Utah 2001
Utah 2001
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Arches National Park
Saturday, January 6, 2001

Today, we're visiting Arches National Park - another day filled with hiking in an awesome, out-of-this-world landscape! Our first stop is at Balanced Rock, a big 3000 metric-ton rock that sits about twenty meters high on a slim column and looks like it is going to topple every second. We walk once around the column to see the rock from all sides. Then, we drive on to Fiery Furnace, an area where we first see the most dominant feature of Arches National Park: Rock fins - over 100 tall, slim walls of red slickrock standing in lines next to each other. This is where the arches come from - erosion carves holes into the fins that become bigger and bigger over time.

Driving in Arches National Park Balanced Rock Fiery Furnace area

We first go to see Landscape Arch - an unbelievably slim, wide arch that seems to defy all laws of gravity. It spans more than one football field, and in some places it is so thin that it seems to be on the brink of breaking. Actually, there is a path that goes under the arch, but it has been closed due to rockfall.

Landscape Arch (left) Landscape Arch (right) Double O Arch trail

Next, we start on a long hike to Double O Arch. It is a strenous, but fun hike - we climb over rocks, follow the narrow canyons between the fins and walk on the tops of the fins, some only a few meters wide and half snow-covered. On our way, we see some arches of all shapes - some looking like gaping holes in the rock walls, some like tunnels, some like bridges. In some places, two holes lie next to each other, forming curious formations like the Double O Arch, where a big hole dozens of meters across sits on top of a small hole about three meters high.

Arch Arch Nils in arch
Arch Matthias in Double O Arch Arch

The farthest point we visit today is Dark Angel, a high, free-standing column of black rock. We have a picknick at its base and enjoy the panorama of the valley stretching out in front of us. Again, the sky is perfectly blue with just some wispy clouds. All over the horizon are the curious silhouettes of rock formations, fins and arches, and in the east we again see the over 11.000 feet high snow-covered mountain range that we had already seen from other national parks before.

On our way back, we take the Primitive Loop, a difficult but exciting trail that again leads us over and between the tall fins, through dry riverbeds, on sand, slickrock, snow, ice, among huge boulders, dead trees and green firs. One spot is really tricky: We have to cross over the sloping side of a fin that is slippery because of all the sand on the slickrock. It is a bit nauseating at first sight, but we make our way over it safely, half walking, half sliding on the smooth surface. After that, the trail is easy again until we return to our starting point. All in all, it takes us about five hours for the whole hike.

Dark Angel Arch Rock fins

We take a break in our car as we upload the pictures from the camera to the laptop, then decide to hike to Delicate Arch which is supposed to look best at sunset. Although classified as "moderately difficult", the 5 km roundtrip trail to the arch seems comparably easy after the 11 km we have just completed. Only the final bit is a bit tricky again, although not nearly as hard as the spot on the Primitive Loop: The last 180 meters to Delicate Arch lead along a narrow rock ledge with the rock rising up vertically on one side and dropping off vertically on the other. Above all, the ledge is covered in ice and snow, so we have to watch our step to keep from slipping. The sight finally opening up to us is worth it, though.

Delicate Arch trail Delicate Arch trail Delicate Arch trail

Delicate Arch is a very tall, free-standing arch on the edge of a huge rock bowl about 100 meters across. The slope of the bowl is gentle in the upper quarter and steeper the farther you go in, so we are able to walk around the top of the bowl to see the arch from different angles (fortunately, there is no snow in the bowl at all). The sight of the towering arch, the red rock of the bowl shining deep orange in the evening light and the intense colors in the sky as the sun sets are just awesome. The moment is marred only a bit by the (comparative) multitude of tourists who are there with us. We have gotten so used to seeing nobody else in the national parks that the dozen other people who are photographing the sunset at Delicate Arch kind of disturb us. We sit down and take in the scenery for a couple of minutes, then hike back to our car.

Delicate Arch access Delicate Arch Delicate Arch bowl
Delicate Arch in back light Nils at Delicate Arch Delicate Arch through an arch

As we drive out of Arches National Park, we stop at Balanced Rock again to photograph its silhouette against the sky that is ablaze with the most intense colors - blue, red, orange, yellow, white; all accentuated by the wispy bands of the clouds.

Sunset on Delicate Arch trail Evening sky Balanced Rock in evening light

We stay in the same Motel 6 in Moab again as the night before. Tomorrow, we will return to the park to see some more arches, and then drive to the nearby Canyonlands National Park.

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© 2001-2003 Matthias Book (Text), Nils Grunwald (Photos)