ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Time's up, Karen
BUD UM BUD UM BUD UM BUD UM PSH! I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS MOMENT FOR ALL MY LIFE!
Ah, Arches National Park. Dramatic. Striking. Wondrous. A geologic rarity.
But most of all, better get that selfie under an arch!
This park was the Disneyland of Moab. The visitor center lot was full before it opened, and the entrance gate was backed up by 8:30am. For how small this park was, it seemed it was the only absolute must do activity in Moab, and everyone was there to see it. We started in the visitor center to get an overview of what the park was all about, and this, of course, included a viewing of the park video. This one was gold. We realized we were in for a treat when every sentence spoken ended in a dramatic drum-line that would make Phil Collins proud, and it just got better from there. The entire video was produced as if Michael Bay was limited to using MS paint and an old handy-cam. Our favorite moment was when the dramatic movie trailer voice over guy described the life of an arch as fleeting, around for only a short period and then lost to time much like the life of a person. This voice over occurred as the video zoomed and tracked a lone middle aged woman hiker we have affectionately dubbed Karen. Karen was obliviously hiking her way through unmarked rocky desert as a menacing voice reminded us of the bleak fact that she was destined to die, and a musical score that made it sound like that day might be today.
To be fair the park is pretty dramatic. Arches National Park has the largest concentration of natural rock arches in the world. This particular portion of the Colorado plateau area was once an ocean, which eventually dried up and filled in with debris, sand and silt resulting from the Uncompahgre uplift event that turned the land into desert. The salt from the ocean remained, and overtime became the evaporite layer that washed away before the layers of sand, exposing the unsupported layers above and creating a natural arch. If that made no sense, the park website has a much better explanation here.
Along with arches, the park is full of sandstone spires, fins, tafoni, walls, and other unique stone formations that have taken 65 million years to craft. The landscape is ever changing since water is continually reshaping these formations, and the arches that are well known now might collapse at anytime while new ones are beginning to emerge. The landscape was alien and beautiful, especially with the wild weather we had been having, which created clear blue skies in one direction, and dark death storms in the other.
This particular pattern made the most famous arch, Delicate arch, look like a gateway between heaven and hell when we arrived. The hike to the arch is about 3 miles one way, and the weather during our assent quickly turned from slightly overcast to thunderous lightning. We arrived at the large bowl that housed the stand alone arch right as lightning was cracking just over the ridge. This unfortunate timing made our visit short, but did clear out the masses and gave us an unobstructed view of this crazy looking precipice. Don't worry, we still got our picture under the arch (mostly due to a solo elderly Asian man who wanted a picture and then insisted on taking one of us in exchange. This turned out to be my favorite photo in the park, so thanks guy!) Even if this bowl was crowded, it was such a unique landscape that the hike would still be worth a view, though if I went back I would probably shoot for a full moon or sunrise experience.
Before the hike to Delicate arch, we drove around the scenic road popping off at a few of the other highlights along the way. One benefit of having traveled to a bunch of National Parks in a row is that we had a plan of attack to avoid most of the crowds. When a park is designed around a main road, best thing to do is head towards the end first and work back to the start. Most visitors just see the first thing and go from there. This strategy worked perfectly. Starting our morning with a walk to Landscape arch allowed us to casually amble the trail relatively undisturbed, and we were able to appreciate the subtle differences in the Utah desert landscapes compared to the Arizonan desert. Also, we saw a cool lizard. On our way back from Partition arch, the crowds were just starting the fill the trail and the walk was a much different experience. By noon, the parking lot was completely full and people were getting turned around. Heading back to the front we stopped and enjoyed a few other sights such as Broken arch, Fiery Furnace, and Courthouse Towers area. The later was my favorite as it allowed us to walk down through this cathedral of sandstone walls with a walkway noticeably shaped by flowing water. Also, no one walked past the viewpoint down the steps, so once again, we had some peace and quiet.
We drove through the Windows area, and that was where we saw multiple single file lines slowly moving towards the middle of arches. This turned out to be where everyone was getting their must have selfie. It was so funny to watch people take the same photo over and over, the one where they are looking out into 'nature' with no one around, so it looks like they walked miles into untouched wilderness to get there. When in actuality there was a wrapping line behind them abutting a parking lot of people trying to get the exact same shot. BUT WHAT ABOUT ME?! This is something that we see in literally every park we go to. Even though we end up with some similar pictures, you will NEVER catch me waiting in a line for something so self-indulgent and superficial. Besides that one time in Sedona....or Monument Valley....or the million future times I will totally do this.
But, put a cool lizard at the end of that line, then you can count on me being in that line!
In total we only spent one day in Arches. We figured we would hike all that we wanted and if we felt rushed, we would come back, but we felt satisfied even if we didn't see EVERYTHING. The crowds bummed us out, and decided that two days battling the masses was not worth the few things we missed. Arches is a park that makes one marvel at the oddities of geologic processes while also considering that it may not be a bad idea to hike with an Anti-selfie stick (a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire.)
We headed back to camp around 4pm as the storms were approaching faster and darker. We luckily got back just in time to make a quick dinner, clean up a bit, and batten down the hatches before a monsoon hit us. I wasn't sure the Colorado river was going to flood out our campsite it was so high. A tree also came down at camp from the hellacious wind gusts, but we were snug as a bug in a rug inside the trailer! You know what they say, if the trailer's a rockin', then you should probably seek shelter because there is a raging storm outside! Thanks to the awesome camp host, Franco, the tree was removed in no time and we awoke to another beautiful day!
9/10 - would walk through natural portals again.
Song: In the air tonight – Phil Collins