Oh well – remember the movie “Thelma and Louise”, when the girls wake up in the car somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by marvellous landscape ? This is where they’ve been – though I never understood how they managed to drive through the entrance gate in the middle of the night (looool).
Three gossips are for me the most funniest rock formation in Arches, as they really look like a bunch of old ladies, frozen in Entrada sandstone, sharing the newest gossip who came, who went along the main road of Arches NP :-).
Easily seen and photographed from the main road – however, you only get their back sight. Better make a stop on your way out of the park to see them really gossiping (last pic).
Heading further on, we come to the tailhead of Devils Garden. This is starting point for one of Arches NP's wonders - Landscape Arch. Leave your car at the big parking lot at the trailhead.
On the short hike to Landscape Arch, there are two other arches on the right (eastern) side - Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch.
Pine Tree Arch got it's name from the little pinon pine which decided to grow just in it's opening. Through the opening, you have a wonderful view to the northeast, La Sal Mountains in the very distance. Take your time, and step through the arch to see 2 fins just close by, which might also have been an arch in the past, who got worn away by erosion (pic 3 and 4).
Some 20 km north of the Visitor Center, the main road has a junction for the famous Delicate Arch (both view point and hiking trail). During both of my trips into Arches, I went on hiking, so turned off to the parking lot at Wolfe Ranch.
John Wesley Wolfe came to this land around 1898, to settle here for nearly 10 years. He was one of the first white settlers in this area. His log cabin seems to be well maintained by the park staff, I think, it’s even possible to peer inside.
Just off Wolfe Ranch, the trail to Delicate Arch starts and first leads over a little plank bridge.
If your condition allows it, hike to Delicate Arch – it is just spectacular ! I was in Arches twice, and also the second time, this hike was exciting as if I would do it for the first time. Maybe, as the weather is never the same, and each time I discovered something new on the trail.
The trail itself is rated as difficult by park government, I found it normal to moderate. Maybe they have rated it that way, as the first part leads over a slightly ascending plateau with no shade. So bring plenty of water – minimum 2 l (more in very hot summer), you’ll need it.
The trail is marked with stone piles (see pic), on the plateau you’ll spot them easily. The second half of the trail leads through a bit rough terrain, the path wiggeling around the pinon pines and junipers. Mostly, the ground is sandy, so it’s easy to follow the footsteps of the herds (just in case you’ll be there in the less crowded season).
For the first half, you’ll have the view of Delicate Arch in far distance, but when you leave the plateau, it vanishes. I always thought, I got lost (lool), as the trail seems to lead nowhere :-)
BUT – then suddenly, after you seem to have moved around endlessly through bushes and washes, you’ll see a huge wall on your right (south), with a tiny opening. Make sure, you climb up to the opening – this will be your first view to Delicate Arch, from a nice perspective – and behind in the very far distance, La Sal Mountains, snowcaped in winter.
To get an idea of the area, check this Terraserver view: Delicate Arch from the air: the arch is at “3 o’clock”, with the long shadow westward.
Coming from the visitor center, and drive around the big wall on your left, you will start to gasp in amazement of the view that opens up to you. Left hand side, you will see the famous Park Avenue, with it's gorgeous walls and rock formations.
Get off the car and do a small hike - either do the full trail or stroll just a bit inside to get closer to the rocks.
Even from here, at the southern entrance of this part called Park Avenue - as it resembles a city skyline, frozen in red rock - you will get the first impression of what Arches "is all about". You will see a small wash, flanked by huge sheer walls, and already some funny formations, which all got their special names.
On my first visit to Arches, we got off at the northern parking spot, and had a look down into Park Avenue - which was also very rewarding.
If you have some time, you should definitely stroll the 1,5 km (1 mile) through the wash, which leads through Park Avenue to end up at Courthouse Towers. It is well marked, the first part being paved by now (to be seen on one of the pics), slightly descending to the north. Plase take in mind that this is not a round trip, so you either need to hike back, or you need to have your car somehow parked at the Courthouse Tower parking area.
However, the hike is worth doing, as this is the only place in the park, where you are surrounded by these very high walls, which even tell you a bit on the geologic strata that are present in Arches NP, and make you feel very small in terms of height and age. Here, in Park Avenue, eternity did not yet carve as much as in the other parts, and so just have a close look on the walls and imagine that there will be arches in some more years (hundred thousand years, but… :-) )
You’ll come along the Courthouse Towers, you will see Sheep Rock, The Organ, Tower of Babel and much more fascinating formations which not yet have a name. Without a stop, the one way trip would take you 25-30 minutes – but count in more, as there is much to see.
Best done either in the morning or in the late afternoon, as it will be not as hot – take in account that the Park Avenue walls are running north-south, thus will provide a bit of shade in mornings and afternoons. Also, the play of light and shadow is much more exciting then.
Fascinating views of the hike can be seen on the Terraserver Aerial View - on the bottom of the picture, the tiny white dots are the cars at the southern parking lot, from where the path leads direction north. Just look at the big wall on the eastern side to get an idea of how it looks from the air :-)
On their website, Arches NP rates this hike as moderate, probably because it is not a round trip one. I found it quite easy, though.
Next, we'll pass the famous Balanced Rock, on the eastern side of the main road. A little parking lot animates to get off the car and walk around this fascinating formation on the half km round trip.
It looks as if the gods have just made a short break in playing football and have placed their ball on a pedestal. And although it seems as if the ball will topple down in the next second, it won't do it for a long time - as the strata are much different and thus undergo different speed in erosion. The "ball" has been formed out of Entrada slickrock sandstone, which is of finer grains and thus more packed together. Therefore, erosion will result in much more rounded forms. In contrary, Navajo sandstone, the pedestal, contains more thicker grains, which is eroded in much rougher manner. Both sandstones are separated by the even more eroded light pink soft layer of Dewey bridge bed.
