on February 22, 2009
Three miles north of Moab, UT, Arches and Canyonlands(see journal on) National Parks sit onopposite sides of US Rt 191, only 12 miles apart. Arches has some 2,000 identified arches.Most of the biggest and best can be seen from or by short walks from the park’s threepaved roads. The main road runs 18 miles from the Visitor’s Center toDevils Garden trail head (restrooms) and campground. Two roads branch offthe main road, the very scenic Windows Road(rest room), and the road tothe Delicate Arch view point (restroom) and trail head. There is more to Arches than arches. Leaving the Visitor’s Center, theroad climbs about 1,000 ft. up a red rock cliff, with good views of theMoab Fault, the depression where the highway runs. The first of thepark’s major stops is at the top of the cliff on the left, the Park Ave.area which bears a resemblance to Monument Valley. The Park Ave. trail ( one mile, o.w)cuts across a curve in the road, so if you have someone to pick you up, it canbe walked one way. We walk Park Ave. on the installment plan– we park at one end or theother, walk halfway, and turn around and walk back. Since these rock formations look differentdepending on which way you are going, this is not repetitious. The next place of interest is the Petrified Sand Dunes pullover on theright, from which you look out across a filed of ancient sand dunes whichturned to rock when they sank beneath the sea eons ago. In the spring, the snow covered La SalMtns. rise up on the horizon behind the frozen dunes.Next on the right, the very short flat trail (0.3 miles, r.t.) around Balanced Rock is much moreinteresting than it looks from the road. Do it.The turn off to The Windows runs through some of the best roadsidescenery in the Park, ending at the Windows parking lot(restroom). Onabout three out four visits, we skip the Windows Trail(one mile) , but always takethe short and easy Double Arch Trail (0.8 miles), one of the best in the Park. Theparking lot is oval shaped. The Double Arch Trail is about 3/4 the wayaround the parking lot. There is a spot about 80% of the way from the parking lot to where they trail turns into a climbunder the first arch where the cliff to the right produces a remarkable echo of hands clapping. Face the cliff, clap your hands until you find it. Others on the trail will look at you oddly untilyou hit the spot, then everybody starts clapping. Once you locate echo central, try snapping yourfingers. The result is amazing.On the way back to the main road, stop at the Garden of Eden Viewpointfor grand views in every direction. Bring binoculars. Use the spottingscope at the right hand end of the parking lot to locate the Delicate Arch, the parks most famous feature. Back on the main road, 2.5 miles from the Windows Road intersection, Panorama View Pointhas a great view of Salt Valley Wash and the Fiery Furnace. From here, the road plunges downthe side of Salt Valley Wash to the side road to the Delicate Arch.Next up, the Delicate Arch (see review of). The trail head(2-3 hrs. to the Delicate Arch.) orparking lot(rest room) view point of Delicate Arch are reached by thesame road. If you go to the end of the road, the short trail from the parking lot up the slick rockfor a better view of the Delicate Arch is worth the little effort required. Do not be fooled by thename ‘slick rock’. In reality, this rough sandstone is sticky rock, anything but slick. It got thename slick because iron horseshoes can not get a grip on it. The old west’s horse riding cowboysand explorers slid all over the place, but even with leather soled shoes, you feel like you arenailed onto the rock face. With athletic shoes or hiking boots, especially with those with Vibramsoles, the effect is positively unnerving. You can walk straight up steep hills without slipping aseasily as strolling on a flat big city sidewalk. Feel the rock surface. Its like course sandpaper.Back on the main road, we pass the Fiery Furnace, Arch’s toughesthike. If you sign away your first born at the Visitor’s Center, theymight issue you a permit to explore Fiery Furnace on your own, but thisis no place for amateurs. The Fiery Furnace is a rugged rock maze, withwalls so high you can’t see out except straight up. Get lost here, and youare really lost. A Ranger leads 1-2 daily hikes into the Fiery Furnace.Very difficult hiking, and only by personal reservations at the Visitor’sCenter. Do not be surprised if you show up to register for the Ranger led hike and find it bookedfull for 1-3 days ahead.Next stop, Sand Dune Arch, a short 15 minute walk(0.3 miles) from the road. Both literally andfiguratively this is one of the coolest places in the park. When you reach the cliff, about 50yards from the road, the trial enters a narrow crack in the rock face, shading the trail all day longand keeping it cool. You climb up some sand dunes filling the crack from wall to wall a little bitand then, above you to the right, is the arch, a cool trip and cool view.Do whatever else you want in the park, butt do not miss the trails to Double Arch and Sand DuneArch. The parking lot at the end of the road is very popular and the start of one of the park’s mostpopular trails (there is also a campground and restrooms here). The flat trail runs past a string ofarches, including Long Arch, or at least it did. Long Arch, with a span of about 260 feet, was thelongest arch in the world. It collapsed in 2008. Now it is a plie of rubble at the bottom of a gapin the ridge.On our May 23 & 24 visit, Indian Paintbrush were in full bloom. Paintbrush is the mostspectacular desert wildflower, a bright red flower atop a stem looking like a spring of rosemary.Technically, Paintbrush is not a flower. Rather, red is the temporary color of the newgrowth leaves. If your schedule is flexible, it’s worth a call or emailto any of the Southwest’s National Parks to get an estimate on when thePaintbrush will flower and time your trip for that. The rocks will alwaysbe there. Paintbrush makes but a fleeting, awesome appearance. Late afternoon is the best time to travel the park’s roads because that’swhen the setting sun best lights up most of features along the roads.Always carry water with you, lots of water in the summer. As the bird flies, Natural Bridges National Monument is about 60 miles south west of Arches,but Canyonlands National Park is in the way, so it’s a 120 mile drive. Natural bridges andarches, what’s the difference? A natural bridge is carved through the rock by running water, ariver or stream or a seasonal wash. An arch is created by temperature changes. The rock face ofthe cliffs are covered with tiny cracks. If a little water gets into a crack and freezes, the force ofthe expanding ice pops a little bit of rock off the face of the cliff. For reasons I can’t recall, theprocess operates to create an upside down U shape on the face of the cliff. Given a few millionyears to work on it, these little pieces of popped off rock can eventually eat right through a ridge,leaving a hole in the rock and creating an arch. You can see arches being formed in manyplaces by looking for an upside down U shaped hollow in the side of cliff. The visitor’s canter is just inside the park entrance.The entrance fee is $25 per car, good for a week and for both Arches and Canyonlands NationalParks.
©Travelocity.com LP 2000-2009