Shh… legs! I don’t care what you think, you don’t control me! You’ll be fine, so suck it up and walk that shit off. I’m old enough to live by that old motto – Just walk it off. As Hubs can attest to, getting me to slow down can be quite the challenge. Hell, I have a bulging disc in my lower back, and I still won’t ease up on working out. Oops? I’m on my feet collecting as many steps as I can each day. We looked into what Arches National Park had to offer, and decided we could knock out all the hikes in one day. Including the one rated as difficult. Challenge accepted!
Arches National Park is located on the eastern border of Utah just over the state line from Colorado. As indicated by the name, it’s well known because of the many Arches present in the park. It isn’t a particularly large park, thus the idea of tackling it in one day. The park, and the surrounding area are starkly different… canyons to deserts to snow capped mountains.
It happened to be Veteran’s Day when we arrived at Arches. I also happened to recall that November 11th is also one of the days that all national parks are FREE to access. Win! The smiling woman at the entrance gate welcomed us in. Upon entering the park, you drive up the side of a canyon, and once you crest the top, you’re accosted with the expansive landscape of red rocked canyons of various shapes and sizes. While we decided it could not be described as beautiful, stunning was an exceedingly applicable adjective. A two-laned road wound through the arid vista, which was dotted with blackbrush, purple sage, and junipers.
As suggested by a shop keeper the previous day, we started with Delicate Arch (#1), a short, but moderate trail totaling 3 miles roundtrip that, culminates at a fragile arch perched precariously near a cliff edge. It is the largest, free-standing arch in the park. Delicate Arch has held several names over the years… from Cowboy’s Chaps to Old Maid’s Bloomers to Salt Wash Arch. This was by far the busiest hike during our trip, as apparently, this arch is magnet for people all over the world. Trekking up to the viewpoint is a lot of steep uphill, which upon glancing around, was much more challenging to our fellow hikers. Quarantine does not appear to have been kind to the waistlines of many Americans, but I digress… it was a nice starter hike.
Next objective: Devil’s Garden – full trail. Again, characterized as laborious, it’s somewhere in the area of approximately nine miles with all of the off chutes to other arches. Of course, we visited every single one! And in the following order:
#2: TUNNEL ARCH – due to the crowd right in front of the arch, we only viewed this one from afar. Much like it sounds, it’s an arch with some depth to it that looks like a tunnel a roadway may pass through.
#3: PINE TREE ARCH – The name is due to the pine tree growing in the span of the arch itself. This one was quite uncrowded, allowing for decent photos.
#4: LANDSCAPE ARCH – One of the largest and most expansive, it looks like it’s about to break down the center and plummet to the ground any minute. It is the largest arch on the planet, beating one in Zion by a minuscule three feet. It is rather astonishing how wide this arch is. Until it collapses one day, of course.
#5: PARTITION ARCH – A window-esk arch on a spur off the Devil’s Garden Primitive Loop.
#6: NAVAJO ARCH – This arch is thick, substantial, and burrows deep into the rock behind it. And it’s situated right near the Partition Arch for a second reason to meander down the spur.
#7: DOUBLE O ARCH – Just as the name implies, there are TWO arches here (shocking, I know)… one is 71 feet in diameter, with the other being far more diminutive – 50 feet daintier. So cute! And Dark Angel is hiding in the background… waiting for you in all of it’s splendor.
#8: DARK ANGEL – Not an arch, but worth the extra trot off the major trail. This giant phallic symbol juts into the sky, standing alone-ish amid the canyons. It is rather dark in color and rather impressive, reaching 150 feet into the wild blue yonder. This sandstone tower is at the western end of the primitive trail, a standing sentinel serving as overwatch for the surrounding arches.
#9: PRIVATE ARCH – It was not actually that private, as there happened to be many people lunching in the area when we arrived. This arch was apparently named for it’s lack of mapping or being named for years. How they arrived at “Private” for that, is beyond my comprehension, but to each their own.
