Contrary to what people who frequent my many golf web sites may think, the golf course is not my favorite place to visit. That distinction belongs to Arches National Park.
Arches is 239 miles southwest of my home, in South-Eastern Utah. Arches is two miles north of Moab, Utah. Moab is a small town whose primary industry is tourism. Tourists hit Moab for mountain biking on the famous “slickrock trail,” rafting down the Colorado River or visiting Arches NP, Canyonlands National Park or Dead Horse Point. Moab draws a very “green” and yuppie crowd. There are more granola bars and “organic” food items per square inch there than any place on Earth. Good luck finding a non organic Pop Tart in that town because I couldn’t.
Arches is a spectacular area of land which contains the highest density of natural arches in the word. The high desert landscape of Arches has very little precipitation and extreme temperature variations. Red sandstone formations and fins have undergone millions of years of erosion, which result in visually stunning visuals and 2000 documented arches.
Utah’s license plates have an arch from Arches on them. This is Delicate Arch. Delicate Arch is probably the most famous natural arch in the world. Getting to Delicate Arch requires some good calorie burning hiking uphill, about 1.5 miles. The arch itself is at the edge of a huge sandstone cliff, with an amazing sandstone bowl above. You can go right up and sit under the arch (see pictures), and that drop off the cliff is less than 10 feet through the arch.
I’ve happily made this rigorous uphill 1.5 mile hike in 100+ degree desert heat dozens of times, including yesterday. No matter how tired and sweaty I am when I get there, I completely forget all of that the second I turn the corner and see what I believe to be one of the most amazing and breathtaking formations anywhere. I’m completely awestruck by the beauty of Delicate Arch.
Suggestion: Plan your photos for early morning or late evening when the lighting is the best. And also be sure to cut your toenails! The hike down from Delicate Arch can really cause you grief if your toenails are rubbing against the front of your shoes!
An easier hike in Arches is through the “Devil’s Garden” to Landscape Arch. Landscape Arch is huge, with a width of 306 feet. The first time I saw Landscape Arch, as a little kid, I couldn’t see the arch because all I saw was the landscape behind. I hiked up through the arch to the highest attainable point behind the arch when I was a kid, and I was lucky to have that opportunity.
It’s amazing that Landscape Arch has stayed intact. The top of the arch appears to be so thin that it is hard to believe it hasn’t collapsed. Back in 1991 part of the arch did collapse, nearly killing tourists who were standing under the arch. A 180 ton piece of rock fell from the right side and a photo was snapped by a tourist just as the rock fell. Since then, nobody has been allowed to go under or behind the arch, like I did when I was a kid.
On this last hiking trip, I found a way to get to the rock formation behind Landscape Arch. I was quite a bit higher than the top of the arch and the winds were howling. The slickrock terrain was very steep and the high winds had me worried I’d be blown off a cliff to my death. I did manage to get some cool photos angles from behind the arch, which I’ve never seen before.
Continuing on past Landscape Arch the hiking trail gets much more difficult. If you are not in decent condition and/or haven’t packed enough hydration, don’t go here. The total round trip of Primitive Loop is 7.2 miles, unless you are me and you add another mile or two by doing a ton of exploration! Primitive Loop is more difficult hiking but provides access to many more arches including Double O Arch, Private Arch, Dark Angel and others. This is a wonderful hike but be ready for it.
One of the most stunning spots in Arches is the “Windows” area. Standing at one spot, I counted about 10 major arches which were all in view. All of these arches are easily accessible, via small hikes totaling not much more than a mile. Within that one mile trek you get to view (and even climb under) North and South Window arches and Turret Arch among others.
One of the most famous formations at Arches isn’t an arch. It is Balanced Rock. Once again, it is hard to believe that this formation hasn’t collapsed. There’s a gigantic round rock balanced on a thin spire of red sandstone rock. This formation can be seen for miles in several directions and is a signature of Arches.
Balanced rock trivia: Remember the old television science fiction series Lost In Space? In the opening sequence the ship crashes on some desolate planet. It flies by a very odd shaped rock, balanced on a thin spire. That rock is Balanced Rock.
The Fiery Furnace can be a scary place. Years ago I explored the Fiery Furnace with a friend. We got lost amongst the hundreds of red rock fins and spires. Our water ran out and we were wandering around in circles. Thankfully we made it out before we collapsed from dehydration. Unfortunately others haven’t been so lucky and the park has since restricted this area to guided tours or grants permits to experienced hikers.
Arches has a beautiful campground with reserved and non reserved spots. You can reserve spots up to a year in advance, and I strongly recommend it. I’ve “tried” to get a camp spot a few times and they’re just plain never available. This last time the ranger told me to get there at 5:30am and wait in line for two hours to get a shot at the four spots that would be available the next day. I opted to just keep my camp spot up by Canyonlands National Park instead. One of these days I’ll manage to get a spot in the park though, and I’ll be happy.
The visitor center was rebuilt in recent years. The old one was fine but became outdated. The new one is huge and spacious.
In the visitor center there’s a gift shop, so you can buy that desperately needed Arches National Park refrigerator magnet. There are displays and video presentations which tell the story of Arches and how the arches formed.
You can also consult with park rangers there to plan hikes or inquire about the best times and locations for photos. I found the rangers to be especially helpful.
How many hours can I spend raving about Arches? I can’t possibly cover it all.
Yesterday I spent an hour photographing wildlife tracks in the fine red sand. I got so good at spotting them that I could tell you if the tracks were lizards, desert beetles (pictured right) or bunny rabbits. Actually, I prefer to refer to the rabbits as “waskawy wabbits.”
I also loved checking out the Harvester Ant colonies with their huge volcano shaped spires. Identifying Harvesters is pretty easy. Harvester Ants have tiny rear ends and big heads with large jaws. Don’t tick off the Harvesters as they have stingers. Like I said, I can’t cover it all…
My personal library contains thousands of Arches photos. Here’s a smaller and more web friendly gallery of Arches National Park photos.
You MUST go
Put Arches on your list of things to do before you die! Budget yourself a few days to spend hiking and exploring. Though you could do a “car tour” of the park easily in a day, spend the time and take the hikes. If you only have a small bit of time, do a car tour and do the one must see hike to Delicate Arch.
I’ll see you at Arches. You’ll recognize me as the sunburned one with a camera in hand and a big smile on my face.