Arches - Canyonlands Trip November 2010Day 1 - Delicate ArchDay 2 - Corona Arch / Island in the SkyDay 3 - Windows / Needles District
Left Flag at 6:00 AM with my Dad with hopes to make it to Moab in time to eat, see some sights and squeeze a Delicate Arch hike at sunset. Going down the hill toward Cameron, a magnificent sunrise was underway. I had an itch to shoot it but the power lines just west of the highway were a deterrent. My dad spotted a dirt road and went for it. Within two minutes we passed under the lines and we hopped out. Gray Mountain's upturned rock layers took on a beautiful pink-purple glow to match the clouds above it. Looking the other direction, snow-capped Humphrey's was catching some early morning rays. It was a good sign for the start of a great trip. Snapped off some shots and then continued on the trek northward.
Didn't stop again until the turn-off for the Peabody Coalmine, which we took up to the top of Black Mesa to enjoy the view. Met a timid stray dog up there, poor guy was scrounging in the trash. Stared off into the expansive Plateau country and then sped off again, passing through Kayenta and then pulling off roadside to admire Agathla Peak. I just can't get over the wonder of these volcanic necks. The drive through Monument Valley was boring
as always. Took an obligatory stop at the Redlands Overlook, then enjoyed the drop down the hill into Mexican Hat. Pulled out Baar's "Traveler's Guide to the Colorado Plateau" and started the geologic contemplation of the Raplee and Lime Ridge Anticlines. Took a brief stop on top of Lime Ridge to try to see the small syncline, were unsuccessful but would be redeemed on the drive home. Stopped again a couple minutes later to admire the Comb Ridge Monocline and it's mess of upturned strata. Once we hit Bluff, we put the pedal to the metal. The rocks get boring up around Blanding and Monticello, and we were ready to be in Moab, so roadside stops were eliminated. Dropping out of Monticello, the rocks get good again, but we chose to admire the buff sandstone beauty at 70 miles per hour.
Upon reaching Moab, we drove up and down main street to scout the local restaurant scene before checking into the Red Stone Inn. After eating snacks all day, a feast was had at Fiesta Mexicana in preparation for the late afternoon scurry into Arches. Stopped briefly at the Arches visitor's center buy some souvenirs and then head up the hill into the park.
Let me say that while Arches National Park is not huge in area or in grand scale compared to the Grand Canyon or Death Valley, it definitely packs a punch. Upon cresting the hill, the cliffs and fins of Park Avenue are mind blowing, and are just a taste of what is to come. We stopped at the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint, which in the late afternoon is spectacular. The La Sal Mountains tower in the south eastern sky, but then you have the Entrada Sandstone cliffs and monuments the other direction, with the Three Gossips being the center piece. To the east north east, the fins of the Windows area can be seen in the distance, just crying to be explored.
The drive in continues its majesty with the cliffs of the Great Wall on left going on forever. The road drops through Courthouse Wash, and the Cottonwoods were showing their stunning yellow fall color. Balanced Rock pops up on the right, bending the mind with its massive head supported by a thin pedestal. We decided to check out Double Arch before making the trek out to Delicate. The scenery is gorgeous, but being so easily accessible, the park was busy on this saturday afternoon. The Windows trail head was packed full, but fortunately the Double Arch trail head a hundred yards further had only a couple cars.
You can see Double Arch from the parking lot, but it's still worthwhile to walk up to it. Heck, its only two tenths of a mile, and it's hard to put into words how it feels to stand beneath it. It's overwhelming. The spans on the thing are in the neighborhood of a hundred feet wide and a hundred feet tall, so it's a towering spectacle. Contemplating the odds of these two huge arches forming in such a manner is mind-boggling. But of course, Delicate Arch was in the back of our minds. We spent a couple of minutes admiring Double Arch and trying to take pictures that didn't include Korean tourists, then headed out to the Delicate trail head.
Being my first Delicate Arch hike, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. When we arrived, the parking lot looked near full. My dad said it looked less busy to him compared to the last time he was there, and two volunteer rangers were helping people park. We snagged a parking spot and headed out. The stagnant smell of the creek is obvious as you cross the bridge. Not sure if I would have built a ranch here, myself. The trail is typical of what you would expect for such a famous place: wide and smooth. Looks like a Grand Canyon corridor trail. And it's packed like a Grand Canyon corridor trail too. And people don't really look like hikers. Few have packs or hiking boots. Almost nobody carries water. Fortunately the weather was perfect so there wasn't anybody putting themselves at too much risk Evidently, NPS is doing some maintenance, putting in new culverts and whatnot. The slickrock section was fun. Saw some kids adding rocks to the top of the cairns. There were a couple of guys playing catch with a football. Yes, not a typical hike. The catwalk blasted out of a fin is a blast, then you turn the corner and there it is.
There must have been 50 people gathered around Delicate Arch. I'll go out on a limb and say that pictures don't quite do the thing justice. It's just so perfect. The arch is a free-standing beauty, obviously a wonder of the world. But the setting it's in is perfection. This slickrock bowl creates a marvelous amphitheater for the viewing the most stunning beautiful arch in the world. There are even large slabs of rock for people to sit on, and nature put them there. Then there is the broad view behind the arch with the skyline of the La Sal Mountains. If there was anything that could persuade me that there is a god, this would be it. The setting is just unreal. It's a testament to the magic of nature.
It was so beautiful, and there was ton of people to share it with. And there were lots of photographers with pro-grade dSLRs. The sun was getting low in the sky and a magnificent yellow light was cast across the arch and the bowl. Evidently the sunset scene at Delicate is much different from mid-day. The were no massive groups of people under the arch, most everyone hung back out of the respect for the photography. A couple times people would run down and get their pictures taken, but otherwise there were eons of time to shoot the arch without the human presence. My dad likened the vibe to "worshipers at a shrine." While there was no solitude that defines a typical "wilderness experience", there seemed to be a collective sense of respect from all that were there. People were willing to leave their selfish aside and let the arch be for the full enjoyment of all. Who really needs their picture taken at Delicate Arch, shouldn't the memory of the place be enough anyway?
Eventually the sun went below the horizon and the light on the arch turned drab. In the western and northern corners of sky opposite the arch, shades of pink started to creep their way in. Everyone held their ground, waiting, knowing there was the potential for something special to happen. About fifteen minutes after the official sunset, the sun was still at work somewhere, and the western sky blew up bright pink, casting a most brilliant alpenglow over the arch. My heart was instantly warmed. Shutters fired on fifty different cameras. Some guy just had to run down there and pose for a picture, and the thought in heads of everyone else echoed silently, "Move! MOVE! Get outta there!" A couple moments later he made his way back up and the shutters flurried once more. It was an unforgettable light show, and definitely lived up to the expectations of what all were hoping for.
The light soon dissipated, and darkness was quickly on its way. Headlamps were donned for the dark trek down. We let a large mass of the people get going before we left. A steady stream of headlamps could be seen going down the slickrock. When we reached the slickrock, headlights and taillights of cars could be seen going up the road. "Everyone's driving home from church," joked my dad. Climbing back up the hill between the slickrock and the trail head, we could see another small stream of headlamps descending. We weren't last ones out. We stopped for a minute to enjoy the night, and two guys passed by heading in to the arch, hiking in without headlamps of flashlights. We were soon back to the truck and headed back to our motel in Moab, where I quickly uploaded the days pictures onto the laptop and started processing.
My experience at Delicate Arch was deeply satisfying. It is a wonder of nature that must be seen in person to truly appreciate. It's not a wilderness experience, but a pilgrimage to a mecca of the American southwest. I cannot wait to go back and see it again.