This past October, my wife and I needed a break. She had just completed a very stressful two month rotation at school and it was no walk in the park for the rest of the family either. During this same time, my step-father passed away after a battle with cancer. His passing was sudden and unexpected. It was one of those moments where you take stock of your situation and consider a great many things.
We knew that after her rotation we would like to take some time to get away and unwind, but during the lead up to our break, we nearly scrapped our plans to take a trip for a variety of reasons. After my step-father’s passing, we decided that we needed to go. Life is just too short to let some things stand in your way of enjoying it.
So, with the weight of the situation on us, we decided that we would take our trip. After deciding on a few of the details, our flight was booked, rental car was reserved and bags were packed. This trip was one that we had been hoping to take for several years. Going back to over three years ago, when we were beat by the sunset to Arches National Park.
We were on our way back from our first long distance road trip and on a tight schedule. We were leaving Las Vegas and headed back to Indiana. With so many opportunities along the way, we wanted to see as many as we could over the next three days. After leaving the Grand Canyon, we were racing north across Utah to try and reach Moab before sunset. Unfortunately, our travel time estimates and best efforts not to completely disregard the 70-75 mph speed limits meant that we missed the last daylight at Arches by about half an hour. Alas, we promised that one day we would return.
We would see our promise fulfilled after a rare flight for road trippers, to Denver where we rented a car and set out on a more familiar mode of travel. After an overnight stay in one of our favorite cities, we headed west along I-70, still one of the most beautiful roads I’ve seen.
We arrived in Moab that evening after making a slight detour up to Mount Evans. Although the road to the top was closed for the season, the pass
was still beautiful and still dotted with a few trees clinging to their fall foliage. Such bright contrast the colors of the approaching winter.
As driving goes, Colorado has been one of my favorite states through which to travel. It seems that no matter where you turn you’ll find something interesting or a landscape worthy of writing about. We hope to return again soon to finish the drive up Mount Evans. Unfortunately, the summit is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. But we were content to enjoy the lake below.
Our first evening in Moab, with the sun still up this time, we went into the park to do some site seeing and scout out where we would go the next day. We also learned of the hazards that had been created during the heavy rainfall of the days before. While we’re accustomed to flash floods, mud slides and the like is something with which we’re less familiar. If you’re unfamiliar with rainy days in the desert, remember that unlike many places, there is much less vegetation and deep soil to soak up all the water. The number of spontaneous waterfalls that can be seen just from the road on a rainy day in Arches is nearly as staggering as the number of arches that are in the park. (Over 2,000 have been documented according the NPS, if you were wondering.)
To our disappointment, we found that the road out to Delicate Arch trailhead was closed due to flooding and construction. As one of the most iconic arches in the park, we were disappointed to say the least. It can always be a downer when you go to a place this magnificent just to find one of the star attractions nearly impossible to see. As travelers who refuse to let our trips be ruined or our spirits be dampened deeper than the rain can soak our clothes, we continued on that day. We covered all of the open paved roads and spent some time at Balanced Rock and Sand Dune Arch.
The quiet of Sand Dune Arch was quite surprising. The way the soft sand deadens the sound was pretty amazing. It was however, disappointing to find that part of the trail had been closed due to repeated vandalism. Pause for moment of reflection on disappointment in careless people.
We always try to enjoy being present in the places we visit. And we try to do it in such a way that it doesn’t detract from the experience of others. You know, that whole Golden Rule thing. Everyone’s experience will be better if you pay attention to how your presence effects the experience of other visitors.
With sunset closing in, we continued our drive through the park and headed back to the hotel. While we had hoped to camp when we were initially planning our trip, time constraints that led us to fly to Denver, also made it more difficult to take our camping gear. But our hotel was only a few minutes from the park entrance. Aarchway Inn was a delightful stay only a few miles away from Arches National Park and just far enough north of Moab to not have to deal with any of the traffic.
Disappointed that the road out to Delicate Arch was closed, I did some research that night to see what other options were available and found that even though the road was closed to vehicle traffic, it was still open to foot traffic. Although it was about a mile from the nearest parking spots
along the main road just to the start of the trail.
An extra mile or so hasn’t stopped us in the past and after it warmed up a little more, we found a parking spot and set out. Surprisingly, you can actually see Delicate Arch from the road.
It was fairly uneventful walking down toward the trail head. Thankfully there wasn’t much remaining of the flooding. Just some mud across the road in one section. Though we could walk through it fairly easily, finding the low spots. Driving through it would’ve been much more challenging and with the parking lot at the trail being completely repaved, it was pretty obvious why the road had to be closed. We inquired with a park ranger at the construction site about what the trail conditions were and what the road conditions were down to the viewpoint. After hearing that the flooding had left what would be several water crossings to get out to the viewpoint, it made the choice to go up the trail to the arch that much easier.
Hiking in Arches was different than anywhere else we’d hiked before. There is very little shelter from the elements once you set out. While I can honestly say this trail was relatively easy in terms of terrain, the constant sun exposure and the sometimes ambiguously marked trail made it challenging and unique. The smooth surface of the rock was very different from the soil and loose rock trails to which I was accustomed. And while I never felt any real danger on the trail, there are a great many opportunities where carelessness could result in a fall of several hundred feet.
For being one of the most well known and well travelled trails, as evidenced by the clearly worn paths on the rock, it was extremely quiet. We passed four others heading down from the arch and only saw four more ahead of us on the trail. Not too surprising considering the road situation, but still a little unexpected.
It’s amazing how cliché it seemed when we reached the end of the trail, you turn the corner and there it is…
It was one of those speechless moments, made even more incredible when we realized there were only four other people there. And those people were the best kind to be at such an amazing place, they were all very deliberately trying to stay out of everyone’s photos. I think we all appreciated how unique this opportunity was.
While I could’ve stayed there all day enjoying the view and the peace of the place, we did eventually have to depart, but not before trying to take advantage of the situation.
I keep telling myself that I’ll spend more time and be more deliberate in composing my photos, but I have a tendency to get caught up in the moment and the pictures usually suffer for it.
One of these days, I’ll get it right. Until then, I’ll be happy with the good ones I get by shear luck and enjoy doing it.
Our trip back down the trail was uneventful, until we noticed the rain moving in from the west. Luckily, it was far enough off that we didn’t have to rush back to the car. Just another thing I love about being under the wide open skies, you can see what seems like forever. After nearly six miles of what is normally a three mile hike, we were back at the car more than satisfied with our hike. Completely worth the extra miles!
The incoming rain arrived shortly after we made it up to the Windows, cutting short my attempts to photograph Delicate Arch from the arch that I had earlier captured through it. Guess we’ll have to go back again. Hopefully next time we’ll get to take our little one. We only had a day left on our trip and we chose to spend it driving through Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park.
The views of the canyons are breathtaking! While not as well known, these are two parks that are definitely worth adding to any trip to Moab and much of them can be seen from the road.
With the time allotted for this particular trip nearing its end, we headed back to Denver and our flight home. No matter how much we see, it’s never enough and we always want to relive our previous adventures even as the next one beckons. My parting advice for a trip to Moab or any of the parks I mentioned, if you’re driving, and you likely are since there currently are very limited flights to Moab, and you’re coming from east of Utah, I highly recommend taking Utah Hwy 128 along the Colorado River. We took this route on our way back east and it was stunning. Until next time, happy new year and safe travels!