Usually Sunday is a day we spend hanging around the motorhome, leaving the stores and parks to the working world enjoying the weekend. But the weather prediction for this past Sunday was for clear skies and decent temperatures, while much of the rest of the week looked to be cloudy, cool, and possibly rainy. So we decided to sneak out and pretend we were not retired and do a hike in Arches National Park.
During our first visit to the Arches Visitor’s Center two weeks ago to get information on hiking in the park, we were told by a ranger that Arches does not have a great number of hiking trails, as most of the best known sites are near the main road through the park. But one of the longest and most scenic hikes is in an area known as the Devil’s Garden. Two weeks ago we drove through this area and couldn’t even find a parking place anywhere near the trailhead as it was in the middle of the spring break time period. But Sunday, with most spring breaks over, we were able to easily find a place to park very near the trail and begin our adventure. The first section of the hike is over a mile and a half of flat, well-maintained trail.
About a mile into the trail there is a spur that leads to two large arches. The first is Tunnel Arch, with a small arch just to it’s left.
Just a short distance up this spur trail is a very large arch called Pine Tree Arch. That’s Pam standing in the left side of the arch in the picture below.
We returned to the main trail and continued on to Landscape Arch. At a little over 290 feet, it is considered the longest natural stone arch in the world. A trail that led under the arch was closed in the early 1990s when several large chunks of sandstone fell from the center of the arch, so you can’t get very close.
At Landscape Arch the maintained portion of the trail ends and it becomes primitive.
The trail quickly gains altitude, going upward on sandstone fins.
If you turn around at the top of the first fin, you’re treated to a nice view of the snow-covered La Sal Mountains in the distance.
Parts of the hike are along the edge of rocky outcroppings of sandstone shaped into cool pattens by wind and water.
We turned on to another spur trail that led to two more arches. The first is called Navajo Arch.
A short hike from Navajo is Partition Arch. This is another huge arch, as shown by the picture below. Pam can barely be seen seated inside the arch.
The trail continue over a long fin of sandstone.
Along that fin we found an example of an un-named arch that demonstrates how the park can claim to have over 2,000 arches. To be designated an arch, a formation must be at least three feet across, have light observable through it, and be formed by one solid piece of rock. A ranger told us that most of the 2,000 arches are very small. There are about fifty arches of significant size in the park (and we’ve almost seen them all).
As we continued, we could see an arch in the distance. We believe it is Black Arch, but we’re not positive.
While crossing a long stretch of slickrock, we found a nice spot out of the cold wind where we enjoyed lunch with a view.
After a brief lunch break, we continued up the trail to Double O Arch. This is really two arches, one large and one small. But the small arch is still pretty big, as we had to climb up some steep slickrock to climb through it.
Another spur trail took us out to a view of Dark Angel, a free-standing 150-foot sandstone pillar.
We continued in a long loop on the primitive trail, with large rock fins and neat formations all around us.
Another spur trail led us to a hidden arch, called Private Arch.
As we stood on a large area of slickrock waiting for a group of hikers to pass us in the opposite direction, John spotted yet another arch not far away. Since this arch was not named on any list we reviewed, we decided to name it ourselves.
The final section of the primitive trail involved a hike of about a mile slightly up hill in loose sand. The view of the mountains helped ease the strain of the sand.
We finally returned to the maintained trail and made our way back to the trailhead. A few local residents kept a keen eye on us to be sure we stayed on the trail.
After hiking over eight miles and seeing at least ten arches, we returned to the Jeep tired but happy. We think that we have found over half of the two thousand arches reported to be in the park, but unfortunately we lost the paper with our count on it, so we may need to start over again!