Arches National Park, Moab, Utah
Arches National Park is one of those places on my "bucket list". You know, that list of places you must go or things you must do before you die. I have been talking about visiting Arches since college, when one of my professors talked about it, along with all those other fabulous parks in Utah. It was a physical science class, sorta like Rocks for Jocks, and though I wasn't a jock, I needed another physical science class to graduate. This instructor made me, this girl who had never been camping or hiking want to go to Arches National Park. So in the back of my mind, for 20+ years, I have been planning this trip. Since we now live in Albuquerque, New Mexico it wasn't going to be a difficult trip. A six hour drive from home to Moab, Utah is an easy 3-day weekend trip so we started planning this trip, bought all the guide books and sun hats, pulled out our backpacks, camelbak, tent, sleeping bags.... and set the date for Mid-may.
Having packed the vehicle on Thursday night, we arose early on Friday, packed our cooler full of food and drinks, and set off to Arches NP at 6am. We arrived in Moab around noon and started surveying the many campgrounds on my list (I did an extensive search on the internet before leaving and printed out several pages of info, including restaurants and campground addresses). We decided on Slickrock Campground, just a few miles from the Arches NP entrance. The campground is large, but it has a huge tent-only area with its own restroom/shower house. We picked out a site, set up the tent, stopped at the BK for a quick lunch, then headed for the Arches NP entrance.
Fee for the park is $10 per car which covers all occupants for a week. Attached to your receipt is a map of the park. The Park Headquarters was our first stop as we wanted to sign up for the Ranger-led hike "Fiery Furnace". As we approached the desk we noticed the large sign, "Fiery Furnace next available hike - Monday afternoon". Sheesh! It was barely 1pm on Friday and the hike was already booked full for the whole time we were planning to be there. It was obvious though that most people do visit on weekends and many people arrived early Friday am and beat us there. We were frustrated as this is a MUST hike from all the information we have read and can only be done with the Ranger guide. But there are so many other hikes for us to do we knew it wouldn't be a total loss. Of note, the Ranger Station is gorgeous and contains large restrooms, a gift shop, and several interactive media presentations and movies. There is also a water fill station outside for everyone to fill their camelbaks and water bottles (there are several of these inside the park also). We didn't have time to explore the facility though, we wanted to get started hiking!
The road entering Arches NP is quite amazing as you wind up a hill, back and forth serpentine, with huge monolithic walls surrounding you. It is very awe-inspiring and also very scary! After a minute or two the road flattens out on top of the mesa and you can see for miles and miles. First stop inside the park is Park Avenue hike. Though the parking lot was almost full, we stopped and hopped out, grabbing our camera gear and water bottles. A short walk to the trailhead found a nice guide post with map of the hike and a Ranger to answer any questions. Wow! This hike is through a valley which reminds a person of a large city full of skyscrapers, like New York, hence the name. Though the hike is only a 1/2 mile down into the valley, it is uphill the 1/2 mile back so the hike is ranked as "moderately strenuous". It was midday, sunny, and the weather report forcasted 90 degrees so we were glad we had our hats and cool clothing.
After this amazing hike, we headed for the Windows Section. This area is further up the main road, then a right turn at Balanced Rock pulloff. We opted to come back to see Balanced Rock later as we wanted to do more hiking before dinner. The Windows section has several Arches - North and South Windows with form the Spectacles, then Turret Arch and Double Arch which are all accessible from a central parking area. Overlooking the parking area is a huge formation known as Parade of Elephants. Wow, the name says it all. It is too freaky! Once again we parked and grabbed the photo gear and water pack and off we went on the 1 mile roundtrip hike to the Turret and Spectacles. This is area is rated "easy" as the hiking is on relatively flat terrain with only minor change in elevation. These arches are huge! I have seen hundreds of photos of these monoliths but the size still amazed me. After an hour exploring these structures, we headed across to Double Arch on the other side of the parking lot. This hike is shorted but quite spectacular and many people were gathered at the base of the arches, resting in the shade or just admiring the beauty. Others were climbing up into the arch and of course Ron had to do the same. I sat on one of the boulders watching for awhile while Ron shot photos from every viewpoint.
