Site #15; W/E/S/CATV; This is probably the best hookup campground in Moab to have access to Arches, unless you prefer a BLM site of which there are many options in a wide area nearby. The campground is about halfway between downtown Moab and the entrance to Arches and just a couple miles from each.
Arches is one of the most visited parks in Utah for good reason – possibly second only to Zion. While we were there in a slower part of the season (almost off season), we still waited in line for an hour on our first time in at mid morning. We learned to go earlier or later. We heard that there is a possibility that Arches will go to a shuttle system as in Zion to limit traffic within the park.
The fee gate is way up yonder. Illogically there is no park pass lane - both lines cover free passes, cash, and credit card which takes forever.
Our experience was that once past the pay kiosks, the park roads weren't very congested because of the length of the roads and the number of parking areas and view points. On the other hand, some popular parking areas were tough in particular the parking lot at Devils Garden Trailhead which was full most of mid day.
With a park map in hand and a week to explore, we took our time and visited most of the trails and all the major named arches. The exception was the moderate hike to Delicate Arch – maybe the most famous and photographed arch in the world. We opted instead to a different trail that provided a nice view of it.
There were a couple sights that were less than spectacular such as balance rock – made more so by the swarms of people around it. But, most were really special. Most times views are enhanced by walking directly under or past the arch to view from another side, seeing with late afternoon light, or rarely seeing with few or no one around. It wasn't easy seeing any of the popular spots with a dozen people doing selfies at the same time.
The views from some of the overlooks were special too such as Fiery Furnace, Petrified Dunes and anywhere where a view of the La Sal Mountains loomed over the surreal landscape.
My favorite views were along he Devils Garden Trail which had spr trails to Navajo and Partition Arches. At Navajo Arch I went slightly off trail just climbing a little to the west to get an unbelievable view of Salt Valley.
Photos from Arches:
Small version of Monument Valley
Broken Arch - one of my favorites partially because I got to spend some time with it alone.
Under Broken Arch
The other side of Broken Arch
A crow was yakking at me there
Sand Dune Arch - small but fun to get to - like beach sand all around
Getting to Sand Dune Arch
Hiking to Skyline Arch
Views of the La Sal Mountains from the park road - views best in late afternoon with the sun behind you and the rocks glowing
North Window on the left and La Sal Mountains
The La Sal's from one of the trails
La Sal peak close up
Devil's Garden Primitive Loop Trail:
This is listed as a 7.2 mile “difficult” trail that provides access to 7 arches. The beginning is easy up until Landscape Arch, and many people hike to this point and return.
From there the NPS considers the trail “strenuous.” This is evident right away as the trail climbs steeply up the edge of one of the many “fins”. In places, the trail is narrow enough to require walking single file.
An earlier photo of the trail up the first fin. Easy going up, tougher coming down.
At the top of this first fin, the views are fantastic looking back toward the La Sal Mountains, but it was extremely narrow in one spot that left me considering going the full loop rather than return this way. The trail continues along the now horizontal edge of the fin, which was a thrilling and new experience for me. I must say that I have done a lot of hiking in the northeast, but I was not used to these narrow trails with unobstructed drops on both sides.
Walking up here isn't too bad unless you are walking around people taking a break
This spot was really narrow
It is a big drop over the side at the narrow spot
That was the only big group of hikers I saw
Writing this some time after the fact, with a little more Utah hiking experience, I know that most of the fear and difficulty was in my head and from lack of experience in these types of conditions. I'm sure that the more you experience exposed edges on steeply sloping slickrock, the more you get used to it. Back east the rock is mostly irregular, allowing for someplace to secure your step. The slick-rock provides more grip than it appears, which takes some getting used to, as does being accustomed to heights.
Fins are everywhere making bushwhacking pretty much impossible
Some are inviting to climb
Walking down the opposite side of the fin was more unsettling than going up because going up you are leaning into the slope. Going down your tendency is to lean (or feel like your leaning), down a seep decline with nothing to hold on to. I was nervous in a couple spots.
This perspective makes it look flat, but the land in general is going up while descending this fin
Looking back up
At the bottom, the trail goes left over that edge
Despite the occasional descent, in general the trail continues to rise in elevation. When standing high one one of the fins, my view showed that I was in the middle of a large area with of fins on all sides of me. Their sides are so tall and steep, that the only way up is to find one with a climbable edge.
