Back in May and June of this year, mother and I embarked on a 17-day, 7 park odyssey to the National Parks of Utah, Colorado and Arizona. Arches National Park in Moab, UT, was our second stop, but my favorite, as it is unlike anything you can see in Minnesota.
The best times to see the Arches are first thing in the morning and right at sunset; besides being cooler and less crowded, the sunlight glowing off the red rocks is stunning at these times.
We drove out to the Arches National Park early in the a.m. and spent 5-6 hours driving and hiking in the park. We returned a few hours later at sunset. Our day started windy, cool and cloudy and ended windy, warm and sunny. I am sunburned everywhere I had sunscreen and my feet hurt even thought I had hiking boots.
Water, ice, extreme temperatures and underground salt movement are responsible for the rock formations in Arches, according to the National Parks Service brochure we received when we arrived. There are over 2000 arches, although I didn’t see nearly that many. We stopped at every overlook and hiked out to several of the Arches.
The first viewpoint you come to after a drive up several switchbacks into the National Park is the Park Avenue Viewpoint.
You can hike from here about a mile through the canyon to the Organ. We drove to The Organ instead.
First you pass the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint.
It’s an interesting contrast seeing all this desert-like red rock against a backdrop of snow covered mountains.
Courthouse Towers Section
The next overlook is the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint, where you can see the Organ, the 3 Gossips, Sheep Rock and the Tower of Babel, all rock formations. In the far distance, you can see the Balanced Rock.
Ancient Sand Dunes
The next viewpoint is an interesting change from all the red rock – the petrified dunes. Arches National Park was once covered in sand dunes (you can still see some of the legacy around Sand Dunes Arch).
The Windows Section
We next turned down the road leading to Balanced Rock, Turret Arch, Double Arch and North and South Window, my favorite few miles of the Arches. You can easily walk around the balanced rock, and it’s a short walk out to the other 4 formations from the parking lot. This whole area is especially fiery at sunset.
Wolfe Ranch Section
Going back out to the main road, the next turnoff brings you to Wolfe Ranch, which is an old ranch where a civil war survivor raised his family and cattle. However, the reason to stop there is the set of petroglyphs on a rock nearby.
Pictures of a man on a horse and sheep carved on a rock. There are a lot of petroglyphs in the area, including several along the road from Arches to Canyonlands.
Once you’ve visited the 400 year old Ute petroglyphs, you can either take a very long walk out to the base of the Delicate Arch (which I didn’t do) or a much easier walk out to the lower viewpoint. There is an upper viewpoint you can get to from the lower viewpoint.
It is short, but very steep and exhausting, with people huffing and puffing and asking hikers coming down if we were anywhere near the top yet. But the view of the Delicate Arch from there is worth it.
The next popular viewpoint is the Fiery Furnace, much better at sundown (hence it’s name). You can sign up for ranger-guided hikes into the furnace.
Devil’s Garden Section
At the end of the main road is Devils Garden, where there is camping and several hikes to various arches. I began with a short hike out to the sand dune arch.
It is like walking on a sandy beach, and the wind blows the sand around a lot. To enter the area, there is a narrow canyon entrance that you pass through by climbing across a very big rock.
I then backtracked to the tunnel arch, the pine tree arch, skyline arch and a final long (for me at this point the end of my day), 2 mile round-trip hike to Landscape arch. The trail here has a lot of ups and downs. The Landscape arch is very thin; a piece of it fell off back in the 1990s. It is also the longest arch in the park.
Arches at Sunset
We went out again in late afternoon to try to capture to color of the setting sun on the formations. We went out a tad early (you should really go at dusk, in late May between 8 & 8:15 pm.) And you don’t have a lot of time to set up to get your shot because the sun falls pretty quick.
I am not a patient person, but I hung around long enough to get nice pixs of the Windows and Balanced Rock. There were a lot of “professionals” (i.e., tripod users) photographers out, so take cues from them where they stop to take pictures.
What you need
The best tools for a road trip: 1) a partner willing to drive and stop at every overlook; 2) said partner having a handicapped parking permit for when it gets crowded; and 3) said partner having a lifetime senior national parks pass so you both get in free.
Where to stay
There are a lot of places to stay in Moab, only a couple miles from the entrance to the Arches. But the Arches is so popular, especially around Memorial Day, we had trouble finding rooms. We stayed at the Comfort Suites, which was ok – lights are dim, some bedding appears old and a bit stained. 800 S. Main St., Moab, UT, US, 84532, Phone: (435) 259-5252.
Where to shop
On our final day in Moab, we shopped at this wonderful store with lots of Native American handicrafts: Lema’s Kokopelli Gallery, 70 North Main Street, Moab, UT.