Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Arches


With Steve back in San Antonio working again, the boys and I took another road trip without the camper.  While the camper stayed at Hill AFB near Salt Lake City, Utah, we packed up and drove four hours southeast (250+ miles) to arrive at Arches National Park near Moab, Utah.

Since we left before the sun rose, we arrived at Arches NP around 10:30 in the morning.  As we arrived at the entry fee gate, we noticed that once again we were going to encounter crowds.  Apparently Spring Break wasn’t over yet!

Our first stop at the park was the visitor center, as usual.  We got the National Park Passport books stamped, gathered the Junior Ranger workbook, watched the orientation movie, and then headed into the park.


Arches National Park is one of the world’s largest concentrations of natural arches.  Over 2000 arches are catalogued in the park, ranging in size from a mere three-foot opening (which is the minimum to be considered an arch) to the longest  which measures 306 feet from base to base (Landscape Arch).  These unique landforms are remnants of eroded fins of rock which were created when the land domed upward and the rock split apart creating these fins.  Over time, the stone wore away due to erosion, leaving behind these arches.  I found it interesting when someone made this observation:  To humans, arches are a CONstructive process; but to nature, arches are a DEstructive process.

Our first several stops after the visitor center were just viewpoints along the park roadway:  Park Avenue viewpoint, the La Sal Mountains viewpoint, and the Petrified Dunes viewpoint.














Next we saw the Balanced Rock, which is an interesting sight to behold.  We all wondered how long it would be until it toppled over.  Apparently there used to be a smaller balanced rock next to this one, but it toppled over in the 1960’s.


Close to this formation was the picnic area, so we stopped and ate our lunches.  Unfortunately, it was too cold and windy to be outside, so we stayed in the car to eat our lunch.  We are becoming experts at this skill!

We continued down that road for a little while, seeing the Parade of Elephants along the way, until we arrived at a trailhead for an easy-rated trail at the end of the road.  We all walked the trail together to see The Windows.  This trail was a gentle climb leading to three massive arches (North and South Window and Turret Arch).  Then the older boys walked along a second trail to see the Double Arch.  (The little boys were cold and grumpy by this point, so I just stayed in the car with them while the older boys explored the Double Arch.)











We got back on the main road through the park and drove to another viewpoint called Panorama Point.  This point overlooks the La Sal Mountains, the Moab Fault, and the Salt Valley down below.


We took the next turn-off from the main road to find the world-famous Delicate Arch.  Here’s where the story gets funny (or not, in my opinion):

There are three ways to see the Delicate Arch.  The easiest way is to take the Lower Viewpoint.  The medium way is to take the Upper Viewpoint.  The most difficult way is to hike to the arch itself.  I told the boys that, as awesome as it might be, we couldn’t do the 3-mile strenuous hike to the arch and back again so we would choose either the Lower or the Upper Viewpoints to see this particular arch.

So we parked in what I thought was the parking lot for the Lower/Upper Viewpoint trailheads.  As soon as we arrived, the older boys asked if they could take off on their own up the trail.  I said that was fine, and I would meet them at the end of the trail.

After about fifteen minutes of hiking up and down steep hills, I was starting to wonder why I couldn’t see the Delicate Arch yet. Were we accidentally on the difficult trail, the one that goes to the arch itself?  I decided to give it a few more minutes of hiking to find out for certain.  Soon we were climbing up a very tall and steep slickrock.  By the time we got to the top of it, my 10yo son was nearly in tears begging to go back to the car, and I was breaking a sweat even though it was rather cool outside.  I was certain that we must be getting close to the arch (if indeed we were on the difficult trail) so we pressed forward.  Plus, I had no idea where my older boys were, and I told them I would meet them at the end of the trail!


After we got to the top of the slickrock, the trail continued through sand dunes, canyons, rock ledges… you name it!  Finally, about ¾ of the way through the trail (knowing now in retrospect how far it was), I encountered my older boys returning back down the trail.  They promised me that we weren’t too far away from the Delicate Arch, and that it was “super cool” so we should continue.  My 10yo just absolutely could NOT continue any further, as I had been practically dragging him along for the past half hour.  So I sent him back down the mountain with the older boys while my 7yo son and I continued to the arch.


Finally we reached the top, and we had a magnificent view of the world’s most photographed arch.  It was spectacular, I admit, especially with the La Sal Mountains in the distance behind the arch and with the panorama of the surrounding area.






In total, we hiked three miles round-trip, which doesn’t sound too impressive until you consider the terrain, elevation, and difficulty of the trail.  According to the description in the visitor guide:

“Delicate Arch: Take at least two quarts of water per person. Open slickrock with some exposure to heights and no shade. The first half-mile is a well-defined trail.  Upon reaching the slickrock, follow the rock cairns.  The trail climbs steadily and levels out toward the top of this rock face. Just before you get to Delicate Arch, the trail traverses a rock ledge for about 200 yards.”

So even though I had planned to spend about fifteen minutes on the easy trail to the Delicate Arch viewpoint, we ended up spending nearly THREE HOURS on this unexpected adventure!  By the time we finished this trail (and I chewed out the boys for leading me down this path instead of my desired path), it was five o’clock and our time in the park was nearly done.  We didn’t have time to see many of the other things I had wanted to see, plus my legs felt like Jell-O.

We did, however, still have time to see one more thing, so we chose the Sand Dune Arch.  This trail led through deep sand to a secluded arch among sandstone fins.  As in Death Valley, I ended up with a lot of sand in my shoes!  When we got back to the parking lot, we all took off our shoes and poured the sand out.  It was rather comical!




Now it was 5:30, and the visitor center closed at 6:00.  I had one little boy who really needed to turn in his Junior Ranger workbook before the visitor center closed, and we were at least fifteen to twenty minutes away.  We drove straight back to the visitor center as fast as we reasonably could, and arrived with ten minutes to spare.  Another Junior Ranger badge completed!

As we left the park, we ventured into the town of Moab to find a hotel for the night.  Apparently third time’s a charm, because it was the third hotel that we found before we settled for the night.  The first two hotels were outrageously priced, and there was no way I was going to pay that much money for a place to sleep for one night.  Once we got checked into our more reasonably priced hotel, we found a Wendy’s for dinner then called it a night.  What an exhausting day!