Welcome back to this edition of Traveling With Tom. This week I return to my series on national parks and monuments that I began in December. Last week I took a break the series to reflect on 2021. If you missed that post, click here to read.
Prior to the end of the year, I shared two articles on the Canyonlands National Park. One was from the Island in the Sky district and the other from the Needles district. The visit to these two districts were separated by one day. In between, we toured Arches National Park.
The drive from our lodging in Moab to the Arches National Park was less than ten minutes. Yes, it’s that close to the city!
After showing our Senior Pass as the entrance kiosk, we proceeded up the road about a half mile to the visitor center. The large parking lot was mostly empty except for some folks standing around a couple of vans waiting for their guided tour to begin.
At the center, we perused the educational displays located in the breezeway leading to the center entrance. We learned that Arches was designed a national monument in 1929 and upgraded to a national park in 1971. The park covers over 76,000 acres or 310 square miles and receives nearly two million visitors per year. There are over 2000 natural sandstone arches within the park boundaries, the highest concentration of arches in the world.
We chatted briefly with the park ranger stationed at a table outside the center. This was common at almost all national park visitor centers, they were trying to limit the number of people entering buildings due to Covid restrictions. The ranger gave us a few tips on hiking trails and reminded us to make sure we had a good supply of water. There isn’t any available in the park. We were then on our way.
Park Avenue and The Great Wall
The road into the park took us about a thousand feet up a steep hill complete with switchbacks to the top of the mesa. Immediately, we were in awe of the scenery and we hadn’t yet seen one arch! We stopped at nearly every viewpoint to take in scenery as well as the cool, fresh desert air and the sunny, cloudless sky. The road took us past Park Avenue, The Courthouse, Three Gossips (4th photo), and the Great Wall. We couldn’t get over the beautiful stratified red rock formations as we drove along.
Besides the many arches, Balanced Rock is one of the most popular stops in the park. I can attest this is true, if the number cars in the parking lot is any indication. We found one of the few remaining spots and took the 0.3 mile trail around this interesting formation. The rock balancing on top rises 55 feet above the base and weighs an estimated 3500 tons or 7 million pounds. Eventually, the weight of the balanced rock will overcome the softer base and collapse. After learning this, my Traveling Partner kept a wary eye on the rock, ready to run if it decided to crumble during our visit!
At our next stop at Panorama Point, I took photos of the La Sal Mountains some forty miles off to the east near the Colorado state line.
In the other direction, I took photos of the Salt Valley below. I’m grateful that the National Park Service provides the educational signs so we can learn more about the forces that created such unique beauty.
Down the road about a half mile, we turned onto the Wolfe Ranch/Delicate Arch Viewpoint Road. The Delicate Arch is the most popular destination in the park. Here’s why: the opening or window is 46 feet tall and 32 feet wide making it the tallest free-standing arch in the park; it’s known around the world through the many published photographs; it’s the symbol featured on the Utah license plates.
There are three ways to see Delicate Arch. One is by way of a difficult three-mile trail from the Wolfe Ranch that takes visitors to the arch. Hiking time is estimated at 2-3 hours roundtrip. The second way is by way of a half mile hike to the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint from the parking lot. This is a steep climb to the top of a rock formation to view Delicate Arch from a distance of at least a quarter mile. After examining this trail, we decided to view the iconic arch from the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint, no huffing and puffing up a steep hill! I took the photo below with my telephoto lens extended to the max. Note the number of people milling around the arch. It is a site to behold. If we had more time available, we’d have hiked the longer, more challenging trail from Wolfe Ranch.
After viewing Delicate Arch, we broke out the cooler for bit of lunch. Nearby a young fellow with a well-outfitted pickup camper was making his lunch. His Border Collie dog came over to greet us and maybe pick up some crumbs we may have dropped. We struck up a delightful conversation while the traveler played ball with the dog. He was from Las Vegas and making his way across country to North Carolina for Thanksgiving with his family. It was one of those memorable random meet ups that makes travel so interesting.
The parking lot at Wolfe Ranch was nearly full, we did snag one of the few remaining spots. The number of people surprised us, it was a Thursday in early November. We surmised that people were like us, trying to have a Covid safe experience in the great outdoors. John Wolfe, a Civil War veteran, settled in this area along the Salt Creek in 1898. At first, they lived in the rudimentary dugout cabin shown in the second photo below. When Wolfe’s daughter and family joined them, the log cabin was built. The family raised a few cattle on their acreage but by 1908, the whole family moved to nearby Moab. The ranch was sold and eventually became part of the national monument and park but preserved for historical purposes.
We walked part of the Wolfe Ranch trail before it began it’s ascent to Delicate Arch. Just off the trail were a series of petroglyphs left by members of the Ute tribe.
Fiery Furnace, Sand Dune Arch, and Skyline Arch
Our next stop was at the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint. There is a trail that winds through this feature. However, it does require a day-use permit in the event hikers get lost in this maze! We observed it from the viewpoint.
The Sand Dune Arch is hidden away near the north end of the Fiery Furnace. This arch comes with its own parking lot. We followed a well-worn path through the sage to the narrow opening between two rock walls. After a few hundred feet we came to the arch tuck in-between the surrounding sandstone rocks.
The Skyline Arch was at the end of a 0.2 mile trail through the sagebrush and a grove of pinyon trees. From the point we looked up at this arch, there was a huge pile of rock rubble in front of us. This was from the rock fall in 1940 that enlarged the arch. I think at this point, we stepped back a couple of feet in case it happened again!
Double Arch, The Windows, and Turret Arch
Our last stop in the park took us down a side road to the Garden of Eden, the Double Arch, and the Windows Section.
We first walked 0.25 miles over to the Double Arch. The closer we got the easier it was to see the two arches.
The Windows Arch path took us up an incline to the north window arch. At that point, we couldn’t see the south window, it was hidden behind the boulder on the right of the photo. As we walked over to the Turret Arch, I looked back and took the second photo. To me it looks like a pair of eyes glasses.
Across from the Windows is the Turret Arch, named for the large spire on the left, making it look like a castle.
This is a closeup of the Turret Arch. As I was waiting for some people to clear out so I could take a photo, my Traveling Partner and I stood in the shade of a large sandstone rock. There were two young women standing next to us, both with DSLR cameras. We struck up a conversation and learned they were wedding photographers from Little Rock, Arkansas. We chatted about photography and traveling during the pandemic. They were on a road trip during the lull from the wedding season. Another fun, unexpected exchange with two total strangers.
As we left Arches National Park, we vowed to return to spend more time and explore more of the remote sites. I should point out that Arches is experimenting with timed park entry from April through October 2022 to reduce congestion at the busiest times of the day. If you are planning a trip to this park, click here for more information.
Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway
On our way back into Moab, we realized that we had a little more daylight left so turned off on the Lower Colorado River Road Highway 279. I had read in Photographing the Southwest: A Guide to the National Landmarks of Southern Utah about petroglyphs and other points of interest along this road. After a couple of miles, we came across several groups of rock climbers practicing their hobby. We did stop and see the petroglyphs but I was more intrigued by the late afternoon light and the reflections on the Colorado River. To me it was a beautiful sight and well worth detour. I only wished we had more time.
That does it for this week. Joint me next week for a look at Bears Ears and Natural Bridges National Monuments.
Until then, happy virtual travels!