On the morning of Saturday, February 12 , we decided to do our first real hike at Arches National Park, an out-and-back to Tower Arch. The sandy, sometimes steep hike is a very scenic 3.4-miles ending at an arch that spans an impressive ninety-two feet. Tower Arch is one of the most remote large arches in the Park, so getting over to the trailhead was fun too.
From the parking area for Skyline Arch, which we’d just had a look at, we gazed out across Salt Valley. Although it doesn’t look like much compared to the sculpted fins and ridges on either side of it, Salt Valley is absolutely crucial to the formations in Arches.
290 million years ago, this was a shallow sea that, when it evaporated, left behind a thick layer of salt. Over millions of millennia, new layers of sediment covered the salt layer, eventually causing so much pressure that the salt began to flow like a glacier. Hitting a fault, as it does here, it buckled up and created a dome, stretching the overlying rock, which split and eroded into the long fins of Entrada Sandstone that the arches are formed in.
Moisture through the cracks in the sandstone eventually dissolved the salt dome, and the area collapsed, creating Salt Valley with ridges of sandstone fins on either side. Since then, wind, ice, and sediment have been carving the fins into the wondrous shapes and arches and hoodoos of the Park.
With no rain forecast, we were confident taking the well-groomed dirt road down into and across Salt Valley.
In fact the only issue we had was that at one point a mass of tumbleweed completely blocked the road. So we got out and kicked them out of the way to make a path for the car.
Our destination was Klondike Bluffs, on the eastern side of the valley.
We parked, one of only three cars in the parking area.
We decided to have a snack before our hike, so we sat on the fender, hatch open, of the little Honda and ate the charcuterie-to-go that we’d brought from the hotel.
(Uh. There has got to be a story behind each of these prohibitions.)
We shouldered our bags, snapped open our hiking poles, and set out.
The very first portion of the hike led steeply and somewhat confusingly up a slickrock ridge.
We were definitely glad we had our hiking poles, particularly since there were a few icy portions.
Topping out on the wide ridge, the trail became easy to follow.
Out to the southwest we could see the canyons of Canyonlands National Park in the distance. Someday, Canyonlands, but not today.
North and on the right, the dramatic ridges of Klondike Bluffs were particularly cool because you could easily see the way that different layers of rock eroded differently.
The trail dropped into a broad depression and crossed a wash before starting a climb up a sandy portion of the trail.
Here the trail turned and entered the eastern side of Klondike Bluffs.
In addition to northwest-southeast trending fins, there were fun hoodoos that looked like they were topped by onions.
And then past a fin we spotted Tower Arch beneath one of the onion hoodoos.
We had passed a couple of hikers heading back toward the parking area. Here at the arch, we were alone.
We climbed up under and behind the arch and just gazed at the westerly view for a while.
While we were sitting there another couple arrived. They were down for the weekend from Salt Lake City at their second home in Castle Valley. They confirmed it was completely dead in Moab that weekend.
They took some photos and moved on. We lingered, reapplied sunblock. Enjoyed the view.
Then we heard some children’s voices off in the distance. We decided to head back and let them have the arch to themselves.
The walk back was pretty quick.
Going back down right at the end was the only fairly tricky part. Sean realized that his boots were not grippy enough. He was still wearing his original boots that he’d gotten in advance of Isle Royale some ten and a half years earlier. With little tread left, he was going to have to be careful on the slickrock.
The hike had taken us just a couple hours. It was now 12:15, and it would probably take us about an hour to drive back out Salt Valley Road and up to Panorama Point, where we would have our lunch.
On the way out of Salt Valley, we got some great views of Skyline Arch.
It had been a great, full morning at Arches.