Posted on September 8, 2015
Arches National Park
Exploring Arches National Park in Moab, Utah
Having grown up in coastal British Columbia, images of fir and cedar trees, lush ferns, puddles, rain-slicked logs and ocean views are synonymous with a day of hiking. We have mountains, beaches, and a network of trails that criss-cross every corner of our province. Hiking in the desert is an entirely different experience and – what I quickly learned while visiting Arches National Park in Utah this summer – one that is not to be missed.
After leaving Yellowstone National Park, my husband and I took a night off from tenting and holed up in the Hotel Monaco Kimpton Hotel (more about that in a future blog post) in Salt Lake City. Once we had recharged, showered without also wearing flip flops, and ate food that wasn’t cooked on a camp stove, we aimed our truck southeast to the town of Moab. Located about three hours from Utah’s capital, Moab is famous for its abundant recreation opportunities. Hikers, climbers, and mountain bikers flock to this colourful town to seek their thrills with like-minded people.
During the entire drive to Moab, we followed the highway as it stretched into what seemed to be an endlessly blue horizon with walls of sandstone on either side of us. About 30 miles outside of Moab, all of that changed as ominously black clouds gathered directly over top of the town. As we got closer, lightening ripped across the sky and rain danced to the beat of the thunder on the hood of our truck. This wasn’t boding at all well for the nylon tent we were planning to set up once we arrived.
One thing you should know about me is that, up until this trip, I have spent my entire life being afraid of thunder and lightening. It’s unpredictable and powerful. Attempting anything other than embracing the storm seemed to be futile effort, so rather than finding our campground, we drove straight into Arches National Park to watch the storm toss across the desert mesas. As the rain, wind, thunder, and lightening swirled around us, my fear turned to wonder which then turned to awe. The storm didn’t ruin our day – not by a long shot. If anything, it made our day.
Because we only had one full day to explore Arches, an early bedtime led to an even earlier wake-up. At 4:00 a.m., I pulled on a sweater, tied up my cross trainers, laced a headlamp over my head, and drove into the park. Our plan was to hike the 1.5-mile trek to Delicate Arch early enough to see the sunrise. A handful of other people had the same idea, each of us nothing more than a bobbing headlamp in a pitch black desert scape.
We arrived in time time to see the sky’s colours soften and melt from midnight to navy to cobalt and finally to a shade of gold-tinted azure. We saw the rays of the sun slowly illuminate Delicate Arch and no one said a word. Existing in such an isolated place at an hour when most others are still asleep felt like something of a secret and a privilege.
By the time we completed the round trip hike, it was barely breakfast time, so after each downing a Clif bar, we set about planning the rest of our day in the park. So much of the scenery in Arches is iconic, and we were fortunate enough to see the Double Arch, Landscape Arch, and the Windows.
What we were most excited for was the Fiery Furnace, a permit-only area with no marked trails and where common sense is non-negotiable. Admittance to the Fiery Furnace requires a quick orientation with a park ranger and all hikers have to pay a small fee to secure a permit. A limited number of permits are available each day, and the adventure is not for the faint of heart.
The Fiery Furnace is a labyrinth of narrow passages, boulders, crevices and slots. Scrambling amongst the sandstone walls can easily leave hikers feeling disoriented if not even just a little bit lost. With no trails, signs, or park rangers in sight, my husband and I were careful to be extra cautious and pay close attention to familiar markers.
Those who are daring enough to attempt the Fiery Furnace are treated to parts of the park that few others see. We found some unnamed and unmarked arches (one of which we appropriately christened “Secret Arch”), prickly pears, and more than a few lizards. However, the area is so vast that even after three or four hours, we had barely scratched the surface of the sandstone.
The intense heat combined with our jam-packed day left us feeling wiped by the time we got back to our campsite for the second night. Instead of calling it a day, we rallied long enough to grab burgers and beers at the eclectic Moab Brewery. I’d go ahead and say that place is a must-visit after a day of discovery in the area. As with every other park we visited on our road trip, we definitely didn’t seem to have enough time at Arches, and I’m confident our first visit won’t be our only visit.
What Arches National Park lacks in wildlife, it makes up for with other potential hazards. Heat, excruciating sun, storms, flash floods, slick rock, crevasses, and isolation are very real dangers. For more information, please refer to the safety information page on Arches National Park’s website.
Accommodation: Up the Creek Campground located at 210 East 300 South in downtown Moab, Utah.
Facilities: Flush toilets, running water, hot showers; campfires not permitted
Privacy: Quiet campground with tents only, no RVs
Nearest amenities: Downtown Moab is within walking distance and features gas, food, lodging, dining, and more
Cost: USD$32 per night
Would I Stay Again?: Probably. We booked here because the campground within Arches National Park was fully booked. Up the Creek’s sites were all walk-in, so wheelbarrows are provided to tote your gear from your vehicle to your site. Unfortunately, the campsite terrain was quite rocky and guests are not permitted to pitch their tents on the grass. Next time we’ll again try to camp within the park, but this place is great in a pinch.
The National Park Service is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the park service in 2016. To commemorate the occasion, the NPS has started the Find Your Park movement, encouraging people to explore amazing places and share incredible stories. I was not paid or asked to write this post. My thoughts, views and opinions are entirely my own.