Once you depart the Landscape Arch, the trail changes dramatically. Initially, it’s paved and/or gravel and dirt, deceiving as to the trail’s difficulty level. Just beyond the Landscape Arch, the obvious trail disappears into crimson rock that heads in an upward trajectory via a narrow bridge the stone has formed. Don’t expect manmade handrails or footholds the remainder of the hike… Only natural ones are present, and they are much less supportive. And thus ends the easy part of the stroll, and begins the primitive trail. We watched with curiosity as a gentleman carrying a child in an overwhelmingly large back-type carrier attempted to make the climb up the narrow rock gangplank. Given that we never saw him again on the trail, I’m guessing that this was a failed attempt.
There are several times when you will look up or down at a rock face and think you may have taken a wrong turn. Thankfully, there were some very helpful people meandering the trail with us. At one point, we were standing at the top of a large drop off when down below we heard a woman shout up to us to head to the right, switchback to the left, and voila! All the others have made it down. Seriously? Whelp, there certainly isn’t any turning back now. Her voice guided us down successfully! A short while later, we came across a rather befuddling directional post… Uhh, which way do we go? A gaggle of females, one of which was our previous savior, approached, and advised where the trail lead. Fun fact: it was neither of those two! It was actually straight in front of me, which included either jumping into a chilly watering hole, or else scale an almost vertical rock face to go up and over. One went into the water, without the assistance of waterproof shoes. The next showed us all that up and over was actually possible… with good hiking footwear.
Multiple times while on the off chutes mentioned previously, Hubs and I scratched our chins/heads/other places, and glanced about with confusion, wondering where in hell the trail had gone?! Everything looks the same! Damn you less trafficked primitive trails, and poor trail markings! Pointer: Look for the stacks of small stones littering the ground… they act as impermanent, but stupendously helpful, trail guides!
I failed to mention that we took the main and primitive trail in a clockwise fashion following the arches in the order mentioned above. Devil’s Garden done!
The next few arches were a short jog off the main road, and are shorter walks (I can’t even call them hikes, given the leisureliness of the trail). The Windows Section is a 2 mile loop with the primitive trail, which we obviously took, and Double Arch/Parade of Elephants if a half mile in and out. The addition of the Turret Arch trail is a whopping 0.2 mile extension.
#10: PARADE OF ELEPHANTS – Double Arch was once connected to the pachyderms, as the rock formations look akin to a herd of the tusked beasts, holding one another’s tails.
#11: DOUBLE ARCH – As the same name implies, there are two arches here, side-by-side. The pair came to be after the sides collapsed of a pothole arch, leaving to fingers jutting across the span.
#12 & 13: WINDOW ARCHES – NORTH & SOUTH – Also known as the Spectacles, are next to one another, but separated by some distance, but cut from the same fin. You can hike around both sides when you take the primitive trail. Which, of course, we did.
#14: TURRET ARCH – In close proximity to the windows, and in fact, part of the same trail. Turret has a watchful tower erected next to it (the park sure loves it’s phallic symbols). You can hike up into this one, observing it from both sides, and in our case, catch the sunset through the gap.
While enroute to the above arches, we drove passed the two mentioned next. There are multiple pull-offs and places to stop (if you wish to view them from the road).
#15: POTHOLE ARCH – Take a stop along the road at one of the many viewing pull-offs, while either to or from, Windows. Keep an eye out for the sign, this one is easy to miss. Much like the name insinuates, it looks like a roadway pothole. Shocking, I know.
#16: BALANCED ROCK – While not actually an arch, this rock is precariously perched atop another rock formation, just waiting to plummet to the Earth.
Hope you enjoyed my synopsis of Arches National Park. Definitely worth the trip, and a phenomenal workout for the day! Rant for the excursion: Stay on the God damned trail!!! Keep the park clean and undamaged, so future travelers can enjoy it’s splendor. We saw far too many people straying from the path and climbing the ancient red rocks. Jerks.
Moral of the Story: Arches can totally be conquered in a single day… and a free one at that! Thank you Veterans, for free admission to national parks and your service!!! See legs, I told you you’d survive 41,331 steps that day. Challenge completed.
Now, on to Tucson, Arizona for some desert hiking in the “winter.”