We rose before dawn to arrive at Arches at sunrise. We knew from following the Arches National Park website that arriving early is the only way to be reasonably certain there will be parking available at the several scenic viewpoints and trailheads throughout the park.
Arches is a moderately sized national park, covering about 120 square miles. There are more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches within the park, many of them named and many more remain nameless. There are several well marked trails in the park, ranging from a few hundred feet at various viewpoints and several trails that link together for a total roundtrip length of 7.9 miles from the Devils Garden Trailhead. The hike to Delicate Arch may be the most famous, with a total roundtrip length of 3 miles. There are also back country trails that require a permit to hike, including the trails throughout the Fiery Furnace, a labyrinth of narrow sandstone canyons requiring canyoneering and extensive hiking ability to explore.
When we arrived at the Windows trailhead parking lot it was already nearly full. My disability parking tag was to save us several times at the trailheads throughout Arches and Canyonlands. Without it, we would have had to circle, wait, or leave and come back as is suggested in the park brochure to avoid clogging the parking lots. I found it rather amazing that at every single lot we visited there was a handicap space available.
We could see dozens of tiny people backlit against the dark arch by the morning sunrise and people were standing on cliffs and rocks with their tripods attempting to catch the fist morning light in an unforgettable photo.
We started up the trail in the cool of the morning with light jackets. Mo, Dan, Chere, and I hiked the loop trails toward Turret Arch first. At that time of day, there were fewer people hiking around that area.
In the photo below I am again in my happy place, standing on slickrock, lit up by orange light.
After wandering around Turret Arch a bit, we returned to the trail toward the North Window.
The sun was rising quickly and the hordes of people who were there at sunrise had dissipated somewhat, with just a few people left crawling around the arches.
This is the North Window, and as you can see with temperatures warming rapidly, Dan no longer needed a jacket. We then backtracked to the trail that went up to the South Window.
The light in this photo below on the South Window is what Mesa Arch in Canyonlands looks like on the underside if you get there at the right moment. The moment doesn’t last long.
I hiked up the slickrock and Dan got my photo
Dan then hiked up as well to hand me the camera so that I could get a shot to the east through the window.
Notice the tiny guys on the rock face opposite from where I was standing. They were no longer working with their tripods and seemed to be simply enjoying the view.
By the time we returned to the parking lot at 8 it was completely full, with cars circling, tour busses coming and going, and hordes of people starting up the trail.
One of the most famous trails in Arches is the 3 mile round trip hike to the northern side of Delicate Arch. I have hiked this trail a few times and the views are magnificent. The side road that leads to the Delicate Arch trailhead also continues to the Upper and Lower Delicate Arch viewpoints.
The main trailhead at Wolfe Ranch was completely packed with cars lining both sides of the road. We continued toward the Upper and Lower viewpoint trailhead, and arrived just after another big tour bus. Due to the lack of parking at the Delicate Arch trailhead at Wolfe Ranch, we saw folks in hiking gear parking at the lower viewpoint trailhead and hiking along the road half a mile back toward the Delicate Arch trailhead so as not to miss the hike. I can only imagine the crowds at Delicate Arch.
A photo of my friend Laura at the base of Delicate Arch in 2000
When I hiked with my friends Laura and Eva to Delicate Arch in 2000, the skies were dreary, and the trail was very windy and cold. Even on that cold windy day 21 years ago, the trail was somewhat crowded. All that hiking and I didn’t get very good photos.
After checking out the lower viewpoint, Dan, Mo and I hiked the short, moderately difficult trail to the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint.
There was a bit of climbing involved, but the view from the top was slightly better than the view from the lower viewpoint, and of course, I loved seeing all that slickrock up close.
I zoomed in with the camera for this view above of Delicate Arch from the Upper Viewpoint. The string of tiny figures on the left side of the arch are hikers walking single file along a 2 foot wide ridge of sandstone as they approach the base of the arch.
We left the incredibly overcrowded parking lots and traveled back west to the main highway with a few more stops as we traveled north along the park road.
The trailhead at the beginning of the Fiery Furnace had a dramatic view of the complexity of the fins and ridges. With no cell phone service it would be imperative to have a GPS of some sort to find your way through the crazy mazes. Pretty sure Mark Johnson has photos on his blog of some of his crazy hikes in this area.
We continued to the end of the park road at the parking lot for the Devils Garden Trailhead. It was getting close to 10 AM when we arrived and the parking lot was already full and the trail was crowded. There were people everywhere, including bus loads of tour folks.
I have hiked into the Devils garden back to Double O Arch and enjoyed seeing Landscape Arch. Geologists say the arch is very close to breaking so it is worth the hike to see it before it happens. We didn’t hike far on this day. With so many people on the trail, it wasn’t very inviting. The nice bench at the beginning of the trail did turn out to be a delightful place for people watching. Many, Many People!
I enjoyed the peachy glow cast on Dan and Chere along the vertical sandstone wall at the beginning of the trail.
Dan also attempted to get a photo of Chere and I in the narrows, but as is often the case, the bright light and dark shadows make photography very challenging.
Returning along the main road, we stopped at Skyline Arch. The interpretive sign was fascinating, showing an image of the arch before a big rock fell out of it in 1940.
Continuing along the main park road we passed trailheads and scenic viewpoints that were packed to the gills, with cars circling and competing for non-existent parking spaces. It was good that we left so early in the morning to see the park before the crowds took over completely.
I have so many photos of the views in all directions along the main park road, but this post is much too picture dense already. If you care to see more of the 100 plus photos I took in Arches National Park on this visit, simply click on the picture below and you will be taken to my SmugMug gallery where all the photos reside.