Heading further north from Balanced Rock on the main road, we will pass the famous Fiery Furnace on our left (east). They are a dazzling labyrinth of Entrada sandstone fins, which form narrow canyons.
There are no marked trails in there, and if you want to explore them, better do it with the offered ranger tours. Otherwise, you might get lost. I never was hiking around in them, but plan it for the next trip.
To appreciate the amazing big Fiery Furnace, please check the Aerial view of Terraserver.
After the visit at Landscape arch, Devils Garden trail continues, however, a bit more difficult now. The trail is no longer broad and easy to hike, but leads up and down across some wild terrain. However - there are minimum 6 arches more to discover, and also the scenery is much more beautiful and magic. And it's definitely less crowded.
The most prominent trail leads direction north and passes along Navajo Arch, Partition Arch, Wall Arch up to Double-O-Arch, followed by a side trip to Dark Angel (not an arch, but a lonesome pinnacle). The trail back from Double-O-Arch is either on the same path, or through a primitive trail, to see Private Arch and the Fin Canyon , which will meet the main trail close to Landscape Arch.
We only went up to Navajo Arch, as with all the hikes before, it was already getting dark most of the time.
Pic 1, 2 and 3 show the "entrance" of the trail, just after Landscape Arch, pic 4 the beautiful endless view back to the east.
Additionally, I've attached a cutout from the hiking book - with the locations of the arches within Devils Garden:
3: Navajo Arch
4: Partition Arch
5: Wall Arch
6: Landscape Arch
7: Pine Tree Arch
8: Tunnel Arch
9: Tapestry Arch
10: Broken Arch
11: Sand Dune Arch
12: Skyline Arch
The whole trail from parking lot on is around 10 km, and will take minimum 5 hours, inlcuding all pictures and sightseeing.
Don't start the whole trail too late, as the north of Devils Garden is quite narrow (compared to the open land around Landscape Arch), and sunlight is missing for photography.
The first one to meet after Landscape Arch is Wall Arch. This must be how Landscape Arch has looked like aeons ago – carved out of a “cliff-wall”of slickrock Entrada sandstone.
On my pic you see why you shouldn’t do this hike too late – you just don’t get good shots anymore.
But - at least we had our nearly everpresent moon who added romantic atmosphere to the pic :-)
Update (April 2009):
sadly, Wall Arch collapsed in the night of August 4, 2008. That's what friends told me recently and that's what Arches NP website says:
Wall Arch collapsed
Another good example for “early Arches NP geology” is The Organ, just north of Park Avenue trail, on the eastern side of the main road.
It nicely shows how the rock strata had been grown and solid packed over the aeons, the horizontal cracks between the strata and the layers, which will widen up over the next aeons, to form the next generation arches :-)
As we already have been quite late, we only looked for Navajo Arch, which is close to Wall Arch. This arch is just in the “beginning phase”, carved out of a huge thick wall of Entrada sandstone – and it looks more like a tunnel. The bottom is of sand.
Again here, my pic cannot show the whole beauty, as it was too dark already for good shots.
For me, Delicate Arch is one of the most fascinating rock formations in Utah. Part of the fascination is the hike itself, and part is the setting of this lonesome arch out on this slickrock plateau.
This type of arch is called “abandoned natural arch”, due to a very isolated setting, here on the edge of a slickrock bowl. The arch is 10 m wide, and 14 m in height, with two different worn out pillars, the left (northeastern) one being already very slim at the joint between Entrada sandstone (the lower strata, which is eroded more round) and Curtis formation (the upper one, that looks more rough).
Depends when you are there, take some time to sit in that little opening in the wall and watch the scenery. Make sure, you have hiking boots with a good grip, as it is all slickrock here, and you might fall down into the bassin with a wrong move.
Check out pic no. 4 and 5, to get an idea of the steepness and the height.
Continue your hike from Pine Tree Arch, a little uphill, but still a good path, until you will see Landscape Arch on your left (western) side after some 15 minutes.
Landscape Arch has a span of nearly 100 m, and height of nearly 30 m, the most narrow part on the roght (northern) side is around 2 m. Erosion carved it out of slickrock Entrada sandstone, first as cliff-wall arch and over the aeons, it is now of free-standing arch type.
Nowadays it’s no longer possible get a closer look from it’s base, as there is a fence to protect it. In 1991 and 1995, rock slabs fell down (somewhere close to it’s most narrow part), so park management is concerned about how long Landscape Arch will hold the way it is now. However, geologists assume that this might even have given some more strength to Landscape Arch – but generally, it’s at the end of it’s life cycle as an arch.
We have been lucky in 1990 to get this shot – even more as with the blue sky and clear air, the moon was adding a very picturesque touch :-)
The hike to Landscape Arch is around 2,5 km round trip (from parking lot).
As Arches NP is spread out on quite a huge area, and the famous rock formations are not within a short reach, you will not be able to see all of them during only one day of visit. Some even require a longer hike to see their full beauty.
So I‘ll mark all sights in my tips in the heading, if they can be seen by just a short car stop or if you need to hike around.
It’s maybe best to decide beforehand, which landmarks you want to see and which trails you want to hike, plus some extra time, as the scenery is just too beautiful to rush through. Otherwise you end up like me in winter – being in Devils Garden at nearing sunset.
This is the only campground in Arches National Park. There are 52 site to choose from. Current...more