A few short miles from the town of Moab, Utah, on a bright sunny day with deep blue sky, we pulled up to the entrance station of Arches National Park. The rich, red color reflected the afternoon sun off of a cliff, with a road that went to the top of the cliff before it disappeared behind a bend. We could not contain our anticipation of what’s to come.
Red Park Avenue
The car strained a bit as we drove up the side of the cliff, the buildings and cars below became little dots and the vista expanded. It felt like we went up a long uphill ramp of a roller coaster, with the roar of the engine instead of the click-clacking sound of a coaster chain. When we reached the top and came around the bend, we were greeted with tall red sandstone formation aptly named Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers. A short walk got us in the middle of tall rocks soaring some 600 feet into the air with names like The Gossip, The Courthouse Towers, and The Organ. Are these formations taller than the buildings on Park Avenue? Officially, no, because the tallest building on Park Avenue in New York is an ugly skinny looking building more than 1300 feet tall, but these formations are much grander and beautiful. These rocks burned with fury, stoked by the afternoon sun. This was the opening act of Arches, full of color and dominance.
Hanging in the Balance
Balanced Rock made me wonder if this was God suspending the laws of physics. There was the usual geological explanation on how the formation happened but that’s not what I focused on. Intellectually I knew this hasn’t moved for thousands of years, but we couldn’t help but wonder if it will tip over in the next hour. A short hike took us up close and personal to the rock. We walked all the way around the rock. The different vantage points, with different lighting and shadow from the sun, gave dramatically different shades and feelings. I really liked the view when the sun is directly behind the rock, which created a silhouette that appeared to have a ring of fire from the side of the rock.
When will it fall down?
The Delicate Arch overlook trail took us to a viewpoint with the much photographed and impossible looking arch in the distance. To get closer required a moderate hike but we chose to admire it from a distance. How does nature do this? How can this not be man made? Did the St. Louis Arch get its inspiration from the Delicate Arch? The arch looked fragile. It stood alone. Would a strong gust of wind blow it down? It’s been there far longer than people have been around.
We went on a couple of good hikes in the Windows and the Double Arch area. These were relatively short hikes that were very satisfying. One path led us past the rock formation that looked like several elephants following each other like a circus, before we reached two arches back to back. We got to the bottom of the arch and looked up felt the enormous scale of the arches. We are tiny creatures in the scale of these rocks.
Window to the World
The other path from the same parking area took us to several “holes in the wall” that looked like giant windows of a house. The red rock framed the deep blue sky that created the perfect color combination and a feeling of depth. We sat in front of the North Window, refreshed ourselves with water, banana, and nuts as we soaked in the beauty that is beyond description in words and photos. Although we waited patiently on a not-so-crowded day for the people to disperse in order to take a photo without people, the stream of people kept coming and I gave up. Strangely, even with the people around, the space still felt wide open and uncrowded as the blue sky through the window mesmerized me and forgot about the people around me.
The landscape Arch greeted us after a short hike. This looked more like a bridge than an arch. The “bridge” that spanned 308 feet looked so thin it could collapse just by walking on it. In fact, there was a trail that went above and under this arch until 180 tons of rocks fell in 1991 with a thundering crack. Fortunately, people heard the crack and evacuated before the rocks fell. The dilemma for the Park Service: Should they reopen the trail after 26 years of stability? Safety or enjoyment? I advocate reopening the trail with a stern warning to explore at your own risk. Which side are you on?
Time to Reflect
The arches invited me to spend time just to observe and reflect. I thought about the larger picture, the larger context. The right mix of rock density at the right location had to be in place before the process of erosion over millions of years created these beautiful and improbable formations. Were these really just random events or were they planned by God to play out over millions of years? Human time scale measured in decades and centuries are inconsequential compared with nature’s time scaled measured in millions of years. What does that all mean? I concluded nothing man made can compare with the beauty of nature.
Thought for Arches:
Variety leads to the unique, just like the variety of rock density forms the base to create the uniquely beautiful arches. Build variety in your life to create beautiful results.
Impressions of Arches:
Arches National Park has one of the highest enjoyment factors of the National Parks. The beauty is up close, and personal. The park is compact where excellent trails lead to rewarding scenes that are close to the arch for a close look. Some even pass right through the arch. The scenic reward is well worth the effort expended on the hike.
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Practical Info for Visiting Arches:
- This park can be visited in one long day, or a couple of shorter days.
- Arches Scenic Drive is 17.7 miles from the entrance gate to Devils Campground. There are two spurs. Delicate Arch viewpoint is a 2.2 mile spur and Windows section spur is 2.5 miles. This park is compact and you won’t spend a lot of time driving.
- Start early. The entrance station can get backed up by mid-morning.
- The park gets very crowded March to October, avoid if you can. Summer can get very hot. Visit after 3pm for cooler temperatures and better light, especially for photography. See traffic tips page
- Drive all the way to the Devil’s Garden and Delicate Arch areas to hike the trails first. Then take the Windows section spur and hike Double Arch and Windows trails. After that, walk the Park Avenue trail in the afternoon sun with the rich red rocks.
- Take as many hikes as you can. The view from the car is nice but the real beauty require hikes. Most of the hikes are short and has great reward to effort ratio.
- Our favorite hikes, in order, are
- Windows loop
- Landscape Arch
- Double Arch
- Delicate Arch Viewpoint (the Delicate Arch trail is probably even better, but we did not hike that trail)
- Park Avenue
- Broken Arch / Sand Dune Arch loop
- The town of Moab is the gateway to both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, with excellent services.
- Bring ample supply of water. This is desert climate and you will need water to say hydrated. Water is available at the visitor center.
- Pack lunch and snacks. Relaxing by an arch with some food surrounded by beauty is highly enjoyable. Be sure to pack out everything. Do not leave anything behind except your foot prints.
- Size: 76,519 acres, ranked 42
- Visitors: 1,585,718 in 2016, ranked 15th. Arches has set a visitation record each year since 2004.
- Peak Month in 2016: 201,718 in May
- Low Month in 2016: 20,311 in January
- Entrance Fee: $25 per vehicle or $10 per person.
Date Visited: October 16 and 18, 2016