on February 25, 2010
"A rock garden. Despite the great variety of living things found here, most of the surface of the land, at least three quarters of it, is sand or sandstone, naked, monolithic, austere and unadorned as the sculpture of the moon. It is undoubtedly a desert place, clean, pure."--Edward Abbey, "Desert Solitaire"These words of Abbey convey most beautifully the landscape of Arches National Park, a place where he spent years serving as a ranger in the 1950s. Anyone who comes here knows that this place is bigger than words, more beautiful and compelling. The 2,000 arches of Arches National Park are a song to the impermanence of nature, to its ever-changing state of being. It may take millions of years to create such beauty, and millions more to see it eroded away, but like all nature, it is never the same, always effected by sun, rain, heat, and cold.In the meantime, however, there are few more stunning vistas to enjoy in the here and now than Arches National Park. Just 5 miles from Moab, these arches are fins of sandstone. The park changes from season to season (it is open year round, except Christmas), and once you have seen the major structures like Delicate Arch and Devil’s Garden and the twisting maze of Fiery Furnace, the real journey begins…into the heart of exploration.A good place to begin once you’ve taken in the displays in the Visitor Center and 48-mile drive through the national park in your car, is to get out and start really seeing the place on foot. Even for the novice hiker, there are many beginning trails that will take you deeper into the heart of Arches National Park, and you won’t regret it. Of course with the searing summer heat, spring and autumn are much better times to visit the park, but if you must go in summer, plan your treks for early morning before the blazing sun can wear you down in short order.Begin with short easy trails, like Double Arch (20 minutes) and Windows Trail (1 hour) and progress to more challenging (and, of course, more rewarding) trails like Tower Arch Trail (2 hours) or Delicate Arch Trail (2 hours). Take advantage of the ranger-led walk through Fiery Furnace (3 hours); despite the minimal charge, it’s well worth the adventure. There are also other, free daily walks offered in peak season. Try and allow more time than you need, and bring plenty of water. Anyone who loves solitude, taking photos, and communing with nature will find hiking a great way to experience the park. It usually also adds substantially to your hiking time, so factor that in.Camping at Arches (there is a 50-site campground at Devil’s Garden) is another good way to experience the park and allow yourself some time to take it all in. Best to make reservations through the National Recreation Reservations System well ahead of time, however, particularly in the busy season, or you may find your camping plans ruined. For the very experienced few, there are also back country camping permits, but be sure you are up to the challenge.Whether you stay a day, overnight, or years (as in Edward Abbey’s case) at Arches National Park, you will leave with the same feeling…you can’t wait to return.
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