Arches National Park – Day 1

We had such a great time in Utah last year, that we decided to go back again for this year’s Spring Break. Wanting to see some different areas, we traveled to the southeastern side of the state to the little town of Moab.

Arches National Park
Park Avenue Viewpoint

After two days of driving Highway 50 through the solitude of Nevada and Utah, we arrived in Moab on a Friday afternoon. Highway 191 through town was full of outdoor enthusiasts of all persuasions. Filling the road were gigantic RVs, Jeeps, Harleys, pickup trucks loaded with dirt bikes, and cars with bicycles on the roof. The sidewalks and businesses were abuzz with people, each person wearing the uniform of their sport. Hotels and campgrounds were full to capacity, everyone here to enjoy the unique adventures that this area has to offer.

Arches National Park
Park Avenue

Our first destination for this trip was Arches National Park. It was by far the busiest of the parks we visited on our trip, and for good reason. Not only is it a beautiful place, but the park entrance is only a mile out of town, and the trails of the park are accessible to the masses.

Arches National Park
Park Avenue

We entered the park mid Saturday morning. The visitor center is right off the highway, but we voted to pass it on by. After 2 days of driving, we were eager to get our boots on the trail. The park road makes a few switchbacks up the canyon, then quickly arrives at the trailhead for Park Avenue. There’s a viewpoint right at the parking lot that is spectacular.

Arches National Park
Park Avenue

The best way to see Park Avenue, though, is to walk it. A trail leads down from the viewpoint, and rejoins the park road about a mile down. It can be shuttled or just walked out and back. Having only one vehicle, we just walked nearly to the end and back for a great way to start the day. And as many people as we saw at the parking lot, it was surprising that we saw very few down in the canyon.

Arches National Park
Petrified Sand Dunes and La Sal Mountains

After hiking Park Avenue, we drove further north into the park, passing many named rock formations, The Great Wall, and petrified sand dunes. Off to the southeast, the snow-capped La Sal mountains could be seen, creating another beautiful and different layer to the landscape.

Arches National Park
Balanced Rock

Our next stop was for a quick hike around Balanced Rock. According to Wikipedia, the total height of Balanced Rock is about 128 feet, with the balancing rock rising 55 feet above the base. The big rock on top is the size of three school buses.

Arches National Park
Double Arch

Just past Balanced Rock is the turnoff to several attractions. We grabbed the last parking spot at the end of the loop. On this busy Spring Break weekend, we seemed to be always getting the last spot. From here we had access to Double Arch, North and South Window, and the Turret Arch, all just a short hike from the trailhead.

Arches National Park
View from Double Arch

We climbed up into Double Arch at the end of the trail. To look out the second arch, you must climb up a final steep slope to a little ledge. Before going up, I waited for a group of people to come down, noticing that they were having some difficulty. Nearby high up, another man scrambled around the rocks, slowly picking his way across.

Arches National Park
View from North Window

Once we had the arch to ourselves, I followed my son up the rocks. We quickly climbed up the sandstone face, using the cracks and bumps for foot and hand holds. After checking out the view, we started to come down. Of course my son went down quickly, but I had a few false starts, unsure of where to go. I understood now why the people before us were having so much difficulty. One of the cautions I’ve read about this area, is that people get themselves into trouble climbing the slickrock. Thanks to the design of our bodies and the effects of gravity, climbing up is fairly easy, but coming down can present a big challenge. I could see this clearly now, and was glad I was only a few feet up. I tried a few routes, then finally made it down, a little embarrassed that I got my self temporarily stuck in an easy situation.

Arches National Park
South Window

Before heading off to see the other arches, we enjoyed a view of the land from the shade. I also noticed that the guy above us was still scrambling around the rocks. I began to wonder if he was also stuck. He wasn’t asking for help though, and there was plenty of daylight left. We left him to his climb.

Arches National Park
Turret Arch

A visit to Arches National Park isn’t complete without viewing Delicate Arch. Delicate Arch is a 65-foot tall freestanding natural arch. Standing all by itself, it’s a unique formation in the park. It is the most widely-recognized landmark in Arches National Park, is depicted on Utah license plates, and its likeness is found on a myriad of t-shirts, trinkets, and souvenirs.

Arches National Park
Delicate Arch

There are two ways to view Delicate Arch. There is a longer trail that takes you all the way up to the arch, and there is a shorter trail that lets you view the arch from lower across the canyon. In the interest if time, we picked the short route. It doesn’t get you up close and personal, but the trail is fun, and it does provide a full view. I was glad to have a decent zoom lens on my camera for sure though.

Arches National Park
Fiery Furnace

Before heading back to Moab for the night, we stopped off at the Fiery Furnace view point. The Fiery Furnace looks like it would be fun to explore with its labyrinth like layout, but unfortunately, access is only permitted by a ranger led tour. There was still much to explore in the northern end of the park, but we were ready to head back. The Devils Garden would have to wait until later in the week…

More photos from this day can be seen on Flickr.

Learn more about Arches National Park on the official NPS website.

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