Monday, 9-June – Hiking in Arches National Park
Trip miles: 50 miles
Route taken: US-191 N → Park Road → US-191 S
Average Gas mileage: 27.5mpg
Weather: warm (58F) and calm in the morning, hot (95F) in the afternoon
Elevation: 4500ft - 5600ft
- hiking the Devil's Garden Primitive Loop
- hiking the short Broken Arch and Sand Arch trails
- picnicing with locals in the beautiful little town park in Moab
We were pleasantly surprised that it was cool enough last night to sleep under a sheet and to put on a long-sleeved shirt in the morning. But with another 90+F day forecasted we wanted to hike the Devil's Garden Trail as early as possible. The entrance gate to Arches was open but no one was there or at the Visitor Center collecting fees, so before 8:00 visitors enter for free (just like us with our Senior Pass). We were not the first car in the Devil's Garden parking area but we had our pick of spots at 7:30 in the morning. We really enjoyed the fantastic assortment of arches seen on this hike. In the cool morning it was not as difficult as its park rating. Scrambling up and across the slickrock sections was a lot of fun, although some hikers seemed to not understand how to follow the rock cairns and managed to lose the trail. Of course it doesn't help when previous hikers build little rock cairns on every rock. By the time we finished the hike at 11:15 there was not an open spot in the whole parking area and there were lines of people waiting to use the one pit toilet. Wow! This is a popular park!
There were no nice shady places to eat lunch at the trailhead so we gave up our parking spot hoping to find one at the picnic area .2 miles down the road near the campground entrance. On our second pass through we got a spot and a picnic table in the shade but there were still lines for the one pit toilet.
To avoid driving the 30-mile park road back to this northernmost section of the park again we wanted to hike the 1.6 mile (RT) Broken Arch Trail which starts from the Devil's Garden Campground (bonus: a modern bathroom with no lines!). This campground of 50 sites is fantastically situated among the red sandstone rocks of this area. Some of the sites have a gorgeous view looking out over the park and they are undoubtedly all less trafficked and noisy than the commercial campgrounds in nearby Moab, especially since the Park Service is now using solar power instead of generators for most of the campground's power requirements. However, the price for solitude is no shower facilities.
By 14:00 it was too hot for us to continue hiking. We drove back to the Visitor Center to see if any first-come-first-serve spots had opened up for the Fiery Furnace Ranger-led hike. No luck. Apparently reservations for this hike are scooped up at least 6 months in advance. Oh well...after seeing the trailhead and the rocks through which the 2-mile tour would be crawling it seemed as if the tour would have been similar to other canyon or rock scrambling hikes we had already done or might still get to do. Too bad though, it would have been fun.
After a refreshing shower we drove into Moab to buy dinner from the City Market Deli and Salad Bar. It was too hot to take the food back to our tent site so we were more than pleasantly surprised to find a shady picnic table near a lush green patch of grass in the local public park -- Swammy. It was very relaxing to watch local people doing normal things instead of being part of a chaotic throng of park tourists. Swammy Park has an associated Aquatic Center with an outdoor splashing area in which to cool off. There is also a small skateboard park (of course...it's Moab) and locals were playing T-ball on the grass with their youngsters. On Thursday evenings there is a local Farmer's Market in the park. It was a very enjoyable way to end our busy day.
Devil's Garden, including the Primitive Loop – The 7.2 mile distance(including spur trails), the rocky hiking surface, the heat and the 400 feet of elevation change scrambling up and down slickrock rate this as the longest and most strenuous of Arches' maintained trails, according to the Park website. There are spur trails along the loop which allow visitors to access 8 different arches, including Landscape Arch, the most famous one after a 60-foot long chunk of rock fell from the underside of the arch's thinnest section in 1991 while visitors were picnicking there. (They heard the cracking and moved in time to prevent fatalities.) Since shedding that 5-foot thick chunk it is only 11 feet thick, but Landscape Arch is considered to be the largest known and measured natural arch in the world, as measured by the widest horizontal distance inside the arch's opening – 306 feet. Since the collapse the trail stops well before the arch. The other arches, Pine Tree, Navajo, Tunnel, Double O, Partition and Private also have signs indicating the end of the trail stops well before each arch, although many visitors rudely think they have earned the special privilege of climbing right up to and often onto the rocks there. Dark Angel is not actually an arch but a huge monolith of stone -- what is left of what was once a fin. It was the least interesting of all sights on the trail, but apparently can be climbed if the proper permits are obtained.
Broken Arch Trail – This 1.3 mile out-and-back (RT) trail features a spur trail to Tapestry Arch. The loop to include Sand Dune Arch adds another .7 miles. The trail is quite flat but difficult because it is mostly a sandy surface across an unshaded meadow. The arch is not actually broken, but the apex has a noticeable crack through it. The 300 yd spur trail to the Tapestry Arch (not shown on trail map) offers a small bit of shade.
Sand Dune Arch Trail – This .3 mile (RT) out-and-back trail over deep sand is mostly shady and cool between fin formations -- a lovely place to play in the fine sand. The arch is not visible until the end of the trail. Even though the trail postings show that a portion of the trail had to be closed due to vandalism, some [bad] visitors still engage in off-trail activities near the arch.
About Arches National Park: This 73,000-acre area protects the largest concentration of natural stone formations – over 2000 of them – in the world. The fins, arches, pinnacles, balancing rocks, etc. of the 180-million-year-old red Entrada sandstone show how different types of erosion, working on this particular geological layer, have shaped the Colorado Plateau in ways that are unique from the canyons, hoodoos and peaks seen in other National Parks in the region. Because the park has an array of formations in various stages of erosion it is a good place to see their life cycle.
Arches is a very popular National Park and can be very crowded in the peak months and at the peak times of day. The more adventuresome visitors may want to consider visiting the most popular sights in the early morning, at sunset, or even at night. Many of the most beautiful photos we saw were of sunrises, moonrises and night skies viewed through an arch.
The precious potable water in this park, which only receives 8-10” of rain annually, comes from two very deep wells. Be sure to take advantage of the potable water sources located at only a few places, marked on the park map, along the Scenic Drive.
The 30-mile Scenic Drive winds its way northward through the park from 4085ft at the Visitor Center to about 5100ft at the Devil's Garden Trailhead. From the parking areas along the drive it is possible to see some of the features of this park, especially if binoculars are used. For the best views of the best formations some hiking is required.
Acknowledgement: There is an interesting and very informative description of the geology of Arches National Park at http://cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/geology/publications/bul/1393/sec10.htm. The author, S.W. Lohman, should be commended for the detail and descriptive photos in this report!