By early afternoon of Saturday, February 12 , we were halfway through our first of two days exploring Arches National Park. Already we’d gotten in a solid two-hour hike and checked out some of the famous roadside formations. We knew that we would be doing the longer hike at Devils Garden the next day. And our plan for the extremely popular Delicate Arch hike was to go at the end of the day on Sunday, during the Superbowl. So for the rest of that Saturday afternoon, we decided to check out the Visitor Center and more short hikes and formations along the Park Road. But first lunch.
Up at Panorama Point, we sat at a shaded picnic table and ate our paninis, which we’d gotten to-go from the hotel.
The views—360 degrees—were stupid.
At the little amphitheater, Sean pretended to deliver a lecture.
After lunch, we headed down to the Visitor Center at the Park Entrance. There were only five vehicles in the massive parking lot. There was seriously no one at the Park this Superbowl weekend. And we were having spectacular weather. Fifty-five degrees and sunny.
We stamped our passports, perused the exhibits, checked out the park store.
I had an idea: we would plan to head over the the Delicate Arch viewpoint (not the trail to it) around 4:30pm, just about the time that we’d do the hike the following day, to check it out. That gave us a couple of hours to do some exploring.
First up for the afternoon: Park Avenue, a two-mile out-and-back (one mile each way) through a spectacularly carved canyon. We decided to start at the northern, lower end at Courthouse Towers so that the hike would be mildly uphill on the way out and gently downhill on the way back.
Just as we started on the trail, we passed a couple, and I did a double-take. I thought we had just walked past one of Bold Bison’s clients, a person I’d never met in person (at that point), only over Zoom. I said to Sean, “I think that’s Karen from the National Forest Foundation.” He suggested that I call after her. I declined. I wasn’t going to just holler “Karen?” at someone, especially since she was now well down the trail.
Guess what? It was her. About a month later, at our next project check in I asked, “Were you by any chance in Arches National Park in February?” She was!
The trail followed a broad slickrock wash up into the canyon.
Along the way were pockets of trapped water that create their own microhabitats in this high desert environment of the Colorado Plateau.
Striations in the sandstone provide a sense of texture, and give the impression that a wave just swept by on a beach, even though that last happened hundreds of millions of years ago.
The trail ended at the top of a staircase at Park Avenue Viewpoint.
Turning around, we glimpsed the La Sal Mountains in the distance.
On the way back down Park Avenue, we heard Ravens high up on ledges calling loudly to each other. Sean and I decided they were planning murder. Smartly.
Park Avenue didn’t even take us an hour to hike, so we still had an hour to go before we wanted to be out by Delicate Arch. We decided to check out Double Arch.
It was a short walk from the parking area to Double Arch. On the way was a large column on the left that looked, well, like…uh…
The approach to the arch was cool because the various stages of erosion of the surrounding fins felt like snapshots of arches to be or arches that once had been.
Double Arch itself is massive. The larger arch of the two has a span of 148 feet, the second longest in the Park after Landscape Arch. It is 104 feet high, the highest in the Park.
As we were leaving Double Arch we noticed a spot of sun and found the little window it was coming through high on a wall.
There’s another little opening.
As we left the area near Double Arch, we stopped briefly at Garden of Eden Overlook for some photos of hoodoos and fins framed by the La Sal Mountains.
It was time to go down and have a look at Delicate Arch. So we turned east off the Park Road and drove into lovely Cache Valley.
We passed the fairly busy parking area for the hike to Delicate Arch and continued to the fairly empty parking area for the Delicate Arch Viewpoint.
There are actually two viewpoints here, one that is wheelchair accessible on the valley floor and one that is a short hike up to a ridge.
After checking out the lower viewpoint, we hiked up to the other one.
Although it doesn’t get you much closer, the upper viewpoint does offer a better perspective on how Delicate Arch is perched on the edge of a canyon.
We’d be returning to get close to the arch twenty-four hours later. It looked like the light would be stellar then.
We’re not sure where this little group in the photo above thought they were going. Even to get where they are in this photo, they had to walk past a sign that clearly says, “You can’t get there from here. Stay on the trail.”
On the way back down the path we ran into a few Mule Deer having their dinner.
On the way out of the Park at the end of this rich first day, the light glowed on the formations of the Windows area and the La Sals beyond.
It also lit up the Petrified Dunes, hardened remnants of what had once been North America’s largest dune field.
It had been a really wonderful first day in Arches.
Back at the Radcliffe, we had a couple of whiskey drinks before going to pick up dinner.
Dinner was carryout burgers and quesadillas from the Moab Brewery down the street.
Back in our room after dinner, I watched the Olympics while Sean took a bath. We were wiped out, so we didn’t stay up too long. And we had another full day in the Park waiting for us the next day.