After the third visit to Arches National Park, I’m beginning to understand why it’s such a popular park: many of the viewpoints are easily accessible via Scenic Drive, the park’s main road. The road is 45 miles round trip with two spur routes. Much of the time tourists can see a lot without even leaving their car. With such easy admittance to iconic arches and stunning rock formations (much of which can be seen within a single day visit), it’s no wonder this place gets packed during the daylight hours.
There are several arches I wanted to see in this area, but this area is one of the most visited spots in the park. Hitch and I were able to escape the crowds for a better look at the arches by taking the Windows Primitive Trail. It’s a short trail, starting at the base of South Window Arch. Narrow with a few spots for scrambling, the route is a mere mile and revealed a spectacular panorama of both South Window Arch and North Window Arch. From this vantage, I can tell that both arches were carved from the same sandstone fin. I can see why the locals call her “The Spectacles.” When I point myself away from arches, I can see a grand view of Salt Wash the deepest canyon in Arches, at almost 1,200 feet near the confluence with the Colorado River.
The trail ends at the parking lot, where we took a right toward Double Arch. We make our way down a short flat trail, past a set of rock features called “Parade of Elephants” and a cliff face called “Cove of Caves.” Double Arch is one of the few places where you wander beneath the arch and beyond. For our hike, we stop just short and enjoy the view.
I couldn’t leave Arches National Park without visiting this Utah icon. Delicate Arch is a 65-foot-tall freestanding natural arch, whose likeness can be found on many Utah license plates. With midday temperatures reaching high-80s, we were not going to attempt the strenuous 3-mile roundtrip hike. The trail leading to the famed arch crosses a bridge and then up steep slickrock. Instead, we opted for the nearby Delicate Arche Viewpoint Trail, which was a mere 1.5 mile round trip.
After talking to a ranger, I learn that the best time to go is either early morning or late afternoon near sunset. The climb requires good sturdy boots with ankle supports and plenty of water. Many emergency calls rangers answer have to do with foot injuries due to bad footwear and heat exhaustion.
There are a lot of hikers along this trail, but it’s worth navigating the crowds since it takes you through some spectacular fins and then to the famous Landscape Arch, located within the Devils Garden of Arches National Park. The arch can be reached by an easy 3-mile round trip hike, including a short side trek along a spur to Tunnel and Pine Tree Arches. If you are willing to go farther, you can get a peek at the Navajo and Partition Arch.
This span of Landscape Arch is wider than the length of a football field. At 290-feet long, it’s believed to be the largest natural rock span in the world. The thinnest section of the arch is said to be only 6 feet thick. Over two decades ago, hikers could explore under Landscape Arch, but a large 73-foot slab fell out from underneath a section of the span. A swiss tourist caught the action on tape back in 1991. Later in 1995 another 47-foot slab fell, followed by another 30-foot rock 16 days later. Due to these events, the trail that looped beneath the arch is closed and fenced off.
Skyline Arch is an easy hike, less than a half a mile round trip. It’s not as popular as Delicate or Landscape Arches, but it makes for some spectacular photographs due to its position: right on the skyline. You can even access the back half of the arch via the Devils Garden Campground. From that trailhead, one could even access Broken Arch and Sand Dune Arch along the way, making a nice little afternoon hike. For ourselves, we hiked in from the roadside on a flat well-defined trail.
According to the park literature, the arch doubled in size one cold November night in 1940, as a large chunk of rock fell due to frost wedging. Currently, the arch measures 71 feet across and 34 feet tall. As I round the corner of sandstone fin, I can see boulders from the collapse.
I know that there are many more arches within the park. At one point we tried to get to the remote Tower Arch located in the Klondike Bluffs. This particular area was located along a washboard dirt road requiring 4-wheel drive and tends to scare many tourists away, so I knew we would get some solitude. Sadly the last half of the road was under repair, and work crews prevented us from accessing the trailhead.
I wanted to love this park, but the masses of tourists during Memorial Week subtracted from much of my joy. Combine that with a sudden heat wave hitting most of the southwest and east of the Rockies, I have a feeling that I missed out on something. I’d like to come back later and find the hidden corners of this iconic national park.