A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us—like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness—that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship.” – Edward Abbey in ‘Desert Solitaire’
When it comes to iconic features in America’s National Parks, the 2000+ stone arches of the aptly named Arches National Park are right up at the top of the list. Along with the Grand Canyon, El Capitan in Yosemite, and Old Faithful in Yellowstone, the red stone arches peppering the landscape around Moab, Utah seem otherworldly — defying the laws of physics as they slowly crumble with the passage of time.
Deep in the park — as far in as you can drive on a paved road — lies the trailhead for the Devil’s Garden loop. Brandon and I made that our first stop, figuring we could stop at other sites on the way back. The parking lot was packed, leaving us with the sinking feeling that the trail would be insanely busy. Hopefully, most visitors wouldn’t be doing the full loop.
One of our first stops was Landscape Arch, regarded as the longest such arch in the world. Luckily, this was the furthest many people seemed keen to venture, as the trail transitions from paved to primitive. Fortunately for us, the rest of the hike would prove less crowded.
We skipped Partition Arch and headed for Navajo Arch instead, finding a cool spot in the shade to enjoy lunch. Afterward, we went to the outer edge of the loop to check out Double O Arch, a stunning 70+ foot arch with a smaller arch directly beneath it.
Instead of heading out to check the outlying arches, we elected to walk the rest of the primitive trail. The number of people dropped off even more, as most seemed to opt for the quicker, more direct route back the way we’d come.
The latter half of the loop — while only includes one arch — winds through a dreamscape characterized by slender fins of red sandstone, narrow gulleys, and epic views over the desert plateau. It was like something out of a sci-fi novel.
We took an extended break, perched atop a fin near Private Arch, to survey the landscape around us. Occasionally, we’d pick out a group of fellow hikers, dwarfed by the landscape around them.
The next section took us through some of the gulleys, including a risky scramble over a rock face to get around a flooded trail. We had to help some other hikers over, but everyone made it safely. After clearing the labyrinth of fins and gulleys, we found ourselves back on the plateau. On one side, we were flanked by the maze of rock formations and on the other by a grassy plain with the La Sal mountains in the distance.
As we walked, the sky began to darken and a cold wind whipped up. Ominous clouds rolled in on the horizon. It was all eerily familiar to the previous day when we’d almost been struck by lightning in Canyonlands. Neither Brandon nor I wanted to tempt Fate two days in a row, so we hustled the last stretch of the hike and made it back to the car safely.
What are some of the most awesome geological features you’ve come across during your travels? What made them so great? Leave your answers in the comments below!