One of the prettiest and easily accessible arches is TURRET ARCH in the Windows Section of the Park. Hans and I parked the Van in the large parking area and then proceeded to walk up the steps to the Arch. Lots of delicate shrubbery, so please stay on the designated trail. Lots of photo opportunities, especially shooting through one of the dead juniper trees to frame your picture. Do watch your step though, as the loose gravel is slippery. I just about fell, when I lost my footing.
This is one of the more popular Arches, because it is so accessible and not a far walk. Lots of families with children were making their way up to the Arch.
Favorite thing: There is a surprising variety of VEGETATION IN ARCHES. Pinon and Utah Juniper trees provide a splash of green, in contrast to the red surroundings. Cacti and yuccas thrive throughout the Park. Other plants such as wildflowers, grasses and mosses come to life from April to July, with the right conditions.
Located in the Devils Garden Section of Arches, SKYLINE ARCH has a span of 69 feet and is 45 feet high, making it one of the most impressive of the arches.
It is an easy hike to the Arch and is popular with families as it is a great place to experience an Arch up close. I would also imagine it would be a wonderful spot for photographing a sunset photo.
Like many of the sights in Utah, Arches National Park owes its existence to the work on nature on rock, in this case the sandstone of the Entrada Formation. Water (in the form of ice and rain) and wind have eroded the sandstone into these amazing formations over millions of years. The park today contains the world's largest concentration of natural stone arches – there are over 2,000 catalogued arches, which range in size from a three-foot opening (the minimum considered to be an arch), to Landscape Arch which measures 306 feet from base to base. To be considered an arch there must be a clear hole in the rock, at least three feet across and completely formed by natural forces. The hole has to have been caused by the selective removal of rock by any natural force (whereas in the case of a natural bridge, such as Rainbow Bridge near Lake Powell, it has to have been caused by flowing water).
The Entrada Formation sits on a large salt bed, deposited here 300 million years ago by a long-since dried-up ocean. Over time the salt bed liquefied under pressure from the layers of rocks above it, shifted and tilted those some rocks. The rocks fractured, forming long, parallel cracks, covering many square miles of rock. Over time, water seeped into the cracks and ice formed in the fissures, expanding and cracking the surrounding rock, breaking off bits and pieces. A series of free-standing fins remained, which were attacked by wind and water until, in some, softer rocks gave way and chunks tumbled out. This caused many to collapse, but others, with the right degree of hardness and balance, survived despite their missing sections to become the famous arches.
And of course, just as the arches have formed slowly over time, so time continues to pass and the arches to erode. Since 1970, forty-three arches have toppled because of further erosion. You can read about the collapse of Wall Arch in 2008 on the National Park Service website, from where (with permission) I borrowed these two “before and after” photos.
Favorite thing: The entrance fee to get into Arches National Park is ten dollars per vehicle payable at the entrance station about a quarter mile from the highway on the main park road. In December of 2003 the main pay station was being reconstructed and all traffic was diverted to the visitors center where payment could be made inside. Several park passes are also available - a Southwest Utah Annual Park pass is available for 25 dollars. A National Park pass is 50 dollars and gets you into any National Park or Monument for one year at no additional cost (camping and tours excluded).
Favorite thing: Situated in the Courthouse Towers area, THE THREE GOSSIPS is one of the first formations you will come across. It will be on your left ( West) side of the main drive. The red sandstone megaliths look like three people whispering among themselves. It was one of my favourite rock formations.
Fondest memory: The visitor center is at the beginning of the park and the Devil's Garden Campground is 18 miles away at the end of the park's road. It is a very scenic 18 miles and could take hours to complete with stops and small walks but this was no time for sight-seeing. We sped off to get the best spot we could. I had been to the park previously but it was hard for even me to not pull over to appreciate the stunning beauty. My wife was overwhelmed but understood the importance of getting our spot quickly. It was only 8:30 AM when we arrived and with many of the people leaving still enjoying their spots, not all of them were truly available to be set up in at that precise moment. Luckily, the park puts a little smiley face on the campsite post, letting the incoming campers know which ones they will be able to choose from. We made a quick survey of them and narrowed it down to two that were close together. One was empty but the one we really wanted still had two girls who obviously did not want to leave taking their good old time breaking down. It was also obvious that we were waiting for the spot and we began to dislike them in their cruelty. Finally, they were gone and we pounced on the prime real estate like ravenous cats awaiting a meal of sardines. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
It might not have been the greatest camping spot we ever had but it had served us well. As hot as it was the previous afternoon, we managed to find some shade after inhaling half of a watermelon to fend off dehydration which promptly put us into full nap mode. Later, after a glorious sunset overlooking the huge chasm that defines Canyonlands National Park, we got into our sleeping bags early anticipating an uncivilized wake-up call the next morning.
