delicate arch

A short but moderately strenuous hike to the most photographed natural arch in the USA.

 

There are a few must-sees in the Moab area and this is one of them. If you don’t want to hike up to the arch there’s a viewpoint from which you can see it, but it’s distant and barely worth the stop. Far better to leave the car and hike the 3 mile roundtrip trail to get a real perspective on its size and relationship to the landscape. It’s best done towards sunset when the light on the arch is at it’s best and it’s cooler too. The parking lot is usually very busy or overflowing so you may have to wait around for a space. Arriving early in the morning will guarantee you a spot. Take plenty of water as there isn’t much shade.

 

The well-cairned trail passes the preserved Wolfe Ranch House built in the late 1800s but deserted in 1910. After crossing Salt Wash on the bridge take a short detour to the left to view some Ute petroglyphs. Shortly the trail hits the base of a huge slickrock area (no shade) that’s very steep. You’ll be walking up this to the top. Close to Delicate Arch you’ll notice a small window on your left. Clamber up here for an unusual view of Delicate Arch. The views from the main overlook are stunning with the La Sal mountains behind. Even when it’s busy it’s nice to sit here for an hour or two and just watch the light changing.

 

There is some Arch etiquette. If you must take a picture of someone under the arch then do so quickly allowing others to do the same thing. The first time I visited a couple had lunch under the arch while the rest of us waiting before getting the shot.

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fiery furnace

One of the most fun half day experiences for all the family in southern Utah.

 

Fiery Furnace is not as terrifying as it sounds (don’t tell the kids, though!). Within Arches National Park, it’s an area of 1-2 square mile labyrinth of sandstone fins. Your mission is to enter this maze, with no cairns or signs to guide you, and work your way through them. The rules are that you may only walk on slickrock or along washes. Why the rules? This is a very special environment with several unique flora. In fact you must obtain a special hiking permit or join a ranger-led tour (fees payable at the visitor center). If you’re hiking on your own (recommended) then you must attend a short orientation film. Please pay attention as the rangers do ask questions afterwards before giving you a permit/rucksack tag with the number in your party. You have to keep together. It’s a special place and we want to keep it that way so please respect the rangers’ demands and tread carefully. We want ensure that the area stays open for freestyle hikers.

 

This is not so much a hike as a walk and scramble but there’s nothing technically difficult here, ands even small children (5+), with help, should have no problems negotiating the obstacles. And there are plenty of these: pouroffs to climb, narrows to squeeze through, small crevasses to avoid. If you see steps cut into a fin then that’s an obvious route so use them.You’ll see caves, arches, pools, rare plant species. What you won’t see are many people (if any) or much daylight. For more than one reason Fiery Furnace is the coolest place in the park. If you go with a ranger tour it’s a 2 mile, 2-3 hour ‘loop’ but if you’re freestyling it on your own you could spend 3 hours or more here. There are also several opportunities here for canyoneers.

 

The trail starts at the Fiery Furnace Overlook parking area and within a couple of minutes you’re inside the maze. Routefinding is a question of trial and error but generally you’ll find yourself zig-zagging up and down along and occasionally between the many fins. If you arrive at a dead end or at some virgin ground, then you’ll need to track back and find another way. If you think you’re lost and need to exit, then just follow the fins downhill as best you can until you’re out of the maze where you’ll find a trail leading back uphill to the parking area.

 

Whenever I’ve hiked here with children they all think this is one of the best trips ever. Enjoy.

 

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devil's garden – primitive loop

A 6 mile hike passing some of the world’s greatest arches.

 

You’ll see more arches on this hike than any other and that means you certainly won’t be alone. In fact the trailhead for Devil’s Garden may be the busiest in the park and you may have to drive around to find a slot. Hordes of tourists will walk the first section of paved trail past a couple of arches to spectacular Landscape Arch, the longest in the world and 1 mile from the start. Most people turn around here as the trail becomes a little rougher, though still easy, all the way to Double O Arch and beyond to the Dark Angel monolith. It’s here that you can also take the well-signed and much rougher Primitive trail as an alternative way of getting to Double O Arch. Personally, I think that trail is best hiked in the reverse direction from Double O Arch as the best views are always in front of you.

