Cairns, those little pyramids of piled stones along the trails, are there for two reasons:
A. To keep you from getting lost and/or away from dangerous or unstable places
B. To keep you off cryptobiotic crust
"Cryptobiotic" means "hidden life" and these lumpy, living colonies of microorganisms, algae, lichen and whatnot help keep the desert surface from washing or blowing away, and give plant life a fertile, friendly place to germinate and flourish. It's very fragile and some types take many, many years to form. Step on it and you've just wiped out 10 - 100 years of growth. It usually looks like a bumpy black fungus covering large or small areas of ground but some kinds are difficult to recognize or are just starting to form.
So please, please help keep the desert healthy and beautiful and don't hike, bike or 4-wheel off clearly indicated trails, paths or roads.
Most of the trails at Arches are pretty flat but some of the more strenuous involve long drop-offs. The evening we were up at Delicate Arch, some clueless adults let their young children run wild on the steeply sloping slickrock and nearly gave those of us who knew what lay on the other side of that arch a coronary.
Those drop-offs make for great photos but lousy trips to the trauma room - if you survive the fall. Keep a tight rein on your young folks and do not take them to the upper reaches at all if they're prone to spontaneous acts of daredevilry.
At sunset on a clear day, scores of shutterbugs make their way up to Delicate Arch for the "money shot." And they mean business. They want that to-die-for snap of Utah's state symbol glowing red in the dying rays. They do NOT want a photo with you in it. Some unfortunate individuals who failed to understand that fact were given the message loud and clear.
So if you MUST have your picture taken under the arch, make your trek up before the sun starts down. Get in the way of all those expensive lenses and their owners may get a rope.
I should mention that this is true of many of the park's most-photographed spots. You do not want people you don't know in YOUR pictures so don't take all day getting the Christmas card shot, please.
If you camp in Devil's Garden in the late spring, chances are you will witness hordes of bunnies hopping through camp!!! They are the cutest thing ever, and it seems like there are whole herds of them bouncing around the campground! They are most frisky at dusk and early in the morning.
There is, however, a warning here - never ever ever EVER feed them!!! No matter how cute they are, never give food to any wild animal! It is really a form of cruelty; animals who associate humans with food often lose the skills needed to hunt in the wild, and thus they slowly starve to death. The lucky ones are merely captured and euthenized.
Don't be cruel to our wild friends! DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS! If you catch someone feeding an animal, for the animals' sake please alert a Ranger.
1. Always carry water on hikes. In the summer it is recommended that you carry at least a gallon a day per person, remember dehydration and heat can prove fatal. 2. Stay on trails to protect the fragile desert soils, Cryptobiotic Crust, and plant life. 3. Sandstone slickrock crumbles easily and can make climbing dangerous. 4. Rock climbing is permitted in the park, but not on most features named on the USGS maps, so for more information on where you may climb check at the visitor center. Technical rescues are expensive and dangerous, so always so remember that it is easier to climb up than it is to climb down. 5. Overnight backcountry backpackers must get a permit at the visitor center. You must carry all your water, and not campfires are allowed.
Dogs and other pets are not allowed on any of the trails or in the visitor center, and can only be walked on the roads and parking lots. They have to be leashed at all times and can't be left in vehicles unattended. As I said in a previous warning, this park is a real scorcher in the summer so please, please leave Rover at home - or in a nice, cool kennel in Moab - and not in the car!!!!! Call Karen's Canine Campground at (435) 259-7922, Desert Doggie Daycare at (435) 259-4841, or Moab Veterinary Clinic at (435) 259-8710.
Even if you're visiting Arches on a highlights-only bus tour, you should dress for the desert. Even some of the short paths to viewing areas are sandy, rocky and uneven. I took this photo at Landscape Arch - an easy 2-mile RT but some slog through deep sand and gravel. This lady's slick-bottom, open sandals are just asking for a sprained ankle or broken toe. The frock? Pretty sure the rangers were peeing their pants.
Slickrock is beautiful and it's smooth contours are inviting as a place to hike and climb around on.
Until you develop a bit of experience with it it is best to exercise a little caution. The park service has dozens of rescues and evacuations every season. This is often because people get strung out on what "looked like an easy" climb or jump.