As hot as it had been the day before, early the next morning it was very comfortably chilly. Getting out of our bags was a laborious but necessary evil. We were off to secure a spot at Arches National Park's highly coveted campground. We had failed in this department the previous day and hence our current predicament.
Our run of six weeks straight of camping came in handy; we broke down our tent in a matter of minutes and were soon speeding our way to Arches, some thirty miles and forty-five minutes away on a narrow twisting road in the dark. Arriving at 4:45 am we figured we were a shoe-in to be first in line but were surprised to find another couple huddled up on a lone bench at the entrance to the visitor center. We made acquaintance. The Swiss duo had arrived at 4:00 am determined to not only be first but also to secure a spot if only one was available. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
The Devil's Garden campground is the only one at Arches National Park and with only 52 spots you can imagine its popularity. Of that number, 28 can be reserved while the remaining 24 are first come, first served. There is a maximum stay of 7 days to help free some of them up but obviously on any given day there might not be any available for walk-ins. Those camping have to notify the park whether they are going to need the spot the following night by noon. In theory, you should be able to find out how many spots there will be the following day. What you have no idea of is just how many people want those spots and how early some of them are willing to arrive to attain them.
We had just found out that another couple was willing to arrive at 4:00 AM and we thought we were crazy waking up 3:45 AM to break down our tent! The visitor center doesn't begin dishing out what spots there are until 7:30 AM and by that time the line was wrapping around the building. A park ranger arrived promptly at the designated time and counted the number of groups waiting. There were over 50 of them and he explained there were only 7 spots opening up that morning. A huge groan emanated from the line's rear, fully knowing they would not be camping at the Devil's Garden that evening. Being in the two spot, we knew we were in and breathed a sigh of relief. We rejoiced with our now Swiss friends. We had got to know each other well in the three hours we had been waiting. They were on a shorter trip than we were but were also driving around the US. They could not afford to wait another day which explained why they came so early, not wanting to leave anything to chance. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
It was a huge plot of land. The park service says each spot can accommodate 10 people and it was no exaggeration. We decided to put the tent up high on a sandy dune even though it was far from our parking spot. What's paradise without a little effort? Set right amongst the red rock that defines Arches, it was not only gorgeous but it would provide some shade. We would find out this latter point was more important than scenic beauty in the end. The picnic table was conveniently closer to the car and we decided what better thing to do in our first hours at the spot than have a hearty breakfast.
We then went and paid the campground host for two nights. He explained we could extend it up to one week but had to let him know by 11:00 AM of each day what our intentions were the following day. We spent the next days getting up before the sun, rushing over to vantage points to capture the various arches in perfect light. Often those spots were short walks, other times longer hikes begun in twilight. We did the same thing again just before sunset, scurrying around madly to get the perfect photos. It probably sounds hectic and it was but at the time it was a wonderful thing too. We felt so alive and energized as if part of the desert around us. Deer and jack rabbits scampered by our tent each morning to help us out of our sleeping bags. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
We did have lots of time to rest too but it was the midday hours from 9:30 AM-5:00 PM. It was typical for us to be coming off a hike that we had to ourselves at a time when most people were just arriving. We would eat something small in the car on the way over to the hike and carry a small snack for out at one of the arches. When we got back to our campsite at 9:30 AM we would cook up a nice breakfast and enjoy a coffee in the shade of our red rock paradise. People heading off to hike probably thought we were lazy, wasting the best part of the day, but we knew the best part of the day was already over. Not that the breakfast hour was exactly bad. We learned to love these times, moving every half hour with the sun to find more shade in our expansive spot. There were also visits to nearby Moab to do laundry, pick up food supplies, grab a shower and visit the local brewpub. But come the approach of sunset and we were back in the car speeding our way back into the park to enjoy the magnificent glow of the red rock arches.
