Arches National Park

We drove from Western Colorado back into Eastern Utah. We had talked to a guy in the campground who recommended a scenic drive to Moab that follows the Colorado River, Route 128. We drove down into a canyon next to the river, and passed rafters, stand-up paddle boarders, and campgrounds along the way. We could see the snow-capped La Sal Mountains in the distance. It was beautiful!

When we got to Moab, we looked for a spot to boondock. We found a couple of empty spots. One was more remote and had no cell service, the other was on a hill and had cell service but was smaller and a bit trickier to get into. I had to talk Brian into the spot with cell service. I can forgo a lot of amenities, but I have limits.

One day as we were leaving the trailer we saw a small plane overhead, and then watched as three people jumped out of it! There is a small airport near where we are camping that I think is mainly used for skydiving and sightseeing planes. It was fun to see people jump out of planes and parachute to earth, but I wouldn’t want to do it!

Moab is a cute town that attracts outdoorsy visitors that come to mountain bike or ride ATVs and Jeeps in the area. There are also two National Parks nearby, Arches and Canyonlands. We decided to explore Arches National Park first.

Arches National Park has the highest concentration of sandstone arches anywhere, there are 2,000 arches in the park. In order to be classified as an arch, the opening must be at least 3 feet and you have to be able to see daylight through it. The most spectacular arches are named on the map, with Delicate Arch as the most popular. It is the arch on the Utah license plate!

We were immediately surprised at how crowded the park is! There are about 1.5 million visitors each year, and it isn’t that big of a park. It has one main road with one entrance, and each time we entered we waited in a pretty long line of cars. The park currently has some road construction, so it is closed at night, and open from 7 am to 7 pm only, and the Devil’s Garden area in the north end of the park is not accessible. We were a little disappointed that we couldn’t see this area, which includes the longest arch in the park, Landscape Arch. There was still plenty to see and do though.

There is an unpaved road that enters the park from the northwest and leads to a 3.5 mile round-trip hike called Tower Arch Trail. A ranger recommended this hike and said that it wouldn’t be crowded, as most people don’t visit this area of the park. The trail was marked by cairns (piled up rocks), and if it wasn’t, we never would’ve guessed it was a trail. It went up and over a rocky hill, across some sand dunes, wound around, and ended up at Tower Arch. This hike was so beautiful. We spent about an hour just sitting at the arch, and we only encountered about 8 people during our hike. It was nice to get away from the crowds in the rest of the park. We are really happy that other people have similar interests and want to visit our amazing National Parks, but nature feels more naturey when there aren’t as many people enjoying it near us.

There are viewpoints to view Delicate Arch from afar, but to get close there is a 3 mile roundtrip hike up a slickrock hill and across a ledge. We wanted to do the hike, but expected it to be very crowded as it is the most iconic spot in the park. We woke up early, and planned to get to the park as soon as it opened at 7 and do the hike first thing. We were not the only ones that had this idea! We got to the park at 6:57 am, and it wasn’t open, so we pulled off the road into a pull-off where other cars were also waiting. We got into line at the park entrance at 7:00 am exactly, and we were behind about 20 other cars. When we got to the parking lot for the Delicate Arch trailhead, we were the 10th car in the parking lot, but by the time we got our packs ready and hit the trail there were at least 25 cars. We hiked faster than usual, but when I stopped to take off my jacket, about 10 hikers passed us. There were a lot of people hiking to the arch! It ended up not being a problem to be there with the crowd, and I think it was good that we went early. Everyone wanted to take pictures of the arch, and people also wanted to pose underneath it, but people were respectful about taking turns and not getting into other people’s pictures. The hike back was much more enjoyable, as we weren’t in a hurry anymore, and it was downhill!

There is an area of the park called Fiery Furnace that requires a ranger-led hike or a permit. Since it is very easy to get lost in this area, and trails aren’t marked well, we opted for the ranger-led hike. On Sunday when we visited the visitor’s center, we bought tickets for the next available hike, which was Wednesday afternoon. When Wednesday came around, a cold front had come through and it was rainy and in the 40s! We showed up for our hike, but 8 of the 14 people that signed up didn’t show! So, we had a small group, and the ranger led us through the Fiery Furnace area. There were sandstone fins and arches (including Skull Arch and Surprise Arch – the person that discovers the arch gets to name it, but not after themselves). The fun part of the hike was that there was a bit of rock crawling involved, and at times we had to squeeze through tight spaces. It was a little slippery because of the rain. I think the ranger went a little fast, since the terrain was rocky and uneven, there wasn’t always time to look up and enjoy the beautiful views. It was a fun hike though, and I’m really glad we got to explore this area.

One reason that access is limited is to protect the crypto-crust. The soil is covered in a living crust made up of algae, lichen, moss, and bacteria. It prevents erosion and plays an important role in the ecosystem. It also takes years to grow, and is very vulnerable to footsteps, which can destroy it permanently. There are signs in the park saying “Don’t Bust the Crust!” which means to stay on trails.

We saw the other arches that didn’t involve much hiking, which include Double Arch, the Windows, Sand Dune Arch, and Broken Arch. It was interesting to see the arches, since they don’t seem like something that should occur naturally.

We went into Moab and stopped in the shops along Main Street. There were many cute things, but we aren’t really in the market to buy cute things these days. We stopped into Moab Brewery to try their beers. Drinking in Utah is weird! They have the strictest alcohol laws in the nation. We had heard that all beer sold in grocery stores is 4% alcohol by volume or less (“heavy beer” has to be bought at state liquor stores), but we weren’t aware of all the rules. Apparently they aren’t allowed to serve flights of beer because there is a law saying you can’t have more than 2 drinks at a time. This really irritated me because, 1) I like flights, and 2) I’m an adult and should be able to determine how many drinks to have at a time. We visited the state liquor store too, and they sell “heavy beers” as single bottles, or as 6 packs, but there is no price difference/discount for buying 6. We found some good restaurants in Moab, but I wouldn’t recommend visiting for the bar scene!

Day 231 | Mile 22,917

 

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