Home to five national parks, seven national monuments, 45 state parks, and a vast expanse of wilderness area, Utah has no shortage of incredible outdoor destinations to explore. And while I have explored a few of the highlights like Lake Powell, Bear Lake, and Park City, I knew that Utah had a lot more to offer; so when the calendar changed over to 2016 I decided that this was the year to get out and see what all the hype was about. Interestingly enough, the National Park Service turns 100 later this year, so my goal of visiting Utah’s Mighty Five came at the perfect time and I was thrilled for the opportunity to explore my own backyard for a change.
It was just after dawn when my brother and sister-in-law pulled up outside of my house; the February morning air was crisp, the coffee was hot, and the cooler was full of drinks and plenty of snacks. We spent the next four hours driving through busy canyons, rural towns, ghost towns, and wilderness for as far as the eye could see, and after a while the tree covered mountains gave way to vibrant hues of red-colored sandstone. The slick rock formations resembled out-of-this-world landscapes vastly different from the snow-covered mountains a few hours north, and as I stared out the window mesmerized by the rainbow hues of red, I knew that we were close to our weekend destination: Moab, Utah.
Moab is not only home to over 5,000 permanent residents but it’s also the “home base” to two of Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks: Arches and Canyonlands. Arches National Park is unlike any other place in the world with over 2,000 natural stone arches found within its boundaries.
Our first official stop of the day was at one of the most famous landmarks in Arches National Park: Balanced Rock. The red and orange, 55-foot rock is perched ever so perfectly 73-feet above the slick sandstone below (according to the National Park Service).
As we stood in the parking lot Balanced Rock didn’t seem to be THAT big, however, once we noticed the hikers standing near its base, the true scale of this rock formation really settled in. It was in that moment that we realized our perception of the enormous rocks within our sight may have been slightly off — they were much larger than they appeared.
We hopped back into the car and drove towards the longest hike of our day, which was not only the highlight of our trip but also the highlight of the entire park: Delicate Arch. I’ve seen this famous arch my entire life — it’s the image on Utah’s license plates, it’s on marketing materials, billboards, and even commercials — and I was finally going to see it in person.
The three-mile hike (round trip) is considered Strenuous according to the National Park Service, however being the limited-experienced hiker that I am, even I would classify it as a Moderate hike (and we all know my history with hiking). 😉 The hike took us a total of three hours, one of which was spent at the Arch itself.
After hiking to Delicate Arch we enjoyed a picnic lunch and then drove towards Devil’s Garden in the north end of the park to see Landscape Arch. At close to 300-feet long, this arch is not only the longest in the Park, it’s the longest arch in the WORLD!
Back in 1991, a couple of European hikers had a close call when a giant slab of rock (larger than an automobile) fell from the arch onto the trail right next to the hikers — luckily nobody was injured — and to this day the trail directly underneath the arch is off-limits due to safety concerns. As we stood behind the safety fence, I couldn’t help but notice the hairline cracks which have appeared along some of the most delicate points on the arch. It’s only a matter of time until this famous landmark completely crumbles onto the path below.
One of the recurring thoughts throughout the day creeped into every trail, every photograph, and every arch — nature is powerful yet incredibly delicate. The powerful forces that were responsible for creating this incredible area are also the same forces that will eventually destroy it. I was amazed at the beautiful rock formations and often wondered what the park would look like in another thirty, fifty, one-hundred years. How many arches would be standing? How many new ones would appear?
After a couple of other short hikes, we ended our day with a final stop at The Windows. Classified as one of the easiest hikes in the park, this 20-minute hike rewarded those on the trail with two natural arches side by side: the North Window and (you guessed it) the South Window.
My brother did some research before arriving at the park and lead us on a quick five-minute
(fall and you’re seriously injured) jaunt to watch the Sunset through North Window Arch. There’s something so enchanting about watching a sunset, (its one of my favorite times of the day), and watching as the red rocks slowly morphed into a deeper, richer, darker shade of red as the sun set over Arches National Park was a sight to experience.
It took me 29 years to visit Arches National Park and since my visit I’ve often wondered what took me so long. We hiked a lot of the trails and stopped at many of the highlights, however, there’s still a lot more to explore and I can’t wait to go back.
It’s the Centennial Anniversary of the National Park Service, wondering if there is a National Park near you?
Have you been to Arches National Park? Which National Park is your favorite?