We wound up extending our stay three more nights for a total of five. It would have been easy to stay seven but we'd done pretty much every hike in the park, many twice and with June now upon us, the desert grew increasingly hot with each passing day. There were other parks to visit and ocean breezes in California, Oregon, and Washington calling. On our last day, we made a big breakfast. We sat and enjoyed a coffee in what was our favorite camping spot on the whole six-month trip around the United States. Just like our predecessors, we didn't want to leave. We just hoped the people waiting for our spot not only didn't hate us too much for lingering around but would enjoy it every bit as much as we did.
The park is divided into several sections. You can see many of the arches from your car or from the various overlooks and parking lots, and a full tour with brief stops at many of these is likely to take about half a day – more if you want to do a few short walks. There are parking places lots of the features and you are asked to use these rather than damage the soil and plant-life by parking anywhere other than these designated spots.
However, it only needs a little more effort to get a bit closer. The Windows section makes an ideal focus for your visit if you have limited time and want to see as much as possible – this is where we spent much of our one day in the park. There are easy walks from parking areas to several of the park’s most notable features, including the Windows Arches, Turret Arch and Double Arch. All of these can be seen on an easy one mile round walk from the Windows trailhead. The road to this trailhead passes another well-known formation – not an arch this time but a “Parade of Elephants” – or rather (of course) a rock formation thought to resemble such a parade! We also stopped at nearby Balanced Rock to do the short trail around its base.
Further along the main park road is the turn-off for Wolfe Ranch and the Delicate Arch viewpoint. The trail to the latter is a short fairly easy one, but to reach the arch itself (as opposed to the viewpoint) involves a much longer and more strenuous hike from Wolfe Ranch. Unusually my pre-holiday planning and research appears to have let us down on this occasion as we managed to visit Arches National Park without ever seeing its most famous symbol, Delicate Arch.
The other main section that is easy to visit and attracts plenty of visitors is the so-called Devil’s Garden at the end of the park road, with an easy trail to Landscape Arch and a longer more strenuous one that will take you on a loop past several more arches, massive sandstone fins and other scenic features. Unfortunately we ran out of time to do this area justice, but hopefully one day will return.
When we do I will also make a point of seeing the Fiery Furnace section in the centre of the park. The recommended way to visit this is on a ranger-led hike, as the number of formations and fins gathered here can make navigation confusing.
Finally, back near the entrance is the Courthouse Towers and Park Avenue section, the two parking lots linked by a one mile trail. This is the place to see some great rock towers and fins, including the distinctive Three Gossips formation.
Arches has some great places to watch the sunset. I always take the time to watch sunset when possible. I have found several good places to watch the sunset.
If you are in Devils Garden campground, sunset is difficult to watch because you are surrounded by sandstone spires and fins. To get around this and not have to drive from the area, walk over to Skyline Arch. You can access this from the Ranger amphitheater area, walking straight back. There is some negotiating to descend a rock wall but there is a log you can climb down and a smaller obstacle to get up into the arch. Be aware that you have to do this in reverse, by headlamp when the sun is down.
If you are driving into the park nearing sunset, drive down the road toward the "Windows and Turret Arches. You will find some excellent view points along the road here.
Fondest memory: You definitely have to wait well after the sun is down past the horizon. The great colors will come out up to 15 minutes later.
Favorite thing: I always take the time to watch the sunrise in Arches. Fortunately, Devils Garden campground is perfectly situated do observe the sun come up from a far away horizon. This most recent trip had one particularly beautiful and interesting sunrise. A beam of light was shooting up wider than normal. The photo is just a point and shoot. It is exactly how it looked. Very special.
Favorite thing: Hike the 1.5 mile one-way trail to Delicate Arch and be there as the sun sets. This is a sight you will never forget!! The sun sets the rock of Delicate Arch ablaze in bright reds and oranges! It is so beautiful! By the way, you won't be able to get near the arch at this time or an angry mob of photographers will push you over the edge of the cliff!! ;-)