It had been a very busy day so we headed into town for dinner. Moab is a great little town, completely dependent on the adventurers who visit. Downtown is only a few blocks square filled with mountaineering-rockclimbing gear, river rafting tour operators, 4-wheel vehicle tours, mountain bike shops, and restuarants or gift shops. We opted for an early dinner at Moab Brewery. After dinner we stopped at a large grocery store right on Main Street to grab a few supplies we had forgotten. We returned to the campground before dark and finished setting up camp and planned our Saturday activities.
Saturday morning we woke with the sun and fixed a hearty breakfast on our little Coleman stove. It was important to get moving early as we had big plans for the day. Our first stop: Delicate Arch hike. This hike is one rated as "strenuous" as there is a dramatic elevation change, no shade, and approx. 3 miles roundtrip. It is THE hike for Arches National Park as Delicate Arch is the symbol of the park and also the symbol used on Utah's state license plate. We arrived at the parking lot at Wolfe Ranch at 7:45am and the lot was already half full. Wow! We thought we were beating the crowds but there were already people out on the trail. A restroom and water fill station is located at the lot so we made a quick stop and then headed up the trail. Though the trail starts out as a well marked path, about halfway it reaches a slickrock area, bare rock, where hikers must follow the markers or 'cairns'. These trail markers are small stacks of rocks and at times far enough apart that you had to look carefully to find the trail. After several stops to rest and drink water, we reached a ledge area. The trail actually winds around a pinnacle with a narrow ledge to walk on. The dropoff is dramatic and not for the faint of heart. A little over an hour after we started we reach the top and WOW. Yes, this hike is worth it. WOW
Words don't even describe the view! Several people were already here, maybe a dozen total, but most people just sat at the upper rim of the bowl gazing at the Arch. WOW Ron went off taking photos and I sat down to relax and shoot some video. Then my cell phone rang. OMG! I almost fainted. It was so still and quiet and zen.... then my stupid cell rings. LOL I apologized to everyone and answered it. Our daughter was calling from home to say hi and see how the trip was going. I chatted with her for just a few moments then put the cell away and apologized to everyone again. About that time a lady dropped her camera and it began sliding down the bowl near me. I stood up carefully (the bowl is pretty steep) and walked over to where it had stopped. I grabbed it and my sunglasses immediately jump off my face and slide futher down the bowl. Sheesh! I walk over and give the lady back her camera, then head down to retrieve my sunglasses. Luckily they stopped only about 10' below me or I would have let them go. No way I would have attempted going any further as the dropoff not far beyond was deadly. I walked back up the bowl then realized I hadn't seen Ron for awhile... last time was as he was heading out of sight over the edge behind the arch. I carefully walked around the bowl to where several photographers were setting up tripods and looked over the edge. No Ron. Then I look over by the arch and spot him, down below the arch, trying to get a shot looking up. He worked his way back up to the Arch and we stopped to get photos of each of us under it. Since there were so few people there it was no problem but I am sure later on it would be quite a zoo here. After about 30 minutes, we headed back down the trail which was much easier than heading up! We passed dozens and dozens of hikers heading up to Delicate Arch. Some people didn't even have water bottles (what were they thinking?) and several groups had small children. When we reached the parking lot again we found it was full, people were parked all the way down the road and many other cars were circling, waiting for a spot. We made a quick stop at the restroom (so glad they have those throughout the park), then headed over to the Delicate Arch viewpoint trail. This trail hikes up a small incline to view the Arch at a distance. It is quite a view and well worth the visit, especially if you are unable to attempt the other hike. It was amazing to us to see how many people were now at the top of Delicate Arch. We were glad we had gotten up early!
It was now 10:30am and we were both starving so we headed further into the Park, to the Devil's Garden area as we had read that there were picnic areas available there. Sure enough, several pulloffs with picnic tables and trash cans were there and we made our lunch and enjoyed the spectacular views of the rock formations surrounding us. This is definitely the coolest picnic area I have ever seen.
