail ended at Landscape Arch, giving away to sand (and completely filling my sandals with silky, hot sand). Then, we climbed up a steep boulder and walked on the rock for quite some time. A section of the trail went along a narrow ledge on each side with a rather long drop on each side (we tried not to think about it). It was fun!
We actually climbed through the smaller O and walked to the other side where you could climb a little bit of hill on the other side to get great pictures like the one below.
The trail actually continued in a loop where one could see Private Arch and the Dark Angel rock, but we ended up turning around because we didn’t bring enough water for the full loop. It was a very hot day; I finished my water shortly before returned to the start of the trail.
We walked back to the RV campsite and had lunch, and then took the rest of the park by storm, working our way down the park to the bottom, seeing Skyline Arch, Sand Dune Arch (super cool), and Broken Arch (awesome if only that we got a lot of time alone around that arch).
We stopped at the Salt Valley Overlook and the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint. We learned too late of the ranger guided hikes through Fiery Furnace, which we would have loved to have done, so we vowed to make sure we got on one of those tours on our next visit. You can’t go through Fiery Furnace without a permit and they highly recommend you take a guide because it’s easy to get lost.
So our last stop on that first day, which was a long day of hiking, was the most famous and in so many ways most grand arch, Delicate Arch. The hike to Delicate Arch is probably the most strenuous of all the other hikes. It’s 1.5 miles to the arch and uphill with a few exposed parts of trail towards the end. But man, it is totally worth the climb!
(There were a few other scenic points of the trail, including an interesting walk along a rock ledge right before we reached the arches, but I didn’t stop to get a good picture of that. The memory of that entire walk is engraved in my brain, however, because it was magical. And very, very different.)
The narrow trail along the ledge ended and we had to pull ourselves up over a few more feet of rock that opened into a huge rock field on which dozens of people sat, heads all facing the same direction–toward the Delicate Arch which stood majestically in the middle of field with no other rock around it. It was breath-taking, to borrow an overused phrase.
There were so many people there trying to get pictures of each other under the arch that you had to sneak pictures in quickly between groups. We even went up to get our picture taken… However, the sun decided to hide behind a cloud at just that moment so it did not come out that great. But let me say that anyone standing beneath that Goliath looked pretty small!
We sat around there for awhile, just admiring the scenery. We didn’t bring any lights so we decided we were not going to stick around until dark… We enjoyed the climb down in the side-lighting. There was a small loop at the bottom to view some petroglyphs so we took it. They were surprisingly ornate and distinct.
The next day, before leaving the park for good, we visited all the arches in the Windows section of the park and stopped at the Petrified Dunes Viewpoint. We, of course, were off to another location (Bryce) so we had to go. We stopped at the gift shop on the way out and spent a bit of money on some souvenirs. We each bought orange “Utah Rocks” hoodies and I bought a cap which I wore for the remainder of the trip while hiking.
Moab was a really great town and we spent all three nights checking out the local establishments. Probably the most notable was the Moab Brewery which not only offered a nice selection of beer (with bike themed named) but the food was above average for a pub as well. I ended up buying a bike jersey for the Derailluer Ale, which was one of the beers I had with my dinner. The jersey also had a picture of Delicate Arch in the foreground of the label so I thought it was really cool.
Like I’ve said in many other entries, this is another place we’d like to visit again in the future. We would also love to explore the nearby Canyonlands via bike and/or Jeep. I’m pretty sure we could easily make a week out of staying in just this area alone.