Arches National Park

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”
—Edward Abbey

By the time we got to Arches National Park, we had been on the road almost a week. So, it is perhaps not surprising that we found ourselves with a slight case of “park fatigue” and didn’t love it as much as expected. It didn’t help matters that Arches was crowded (at least compared to where we had been), especially with too many kids who were clearly bored out of their minds with all the walking.

I can’t imagine what this park is like during the summer, as even in mid-October we would arrive at viewpoints and not be able to park. At Devils Garden, we walked for close to a mile from our car to the trailhead. With over a million visitors a year these days, not to mention the intense desert heat, I’m stunned that they apparently still haven’t developed a viable shuttle system.

The boulder on top of Balanced Rock is more than fifty-five feet high.
The boulder on top of Balanced Rock is more than fifty-five feet high.

Devils Garden is at the end of the park road and the road is not a loop, so, depending on the sun and any photography needs, you may be better off heading there first and then winding back to see the other viewpoints on your way out of the park. There’s a reason this section of the park is so popular—it has more arches than any other. The full loop hike is 7.2 miles and quite strenuous in parts, but there are several shorter options.

Tunnel Arch, Devils Garden Trail
Tunnel Arch, Devils Garden Trail
Pine Tree Arch, Devils Garden Trail
Pine Tree Arch, Devils Garden Trail
Landscape Arch, Devils Garden Trail
Landscape Arch, Devils Garden Trail
Skyline Arch is located just south of Devils Garden.
Skyline Arch is located just south of Devils Garden.

Another popular spot is the Windows Section, with two of the most photographed arches in the park, the North Window and the Double Arch (featured above), both easily accessible from nearby parking.

The larger opening of Double Arch is over one hundred feet high.
The larger opening of Double Arch is over one hundred feet high.
The North Window's opening is approximately fifty feet high and almost one hundred feet wide.
The North Window’s opening is approximately fifty feet high and almost one hundred feet wide.

The only popular feature you won’t see pictured here is Delicate Arch. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to make the rather strenuous hike up to it, and, while we did drive to the Delicate Arch viewpoint, I just couldn’t get a good shot of it.

Finally, another reason we didn’t visit as much of Arches as we should have and (Shock! Horror!) didn’t even see Canyonlands, is that we decided to pamper ourselves and stay at the swanky Sorrel River Ranch and Spa, which was well off the beaten path from Moab and both parks. If you know me at all, you know I’m a completist and it nearly killed me to leave Canyonlands off the list, but the foot massages after all that hiking may just have been worth it.

Looking out from the front of the Sorrel River Ranch
Looking out from the front of the Sorrel River Ranch
Looking towards Arches from the Sorrel River Ranch
Looking towards Arches from the Sorrel River Ranch

Note: If you are visiting Arches, I recommend taking along a copy of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, an account of Abbey’s time as a park ranger at Arches in the 1950s and his consequent ruminations on environmentalism, solitude, and wilderness.

Entry to Arches National Park is $10 per car for seven days. If you are completing the Grand Circle, I recommend getting the annual parks pass, which is $80. The pass is good for a full year and can be used to cover the entrance or other fees at over 2000 federal recreation sites.



*Note: This trip was back in the days of my much-loved Pentax K1000. As such, most of the pictures in this Grand Circle series are scans of my printed photos.

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