If you are going to visit Arches on the weekend (as we are), the rangers recommend doing so in the evening and early morning. So we decided to get started today, even after our long drive from Monuments Park. We arrive at the park entrance at 4:00 pm, and the rangers are right — it is easy to get to whatever we want to see. The afternoon light creates some fascinating views, and I do my best to get every one I can.
Coming into the park, there is a visitor’s center which does an excellent job of describing the attributes of the place. Beyond that there is a uphill climb, which takes us to the first stopping point, the overview of the Moab Fault. The fault follows the road down below. According to the sign, when the fault occurred about 6 million years ago, the side of the road we are standing on dropped 2600 feet below the side across the road.
Just as in Monument Valley, the main features of the place have been created due to the wind and rain eroding the softer sandy soils away from the harder materials creating buttes and towers, some quite spectacular. Other geologic activity, like the Moab Fault, have contributed.
Some of the more interesting features are named. In the picture at right, in front of Gwen you can see three towers, which are called the “Three Gossips”. To their right at roughly the same depth is “Sheep Rock”. The most prominent butte on the right hand side of the picture is “Tower of Babel”. To its immediate right, is “The Organ”. The picture on the right is a view of the “Three Gossips” from a different vantage point. It’s a bit like looking into the sky and seeing pictures in the arrangements of the stars; you have to have a good imagination.
On the right is a picture of an unnamed butte formation, but behind it are the “Petrified Sand Dunes” formed as a result of a layering of sand some 200 million years ago covered by layers of other sediment including quartz and calcite and compressed over time. The additional layers have been eroded away, and the petrified sand dunes are the result.
One of the most unusual formation is this “Balanced Rock”. You’ll remember a similar formation from the last post called “Mexican Hat”.
The picture at right shows a number of other towers which were in the same area, but not quite as dramatic as this one.
The next pictures are not named (as far as I know), but are examples of the formations to be seen.
The park has a number of pullovers and parking lots to enable safe stopping and viewing. Often excellent pictures are available directly from these designated parking areas, but there are two in particular that require walking along paths to get to the best picture-points.
The first, at Windows arches, does not require us to walk that far, perhaps half a mile all told and Gwen kindly accompanies me to the “North Window”, the one with people in it enjoying the view beyond. I go on from there to the “South Window”, and take more pictures, including the one of the two windows together. Behind me as I take that picture is “Turret Arch”.
The second and longer walk from the parking area is Delicate Arch, out beyond Wolfe Ranch. Delicate Arch is the iconic Arches National Park Arch, and therefore one I have to take a picture of.
Wolfe was a Civil War veteran who came across to this area in the late 1860s with his son to try and recover from a bothersome leg wound he sustained during the war. The two of them lived at this location for 10 years before his sister, her husband and their children came out to live with them. Wolfe and his son had been living in a one-room shack, which was not big enough for the newly reunited family. Within short order, they built a bigger cabin, which is the one that stands today. Wolfe eventually returned to Ohio (from whence they came) in 1890, and died four years later at the age of 84.
The walk to Delicate Arch is 1.5 miles from the parking lot, and probably over 1000 feet in elevation climb. Described on the sign as moderately strenuous, it is all of that and more for this out-of-shape 66-year-old. One section, which as I get to it, I desperately hope is the last, consists of climbing up a 20% slope for probably 1000 yards. Definitely “moderately strenuous”. Half way up that slope, I decide I just have to sit down and rest, so I find a nice step on the side of the main slope and sit down. Its getting late, and I had been thinking as I walk that I am one of the last ones going up today. Boy was I wrong! As I sit there, I get passed by group after group, all happily climbing their way up without stopping. After about 15 minutes, I resume climbing. It isn’t the end of the journey, of course, it is only about half way along the path.
There are a number of people to follow now, so I join in. As we get closer to the goal, the path narrows, and I realize that we are being funneled up an ever-narrowing ledge that is climbing slowly around a hill rising out of the landscape.
The path continues to narrow; it is not more than a couple of yards wide with a sheer drop of at least 500 feet off the outer edge. Those who know me know I have an absolute terror of such unfenced edges, but I’ve got to get to this Arch and get its picture. I concentrate on keeping close to the inner wall, and keep going on. Every time I think about looking over the cliff my stomach clinches. Eventually I get around the hill and there in front of me is the Arch. All the people who had passed me up on my trek up are there and of course a lot more. Some are resting, the younger ones playing, some moving in and amongst the Arch, and some taking pictures. I quickly find a spot to take my own pictures. I do not have the time to wait for the people at the Arch’s feet to go away as Gwen has to be wondering where I’ve gotten off to by now. Besides, they provide scale!
After taking my shots it is time to start the trek down. It is much easier than the trek up, except for the first part where I have to walk that narrow ledge again. The traffic pattern suggests the down-walkers should be on the outside closest to the cliff edge and away from the relative safety of the inner wall. I don’t trust myself walking there, of course. Fortunately there aren’t any people behind me that are in a hurry, so I just hug the wall and wait until a group of up-walkers go past, then quickly make my way to the next group, and wait for them. Soon enough I am past this obstacle, and headed on my weary way down. Gwen is calmly waiting in the car when I return perhaps an hour and a half from when I started.
As the sun was going down, we go one more stopping point beyond the Wolfe Ranch parking lot and then turn around heading back to the hotel. We get back and spend a quiet evening recovering from the long day.