The spurs to Navajo and Partition Arches were really rewarding. Hiking up a rise to the west of Navajo Arch I had a spectacular view of Salt Valley.
Behind Navajo Arch
Bush whacked View to the North West over Salt Valley
View to the South over Salt Valley
Eventually I got to Double O Arch, after another steep descent down another fin. From there I had to decide whether to return or try the loop which continues past the sign that says “Caution, Primitive Trail, Difficult Hiking.” The loop was also a little longer going back.
While thinking about it, I met a hiker coming from the difficult section who told me it wasn't that difficult. He said there was one tough part so I decided to go for it – somewhat trying to defeat my own fears.
I went at a quick pace and indeed found a difficult spot where I had to slide down on my backside into a pile of logs that were placed there to stop people from going further. I continued to go decrease in elevation when I came to another couple who said there was a really difficult spot ahead.
I slid on my backside to go down that worn spot on the left
You can see the logs that stopped my slide
I told them that there was a nerve wracking spot on the top of the first fin, but he assured me that the way I came was much easier. There was a spot where you had to hold on to the wall of a ledge as you inched along the edge. I was committed at this point and got to it shortly after.
It looked much like the earlier slope I went down except the trail disappeared around a corner where I couldn't see a place for my hands or a place where my feet would hold to the rock. The rock looked about at a 45 degree angle and I couldn't see how my shoes would stick to it. Unlike the other slope I encountered, there were no logs to stop me from going over the edge and the fall over the side would definitely be fatal.
The drop over this ledge was severe and no place to grab
A close up shows the worn trail goes around that blind corner. The footing surface was worn smooth and sand made it look slippery.
I spent 10 minutes looking for an alternate route and went back to it two or three times trying to see how to navigate around the corner. I kept telling myself that others had done it so it can be done, but then again everyone I met had done it from the other direction. I was getting extremely frustrated – looking at my watch and the ledge. It was getting late and I was already tired. I had already gone about a mile from the last arch, so if I went back I had a good 4 miles hike, mostly uphill, and would still face the other section that got me nervous. But, I couldn't see a way down this slope. I wished someone would come along from either direction to give me some guidance or help. I thought if I had a partner, I would try to go around the corner while holding out one of my hiking poles to a person behind me – to give me something to hold on to. For the first time in my life, I turned around because I just couldn't see a way around it.
Now I was in a little fight for time. I hiked as fast as I ever hiked before – almost at a trot - not stopping or slowing, my heart was pounding, but I kept going until I covered that last mile back. It took me about 15 minutes to cover the mile uphill. The rest of the hike back was anticlimactic, until I got to the original steep part on the first fin. Like I said, going up was easy, going down was heart throbbing but compared to where I turned around, it indeed was nothing. I made it back with the sun low in the sky and had a beautiful ride back.
Corona Arch and Petroglyphs:
Leave the crowds and take a short ride down UT279, following the Colorado River, to Corona Arch – one I thought more spectacular than any within Arches! Along the way there is an exceptional wall of petroglyphs and another arch within site of the road.
The trail to Corona Arch was beautiful the whole way with wonderful rock formations. Within view of Corona Arch there was a steep section where a chain was bolted to the rock wall to assist your climb followed by a short ladder. Those with bad knees could have trouble here. The walk from there on was incredible though.
Across from he petroglyphs is the "Fickle Finger of Fate"
Jug Handle Arch
The trail to Corona Arch passes over this rail line that services the giant Potash plant up the canyon
The Colorado River winds into Canyonlands and Dead Horse State Park
Corona Arch is seen to the right
Hikers in the shadow using the chain to climb
From atop the chain and ladder - getting closer
Corona Arch gets larger as I get closer
Finally there and no one doing selfies under it. This doesn't happen in Arches.
Heading back - getting another look.
Sandy making it look easy
Final look back
Getting close to the parking area, the sunlight was great
La Sal Mountains:
Heading east out of Moab, we took a day to drive the La Sal Mountain Loop. This is an incredible drive but requires a clear day. To get there we drove along the Colorado River with sheer rock walls around us. Then we drove by an unexpected sight – Castleton Tower. This tall set of spires was visible for miles along the valley and again as we climbed the mountains. We parked at an overlook for at least an hour because the views were so good. There we watched a bald eagle soar around the mountains.
From the Overlook
Looking behind us from the Overlook
Looking back on The Loop Road
On the road again.....