One of the awesome things about Moab is that it’s 15 minutes from Arches National Park. Making good use of the yearly park pass, an early start into Arches meant that the crowds were smaller than they’d be at 11 am or noon…just barely.
By now, I’d hiked through five national parks (I was a veritable expert), and realized the trail difficulty indicators were a bit inflated, much like Yale grades. I figured while the distance estimates were accurate, because the “difficult” trails were not so bad, I’d be fine. FINE, I tell you.
Staring at the map, I read the descriptions of the trails, and stared at the map:
My route would be to drive to all the viewpoints at the south of the map, head to Delicate Arch, the super famous one (3 miles). Then back in the car and Devil’s Garden – hike up the right side of the loop, out to Dark Angel, and hit all the arches on the way back (7.2 miles). If I still had any strength left, on the way out, I’d drive to the Broken Arch trailhead and hike that (3 miles), and then and hike the Windows/Turret Arch and Double Arch (1.5 miles). I realize this sounds like a lot of hiking – nearly 15 miles – but I figured I’d find out just what I was made of.
Arches are…well, arches. So I’ll give you the highlights.
Delicate Arch was…well, anything but delicate. Sure, it’s thinner at the top, being worn away by sands, rain, and WIND, especially, but it’s gigantic. On one side, there’s a giant arch, and on the other, a massive canyon. You have the best of both worlds.
The Devil’s Garden trail was long. Really long. But there were parts that were more or less flat, albeit narrow, and this is where I saw most of the awesome stuff in this park. Flowers, little caves, places to sit and take in some shade…also, when you are hiking and you’re sort of keeping pace with another person or two (in my case, a couple in their early 50’s), it’s helpful to share information and lend a helping hand.
Along the way, there was a nearly vertical wall (seriously, it was like a 75* angle!), and while normally it’d be fine, a) if you fell, you’d fall into a gross muddy pool of water, and b) my shoulders are notorious for dislocating, so I can’t hang or be held by my arms. Had I felt more confident, I could have perhaps run across it, but I was not feeling very Usain Bolt-ish, and so I decided to try and scramble over. It took a little while, and some other travelers turned back, but I made it, and was wickedly delighted with myself.
Needless to say, with a VERY helping hand, lots of water, and some granola bars, I made it all the way around the trail. 7.2 miles is a lot, but add in elevation changes, crazy wind, and beating sun. I am pretty sure I drank well over 100 oz of water in just those few hours. It started to cool off towards the end, as rainstorms were moving in, but I was still super excited.
The Turret Arch was really something, and the rain was moving in fast, but it was worth stopping to take a look. Even the walk back to the parking lot is really something to behold. Of course, it’s always a bit better when the temperature doesn’t drop 25 degrees in an hour, but I couldn’t stage better clouds.
While Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Canyonlands were spectacular, I think Arches was my favorite park. Maybe it’s because I hiked so much more than I thought I ever could. I learned with a bit of resilience, a little help, and some confidence, I can go so much further than I expected. Maybe it’s because I felt like this park was jam-packed with so much more around every turn. Or perhaps because it was the fourth (and last) park in Utah, and the last planned stop on my trip, I was ultimately more comfortable with the whole thing. I couldn’t tell you – but what I can tell you is that I am itching to go back. There is SO much I missed, so much more to explore, and so much more to discover about myself.