Planning a long road trip requires finding plenty of balance. The required driving time has to be offset with some enjoyable stops. I have found that the longer the drive, the bigger the reward should be at the end. Since this road trip was somewhat of a circular route, I had strategically placed a couple of the biggest hits on the way home. After our morning at Shoshone Falls, we were back on the road for another seven hours of drive time. Our day’s excursion had brought us through Salt Lake City and deposited us in the Green River Valley. This would allow us to make a predawn visit to Arches National Park, where we were planning to do some hiking in wonderland. With all of the hype we had heard about this park, we spent a restless night in anticipation of the next day’s adventure.
Arches National Park was about 40 minutes away, but we also planned to begin our visit at the back of the park. This would hopefully let us avoid some of the crowds until later in the day. After grabbing some coffee and snacks, we made our way through the dark to the park entrance. Having purchased our America The Beautiful park pass during our visit to the Badlands, we were able to breeze through. Driving through the park in the dark left us less than impressed. We knew there were highlights just outside of our field of view. After parking at Delicate Arch, we used our flashlights to make our way to the viewpoint. The gathering light slowly expanded across the horizon, which we took in from our perch under the arch. We, along with the others gathered under the arch, stood in awe of the hues and shades of red that became visible as the sun rose.
Arches Come Into View
Now that we could see our surroundings, we knew that we could stay here for much more than one day. Before heading back up the road, we hiked to another cluster of arches. This park is home to more than 2000 of these intriguing natural structures. The sandstone is the perfect medium for wind and rain to work on. Coupled with eons of time, nature has created pinnacles, balancing rocks, and colossal fins all across the landscape.
Whenever we changed locations, we would spot some wonders that made us stop in our tracks. Fortunately, they have plentiful pull-offs and parking lots. Many are used by day hikers to get them close to the trailheads. While scaling of arches or balancing rocks is prohibited, the park does allow guests to scurry around more stable and sturdy sites. Hiking is the thing to do here and we saw many heading off along some paths to out-of-the-way wonders.
Hiking in Wonderland
While we may not attempt to tackle the longer hikes, we were eager to set our sights on some easy and moderate lengths. We noticed in the brochure we received that there are even a couple of boardwalk-style trails that are accessible. Traversing along the trails, we found that there is very little on the level, as steps and ledges dot the landscape. The climbs are steady, but the rise is usually manageable. Unlike hiking in the Rockies, here we found that the steep grades were abrupt, so we could handle them with quick bursts of energy.
All Kinds of Arches
A number of our hikes were generally aimed at reaching one or more of the arches. There was a time, during trip planning, that I wondered if the sight of multiple arches would become redundant. You may think so, but the reality was completely different. Since we had a map telling us of an upcoming feature, it was easy to begin anticipating when we would likely spot it. Each time we turned a corner or climbed over a hill, and caught first sight, it was like the first. Each arch has its distinct shape, like the elongated fashion of Landscape Arch. With a span of 290 feet, it is the longest arch in Arches National Park.
Trip Along Park Avenue
We discovered that the majority of the arches are located toward the back of the park. By the time lunch rolled around, we decided to pause before heading too far toward the park entrance. After all, there was still plenty of visual amazement to be seen firsthand. Once we were refreshed, it was time to return to exploring. We had put way too much planning into this vacation to let this chance slide by. We cruised slowly along the main road, taking the opportunity to pull off every chance we got. Eventually, we found ourselves at the parking lot for Park Avenue. We knew that daylight was burning and our time was approaching an end. This would be our last hike of the day.
Explore Arches National Park
Without hesitation, we bounded off down the staircase and into the immense valley. Sheer cliffs rose around us, reminding us of a skyscraper-lined city boulevard. The hike to Courthouse Towers is one mile long, but the way out was spent with slow progress and constant gawking. Even as the landscape had seemingly changed, there were still visible reminders that we were in Arches National Park. Set high in the towering cliffs, we would spot a hole on its way to eroding into another arch. Nature seems to be constantly working. It isn’t often these words pass my lips, but I knew “We weren’t in Kansas anymore”!
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