Our next hiking area was to Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch which are both close to the Devil's Garden. The parking lot at this area is smaller than the others but after waiting for a minute we got a spot and grabbed our gear. The first arch, Sand Dune Arch is only a short walk from the parking lot and a small arch compared to the others. Several families were there letting their kids play in the sand. We left this area and continued on down the trail across a field and into another group of rock formations. It is another rustic trail but easy terrain and we reached the huge arch, Broken Arch around noon. The signs there state "trail continues through arch" so we climbed through the arch and off down the trail. Oops, we should have looked at our map back at the car. The trail does continue but off in the other direction, to the campground. It was very hot and I was getting tired. The terrain changed to a little more stenuous and we walked and walked. The views were still spectacular but we had no idea where we were going, just following the trail. We arrived in the middle of the campground back by Devil's Garden and realized we had gone the opposite direction of the parking lot! Another sign said "Sand Dune arch trail" so we headed that direction. Finally we arrived back at the other side of Broken arch (we had done quite a large loop) and we could see the parking lot ahead. It was a nice 2 hour hike but we were both hot and tired when we reached the car.
After a few minutes drinking more water, eating a few snacks, and emptying sand from our hiking boots (that trail had several areas of nothing but sand), we hopped in the vehicle and drove down the road to Skyline Arch. This arch is only a 1/4 mile off the parking lot so we jumped out and off we went. The Arch gets its name as it is high in the air and nothing can be seen though it but sky. We walked up to the arch and realized there were people up in it! Holy cow, how did they get way up there? It had to be at least 100' up a sheer rock face. We looked around to see if there was another path around it but nothing. After taking a few pictures we decided to drive over to the campground and check it out. The Devil's Garden campground is located next to the Devil's Garden hiking trail on a side road. We had thought about staying there for the trip but it was booked solid for our trip dates. Half of the campgrounds 50+ campsites are walk-in only, the other half can be booked online at the website for Arches NP. There is no shower area but several restrooms are inside the campground area. The campground is gorgeous with rock formations surrounding the campsites! Wow, I can see why it is sold out so far in advance. We drove around picking out our favorite sites then saw the sign for the Amphitheatre. We decided to park and walk around and check it out. Following the path around through several large rock formations, we found the seating area and large video screen. Then we noticed an arch, a large arch off down a trail. No way! It was the backside of Skyline arch. We followed the trail and saw that rocks and tree stumps had been placed such that it was an easy climb to get into the arch. That is how those people got up there! I stayed up on a ridge overlooking the arch as Ron, of course, went to see it. He climbed up into the arch and took a few shots, waving to people down below on the other side, then came back down. The arch is very thin and Ron didn't think it was very safe to be sitting up in it, only a about a foot wide, especially with the wind blowing through it. LOL
After a short break, we headed back to Balanced Rock. This is a great photo location but not a real hike as the parking lot is next to the large rock formation. It is much bigger than I expected and doesn't look like it should still be standing as the rock layer holding up the big "head" is very tiny.
It was mid-afternoon by this time and we were both hot (weather report was predicting 90s again today), so we decided it was a great time to tour the Park Headquarters and gift shop. Afterwards we went back to the campground to shower before dinner. We then headed into town to visit the Moab welcome center and also fill up the gas tank. Dinner tonight was Eddie McStiffs, a restaurant/microbrewery right downtown. Dinner was fantastic and afterwards we walked over to some of the gift shops to check out t-shirts for our daughter who was home minding the housing and dog. Afterwards, we drove back through Arches NP to take some sunset photos at different spots including Fiery Furnace (the area where hiking is only allowed on Ranger-guided tours). This area is a maze of fins and slot canyons and it is easy to see how a hiker could easily become disoriented and lost.
We returned to the campground quite tired and it didn't take long to fall asleep. The campground was full again, some of the same people as the night before but some other campers had arrived during the day.
Sunday morning we awoke early again, fixed another huge breakfast of pancakes and eggs (I love camping and hiking trips as we can eat huge meals and not count calories!). We were leaving Moab around lunchtime so it was necessary to break camp so we packed up the tent, sleeping bags, etc. and off we went for our last 1/2 day of hiking in Arches.