This is especially true in areas where there is vertical exposue. Due to the smooth rounded nature of slickrock it is very easy to cross the point of no return and slip off an edge.
Remember this is a natural place. It is not an Amusment Park The danger has not been engineered out. There are no warning signs. You are primarily responsible for you and your party's safety.
1. No parking is allowed along the roadsides, so park only in designated parking lots. If the parking lot is full, you must return at a later time. This is strictly enforced. 2. Wood gathering is not allowed anywhere in the park, so bring your own stoves or fuel for the grills in the campgrounds. 3. Carry out all trash, including small items such as cigarette butts. 4. No hunting or firearms are allowed in the park. 5. Mountain bikes are only allowed on established roads, not on trails. 6. Pets are allowed only on park roads, in parking lots, or at your campsite, and must be on a leash or other restraint at all times. They are not allowed on any of the trails. Don’t forget that leaving a pet in a hot car while you go off exploring can cause heat exhaustion and death.
The Moab area averages less than 8 inches of rain a year and temperatures can easily top 100 degrees (+37 F) during the summer and early fall. You'll see reminders everywhere to drink plenty of water, pack at least a quart (short hikes) to a gallon (longer treks) along for the day, and cover your head: dehydration/sunstroke is no joke.
As drinking water is only available two places inside the park, fill your bottles at your hotel or at the visitor center before making for the trailhead. We carried a collapsible, 2-gallon water bag in the car for quick refills, and camelback packs are great if you have one.
Drink and then drink some more. Having been to the dizzy, stomachache stage of dehydration, I have some firsthand experience with how fast it can slap you upside the head. Yup, that bottle of (eventually) lukewarm water is going to taste like crap so bringing along some of those zero-calorie flavoring packets to make it go down a little easier is a good idea.
In between the months of May through September the temperatures in Arch's National Park are well past 90 degrees and because of how the sun reflects off the rock it actually feels hotter than advertised. Even if you tan well its advisable to bring at least 30spf sunblock and reapply every few hours. Bring lots of water, the only place to get water in the park is at the Devil Garden campground and the entrance to the Devils Garden trail. If your not in great shape I would not recommend taking any trail longer than 3 to 4 miles. If heat is a problem for you the best time to visit is in March and April, or October and November, when the temperatures are in the seventies.
I know that people love campfires. This is just not the place to have one. Let me detail as to why that is true.
1. You are in a world treasure if you damage it well......
2. The wood here is replaced VERY slowly and should be left as is. It is part of the ecosystem and is not here for our entertainment.
3. Should your fire get out of control (aside from the obvious danger to other people) you will be held criminally and financially responsible. This eventuality is more likely than you think. This is the desert and things here burn very easily and quite rapidly.
4. A fire insulates you from experiencing the desert fully. The night sky is invisible when using a fire. Forget the fire and experience the wonder of the desert night sky.
5. If everyone has campfire it will strip the area of vegetation and ruin Arches for other visitors.
So admit that Daniel Boone comes from an earlier time and learn to camp in a minimum impact fashion. You will smell better and enjoy the experience more.
When you visit Arches National Park they do ask one thing from you, and that is if you would please stay on the trails. What may seem like a tiny detour from the trail, may be a serious damage to the fragile environment of the park.
Much of the area here is covered by 'cryptobiotic soil crust'. This crust is easily damaged by walking over it, especially when it is dry and brittle. Damaging this crust will cause erosion. It will take years and years for these areas recover, and sadly sometimes they never will. So keep Arches National Park beautiful as it is, and stay on the trails :-)
The very last leg of the delicate arch hike cuts a trail around the rock on your way up. One side is a sheer rock wall but the other side is completely open. Be careful if you've brought little ones along with you or when passing another person who's going the opposite way.
In 1991 Landscape Arch lost a huge chunk of its underside and is now a bit more fragile than it was previously. By all accounts there was a group of peole around at the time but on hearing a cracking sound decided it might be a good idea to move away from the Arch. This doesn't mean that the Arches and other rock formations are really that fragile but they are undergoing constant change and you never know.