 

With that in mind continue straight on from Landscape Arch and enjoy fewer people on the trail. You’ll walk on top of giant sandstone fins and pass another couple of arches before arriving at Double O after another mile. You’ll notice just how much quieter it is here than at the Landscape Arch viewpoint. The double arches here are very picturesque. Continue on to see Dark Angel pillar if you have the time. This will add nearly 1 mile to your hike.

 

For your return journey, take the well-marked Primitive Trail close to Double O. You’ll see a few other hikers here but not many. The sign says ‘Difficult Hiking’ and in the wet, or with inappropriate footwear, it would be as parts of the trail are on slickrock slopes with steep, but not long, drop offs. The trail drops in elevation and the scenery is magnificent as you weave through the imposing fins. (For a good idea of the terrain you’ll be hiking look down and to the right when you’re walking across a long fin on the way to Double O.) When you’re not on the slickrock you’re likely to be in a sandy wash. There’s little shade so do try to do the loop in the morning or early evening. There’s one arch to visit along the way but that’s not the reason this trail section is a favourite among the locals – it’s the solitude amongst the tourist hordes coupled with the stunning scenery. After about 2 miles the trail gradually ascends to the main paved trail by Landscape Arch.

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eye of whale mesa

A fun, freestyle hike into a huge sandstone canyon maze – great for older children.

 

There is no trail here, which is why it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever meet anyone. That means you need to remember where you left your vehicle and take extra care while hiking. You’re on your own. The area is known for just one signposted feature, the Eye of Whale arch, which is accessed from the 4WD only Salt Valley Road at the north end of the mesa in an area known as Herdina Park. This hike covers the southern end.

 

To get here drive to the Balanced Rock parking lot and turn left on the Willow Flats dirt road. It used to be the main route into the park before they built the blacktop. Author Edward Abbey’s ranger’s trailer used to be located here when he worked for the Park Service. The road is gravelled to start but soon deteriorates and has some rocky sections that require high clearance, but not necessarily 4WD. Within a minute or two along this undulating but relatively flat road you lose all the crowds and you feel like you’re in the wilderness. You feel like you’re leaving all the geological action behind. The landscape is desert scrub with the occasional glimpse of red rock on your right hand side.

 

Drive approximately 4.2 miles from Balanced Rock and park beside the road by a shallow sandy wash. Study the landscape before you so you can find your car later – though if you don’t arrive back to the road at the right place you can always road walk to it. While you walk straight up the sandy wash on your right, you’ll notice thousands of animal prints, particularly on the small sandy banks: lizards, snakes, coyote. You’ll find the all here with one possible exception, a human footprint, for in a park with so many famous features it’s often the little ones that are passed over by tourists. Their loss is your gain.

 

Follow the wash heading in a north easterly direction for about ½ mile into the sandstone ridges where you are free to explore the drainages on both sides of the wash. When you come to an impassable obstruction simply turn around, rejoin the wash, and move on to the next section. Provided the rock is dry (slippery when wet!) you can easily scramble to the top of many of these ridges for far reaching views over the area, and perhaps to plan where you’d like to get to next. Kids love the scrambling part, though do keep an eye open for them as there are steep drop offs. Just remember where the main wash is so you can return easily. At the far north-eastern corner of the area is Eye of Whale arch. That’s difficult to find unless you access it from Salt Valley Road.

 

This area feels as close to wilderness as you’ll find anywhere in the park. You won’t cover any great distance here (probably no more than 4 miles) – it’s more a sandstone rollercoaster than a traditional hike but that’s what makes it special. Whether you’re here for a few hours or a whole day, there’s plenty to experience. Be aware that it can be very hot here and there’s often little shade.

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klondike bluffs to tower arch

A good packed sand road heads off the main Arches road to the Bluffs.The hike is very scenic and gets better and better as you near your destination: a huge arch beside a cliff, nestling in amongst the many sandstone fins.

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© 2016 Bob Palmer