Our planned hikes for Sunday were the Devil's Garden trail which is very long but has numerous arches along the way. Most people don't do the entire hike, turning back after Landscape Arch when the trail changes from "easy" to "strenuous". We arrive shortly after 8am and though it was cool, we knew that soon it would be hot and the hiking would warm us up. Wow! The views on this hike are SPECTACULAR! Every direction you look there are monsterous rock formations. Landscape Arch is another landmark of Arches National Park and is considered the longest freespanning rock formation in the world reaching over 300' long. It is huge! I mean really HUGE. There is a fence barrier now in front of it as back in the 1990s some hikers were under the arch and several small rocks began to fall. They ran away as fast as they could luckily as a huge section of the arch fell. People in other areas of the Park said they heard what they thought was thunder, it was that loud! Wow! So now no one is allowed under the arch as it is very thin in spots.
After passing this arch the trail heads straight up, literally, up the ridge of a rock formation "fin". These fins are the slabs of rock that form most of Arches NP and once worn away over time may form an arch. Anyway, the trailhead goes up onto the ridge of a fin, and then continues on flat in spots but many times hikers must climb from one fin to the top of another fin. This is not a trail for anyone who doesn't love, really love, hiking! The views are MAGNIFICANT, SPECTACULAR, AWE-INSPIRING.... really! Since we needed to be back at the parking lot before noon, we hurried on this hike, not stopping for any of the side trails to other arches as we intended to make it to Double O Arch before turning back. The trail is primitive, with only the rock cairns to follow and a few times we lost sight of them and had to back track to find the trail again. Eventually we arrived at Double O. This arch has one large Arch with another smaller arch just beneath it carved into the same fin. It is very wild looking. Ron climbed up into the lower arch and then off throught he backside where several other hikers had climbed to enjoy the views and take photos. It was a wonderful hike but we had to head back. The return trip was easier and though we lost the trail once again and had to backtrack to find it, we returned to the parking lot in plenty of time. We stopped at the restroom (another waterfill station and restroom is here) then off we went, stopping at our picnic table for a quick lunch before the 6 hour drive home.
This was a fantastic trip and everything I had hoped for, though I wish we had more time. We definitely have to go back again and stay at the Devil's Garden Campground. We must do the Fiery Furnace hike, and also do the Devil's Garden hike stopping at all the side arches we missed. I would also do the Delicate Arch hike again.
Camcorder: Canon HG-21 HD
Camera: Canon Xsi/450D Dslr, 18-55mm lens and 10-22Wide angle lens
1. Do not attempt any of these hikes without a water bottle per person, preferably a camelbak. Most of the longer hikes, like Delicate Arch and Devil's Garden require a minimum of liter per person. We saw so many people without any water or only a small water bottle.
2. Do not attempt any of these hikes without proper footware. I can't believe how many people we saw on trails wearing sandals or flipflops. Gimme a break! That is just unsafe. Many of the trails required walking around sloped rock ledges and steep inclides. I am sure many of these people didn't finish the hikes as they got injured or turned back when they realized they weren't prepared.
3. Wear a hat! Yes, we saw lots of people with nothing covering their heads in 90 degree heat with no shade. Stupid.
4. Take a camera. You will be kicking yourself later if you don't. We actually heard one lady say to her husband, as they were about to reach the top of Delicate Arch "honey, did you bring the camera?"
5. Go to Arches NP and plan to stay at least a full day. We saw lots of people standing in the parking lot taking pictures before they jumped back into their cars and drove off. Yes, some people think they saw Arches NP. We overhead people talking about only stopping by for a few hours on their way somewhere else. I hope they realized what an awesome place Arches NP really is and plan a trip to go back.
6. Arches NP is a great place to take your kids and get them started with hiking and outdoor activity appreciation. However, don't take little children on the strenuous hikes. It is too much for them and counterproductive! I saw lots of little kids with no hat, wearing sandals, red-faced and struggling to walk mile after mile as their parents trudged along. I love to see kids enjoying the outdoors and active but some of the hikes at Arches are waaaaaay too difficult for most people, especially small children.
Arches National Park Official Website
Arches NP information website
Utah information site
Eddie McStiff's Brew Pub
the book we used to plan our trip