On Sunday, February 13 , we spent the second of our two days in Arches National Park. We centered the day around two celebrated hikes: Devils Garden and Delicate Arch. Devils Garden Trail is a loop route twisting through a broken landscape at the end of the Park Road. In some portions it is a broad path. In other sections it involves scrambling over slickrock. The complete hike with all side trails to see arches and other formations is a solid 7.8 miles.
Although I was up fairly early, early enough to see the sunrise on the Moab escarpment from our balcony, we took our time getting ready to go. We again took a couple paninis and coffees with us for our adventure.
This morning as we drove into the Park we listened to the wonderful Dan Romer-composed soundtrack to Station Eleven, which we were loving as it aired each week. We noticed that the light was much better this morning, with a clear and achingly blue sky.
As an exclamation point on how empty the Park was, we easily got the closest non-ADA parking spot to the trailhead.
We were on the trail just after 9am. Our intention was to do the whole loop and all the side trails.
A broad path led between two huge fins, almost like a gateway into the Devils Garden area.
Then the landscape opened up a bit.
Some five minutes into the hike, we reached the first side trail. This one went to Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch
We had these arches to ourselves.
As we approached Pine Tree Arch, Sean said the lines of the train conductor in White Christmas: “Pine Tree! Coming into Pine Tree!”
After the two arches, we went back to the main trail.
Some Uinta Chipmunks and a flock of Dark-Eyed Juncos led us down the path.
After passing through more fins and some slick spots on the trail, the landscape again opened up and we saw Landscape Arch for the first time.
Spanning 306 feet, Landscape Arch is the longest arch in North America and possibly on Earth. At its narrowest, it is only six feet wide.
And, incredibly, we had it all to ourselves. No one else was there.
Just six feet.
After we’d had our fill of gazing up at Landscape Arch, we continued on. Up to the right of Landscape Arch, we spotted Partition Arch, where we were headed next.
From here the trail became more primitive, not the broad path it had been.
And by primitive, the Park Service meant “just up some rock.” It’s actually easier to see the trail in the photograph above than it was in person. We shrugged and said, “Guess we’re supposed to head up there.”
Finally some other hikers came along and confirmed we were going the right way.
A cute fellow encouraged us as we reached the top.
At the top, a hiker asked Sean if he had been signaling his friend. Sean replied, “No, I was just swinging my hiking poles around.”
A side trail wrapped around the backside of a fin to Partition Arch, which had a great view.
And then to Navajo Arch, which had no view at all, but was a gateway to a tiny little “canyon” between two fins.
We returned to the main trail and continued on.
Up here the views really opened up.
The trail led up onto a long fin that, geologically speaking, was just starting to get exposed as the sediment between it and its neighbors slowly eroded away.
And now the views were virtually 360 degrees.
Out in the fins below us, Black Arch was almost hidden.
We descended a little bit until Double O Arch came into view.
The upper span is seventy-one feet and the lower, smaller span is twenty-one feet.
Here, as at other arches, the Park Service needed to remind people not to climb onto the arches.
This was reinforced by a twenty-something who expressed his intention to climb up on the the lower span of Double O Arch.
But one of his four hiking companions had reached her limit, and she said, “Aaron, we’re running half an hour behind, so your solo adventure have to stop. We’re not going up on the arch today.” Then after a pause, she added, “You’ve been lucky to have had a babysitter for the past twenty-three years.”
From Double O Arch, a side trail led toward the Dark Angel, a pillar near the edge of Salt Valley.
As we headed out toward it, we heard a Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay.
Here the formations were right above Salt Valley, and some more big views opened up.
We sat down on the edge of the valley near Dark Angel and had a snack and reapplied our sunblock. It really was a great day for a hike.
From Dark Angel, we retraced our steps back toward Double O Arch and the main trail.
From here the main trail becomes “primitive,” according to the signage. This meant that it was mostly a perfectly normal trail with three or four portions of scrambling over sandstone fins.
Another side trail led to Private Arch, the final arch we’d see on the loop.
Walking back to the main tail from Private Arch, we were startled by a fifty-something couple who were hiking off trail.
The trail finally needed to get us down out of the maze of fins and into a sandy wash. It did this by leading us down a long fin into a “canyon” between two huge fins.
Then a subtle arrowhead sign indicated we should go up the base of the next fin.
This was easily the most “Huh?” moment of the trail
Then down into the next “canyon” via rope. Which poor Sean thought meant to go straight down with the rope. But it really meant use the rope to steady yourself on a couple switchbacks down the fin.
And then we were in a widening sandy wash.
A larger sign (and lots of footprints) made it obvious when the trail departed the wash.
The trail rose steadily back up to the edge of the maze of fins.
But throughout this portion we were consistently outside of the maze.
Out ahead the snowy La Sal Mountains loomed over the fins in the foreground.
We met a dad and his sons heading counter-clockwise on the loop. He asked us how icy the trail was, and we told him it wasn’t, but that he should keep an eye out for the rope portion.
And then suddenly—sooner than I’d expected—we were back at the start of the loop near Landscape Arch. We waved at the arch and directed an elderly couple toward it before continuing down the trail toward the parking area.
By the time we got back to the car, we were very hungry. It was 2:15pm, so the hike had taken us a solid five hours and change. We ate our paninis, contemplated the great hike we’d just done, and considered what to do until it was time for Delicate Arch.