2,000: That’s the official estimate number of natural arches found within Arches National Park. Arches may be the stars of this show, but they have a wonderful supporting troupe of towers, hoodoos, petrified sand dunes, domes, fins, spires, and other amazing geological figures. Arches is an act written over 300 million years ago in the Jurassic period, but its neverending performance is acted out by the eroding forces of mother nature.
Only in the last 45 years, has this unknown wonder become an international sensation. Last year Arches welcomed just under a million and a half visitors. And this year when tourist numbers are expected to swell due to the National Park’s Centennial Birthday, we just happen to land upon her doorstep on a very busy Memorial Day Weekend.
Park Avenue, Arches National Park
During midday temperatures reach the mid-80s, so we took our hike in the late afternoon. Sheltered by long shadows and blessed by an intermittent breeze, we started this short and easy hike just 2.5 miles from the park entrance. Most people blow past Park Avenue since it doesn’t contain any arches, and I feel sorry for those who do because it’s a really impressive one mile hike.
Early hikers named this trail for its similarities to New York City’s Famous Streets. Tall “skyscrapers” made of red stone straddle either side of a corridor. The formations here have regal names such as Queen Nefertiti, Courthouse Towers, Tower of Babel, and Queen Victoria. Although These days Queen Victoria is starting to look like Whistler’s Mother. Then there are other rocks given silly names: Sausage Rock, The Three Gossips, and Sheep Rock.
The second half of the trail opens up to a sandstone dry wash. Here the stone is hard and shallow basins or potholes are carved out by water erosion. We found what looked like a dirty scum pool, but is actually a microhabitat teaming with life. Tiny fairy shrimp and larger tadpole shrimp swim, eat, mate, and lay eggs, in just a matter of weeks. When the pool dries up, the eggs lay dormant in the sand buried and protected from the harsh elements. Then the rains fill these small pools, and the eggs hatch to begin the short life cycle again. The next generation always waiting for the next rainfall which may not even happen until years later.
Beyond the pools and farther down the wash, is a parking lot that marks the end of the trail. It’s sometimes where tourists have their hired shuttle pick them up so they don’t have to walk back to their car. We happily walk back, enjoying the golden orange hue of sunset upon the monoliths.
There’s also a spot where you can get a nice panorama view of the Courthouse Towers, and maybe the cliffs of Courthouse wash in the background. Overall, an easy hike with many photogenic landscapes.
“We’re gonna go down to the Park Avenue, and then we’ll take some pictures: dunt dunt dunt”