Arches National Park was so spectacular that it quickly became a competition to see who could find the most arches.
Days 89 – 91
October 30 – November 1, 2014
Miles 10258 – 10539
We arrived in Moab, Utah on a Thursday evening. A quick drive through Moab was all we needed to decide that it was one of the nicer towns we had been in; much bigger than Bryce Canyon and Torrey. At the hotel we asked where to get a good burger and were told about The Moab Brewery. We really enjoyed The Moab Brewery. We each got the Jack Daniels burger (a bacon cheeseburger with BBQ sauce) and onion rings. The burgers really hit the spot for us. We also had a few beers. In Utah the law limits the beers served on draught to 3.2% alcohol, but our waiter told us they are allowed to sell cans with a higher amount of alcohol, so the brewery makes two versions of their most popular beers; draught and canned.
The next morning we drove to Arches National Park. We stopped in the visitors center first like always. We watched their introduction movie which was probably the best we’d seen since the Grand Canyon’s video. We also asked about the ranger led tours into the Fiery Furnace ($10/person). They had an opening for that afternoon, so we signed up.
Arches is names for the 2400+ natural arches occurring in the park, a higher concentration than anywhere else on the planet. Of the 2400+ arches, we probably saw close to 20 and we really went out of our way on long hikes to see some of them. If you are just driving through the park you’ll likely only see half a dozen. Because of the arches, the park is really about geology and is probably one of the parks in which we learned the most. To be officially classified as an arch, it must be one continuous rock, the opening needs to be 3+ feet wide, and light must pass through it. The park is also in the desert so we learned a lot about crypto-bionic soil (its alive!) and the importance of staying on the marked paths. (By the end of our visit it made me cringe to see people off of the path).
We didn’t have too much time before our tour, so we only stopped at a few overlooks; Park Avenue and Balanced Rock. Balanced Rock might be the second most popular feature in the park so we took our time to walk the 0.4 mile loop around it.
Before we knew it, it was time for our hike into the Fiery Furnace. Taking the ranger led tour of the Fiery Furnace might have been the best thing we did in the park. We met the ranger at 2pm for the approximately 3 hour guided hike. Our tour only had 13 people in it instead of the usual 25. The tour walks into the maze-like rock fins of the fiery furnace area and involves rock scrambling, squeezing through crevices, and friction walking between walls.
The ranger stopped about seven times to discuss the rocks, plants, and animals that live in the area. She was very good and even had answers to the harder questions asked by people who appeared to be amateur geologists. This park, more than any other time on the trip, made me think about work. Much of the teaching the ranger did was about water reacting with porous and non-porous rocks, tension fractures forming in rocks, and other erosion methods. The tour walked us past several arches including: Walk Through Arch, Crawl Through Arch, Twin Arches (aka Skull Arch), Kissing Turtle Arch, Flat Iron Arch, and Surprise Arch. At the end of the tour we were saddened to hear that this was our ranger, Anna’s, last tour. She was a seasonal ranger and her season was done. Anna was absolutely fantastic and if she can’t get a job as a full time ranger it makes me wonder who can.
Before leaving the park for the day, we drove to the Windows area. From the Windows parking area, a short hike goes to Double Arch which we walked first. Double Arch might have been the first ‘famous’ arch we saw in the park and more than anything I was very impressed by its size. While in the windows area we also did the primitive hike which goes past the North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch.
For dinner that night, Jon gave me a choice of pizza or meatloaf (he had two restaurants in mind). We ended up at Paradox Pizza. We were a bit surprised to find paradox pizza to be more of a ‘to go’ place, but we ate there anyway and enjoyed our pizza.
On Saturday, we went back to Arches to do the long hikes to famous arches that we didn’t have time for the previous day. We had heard that for the best photos, to save Delicate Arch for late afternoon, so we bypassed that trailhead on our way into the park. Instead, we started the morning with a short hike to Sand Dune Arch. Nearby, a longer hike goes to Broken Arch, but we settled for a view from afar. We also were able to get a good view of Skyline Arch from our car.
The first big hike of the day was in the area called Devils Garden. In total, we probably walked 4.4 miles on the main trail plus the length of short spur trails to other arches. Our walk took us past Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch. Landscape Arch was next and is one of the most popular arches in the park. Landscape arch is 306 feet long and remarkably thin. So thin, that we didn’t notice it against the adjacent walls as we approached. From Landscape Arch the trails get considerably harder as you scramble and walk along the large rock fins. Partition Arch was my favorite arch. It isn’t a particularly nice arch, but the view through it was gorgeous. Navajo Arch, which faces a wall, was less impressive. The trail passes Double O Arch which is where we turned back (although you can continue to Dark Angel as well as a longer looping trail).
After a quick rest and lunch in the car we went back to Delicate Arch. The hike to Delicate Arch and back was 3.0 miles round trip. The first third of the hike was on a normal trail over rolling hills. The second third of the hike was up slickrock where stone cairns mark the path. The last third of the hike is around a bowl at the top of the rock. It was really windy, but Delicate Arch is very unique and was the only completely free standing arch of the trip. Delicate Arch was also one of our favorites.