We awoke at Willow Flat Campground and packed the car early, leaving our site before 8AM to make the drive to our next stop:
While certainly beautiful in it’s own right and entirely worth seeing, to me, Arches had a distinct amusement park feel. It’s the kind of place where you pick up a map early in the morning and in a train of RVs and cars you drive from one point of interest to the next. Just like at an amusement park where you and those around you tend to take the same course throughout the park seeing each other along the way, we traveled from site to site with familiar faces. This is kind of unavoidable as the park is designed all along one major artery.
Our first stop was at Park Avenue, a rock formation named for it’s similar appearance to towering storefronts along a drive on a city street.
From there we moved along to Balanced Rock. It’s clearly visible from the road, but worth an up-close look to get an idea of the stronger layer of Navajo Sandstone supporting the Slickrock Sandstone above it.
If you are interested in how things like arches and balancing rocks form, read this. In brief, arches at Arches Nat’l Park are formed out of sandstone, a very porous rock that allows for wind and water to easily shape the landscape. Even with just 8-10 inches of rain a year on average, the process of erosion is ongoing. The scarce amount of rain allows for the rock to absorb the moisture, dissolve the salt within to erode the rock from the inside out, cause swelling and cracks, and cause any excess rain to pool up and eventually break through (like in the case of Double Arch).
Getting back on the main road, you make your next right on The Windows Road that appropriately leads to The Windows. As a note, almost every name given to a road, rock formation, or arch in Arches National Park makes a lot of sense. You can easily expect whatever it is to look like whatever it was named after, no guesswork here. Riding down this road you catch glimpses of Cove Arch, The Parade of Elephants, and Double Arch on your left.
The windows consists of North Window & South Window with another small arch nearby called Turret Arch. There is a well-established trail loop that takes you to all three and it’s worth climbing around and exploring these formations, especially if crowds are low. There is a primitive trail which loops behind North & South Windows, but it’s mostly just a longer way around that doesn’t really provide anything particularly more interesting if you are short on time. If you have more time to spare, it does give an additional view of the North Window, a better view of the La Sal mountains, and some fun opportunities to climb up in and around the Window. Of course, it’s likely to be less crowded as well.
From the Windows we walked around the looped parking lot to a trail that takes you toward Parade of Elephants and Double Arch. Again, it’s a very well-established wide, sandy path and leads you directly under Double Arch. From there, you’re free to make your way in and around the Arch as much as your personal climbing abilities allow. When we were there it was warm and in the upper 70s so it made for a nice, cool spot to hang out a little bit and take in the views of the surrounding arches and mountains in the distance. Of course, any time you add climbing children and concerned parents on family road trips out west – there’s bound to be some decent people watching too.
If you’re lucky, you may be able to climb up into a cave in Double Arch and find Coronado’s Cross. Just watch your back for those looting thugs hunting you down!
At this point, it was nearing lunchtime and Eric and I had planned to make it down to the Needles District of Canyonlands for an afternoon hike with a pitstop for beer and burgers at Moab Brewery. These interests took precedence over seeing the iconic Delicate Arch located further within the Park. The hike to Delicate Arch is a 3.2 mile loop trail and would have taken us more time than we had planned for and would have been very crowded at 11AM.
Plus, there comes a point when you’re camping and only eating mildly substantial trail meals that your body refuses to let you pass up on a beer & burger. We each got our own burgers and I joined the clean plate club AND finsihed my beer, which is kind of unheard of given my general distaste for beer. I finally found some beers I really liked – I had Moab Brewery’s Moab Especial, but I also liked the Hefewiezen that Eric ordered…. too bad they’re only available in the desert of Utah.
1) Prepare for people. This park is very accessible, so you and others can drive right up to many formations, which can create more crowds than if you had to hike in. People will be in your pictures, so just enjoy the experience!
2) Choose a few locations you’d really like to see. Whether it’s Delicate Arch, Double Arch, The Windows, Landscape Arch, or Balanced Rock – pick what you’d like to see and make an early morning or half day out of it. There’s a lot to see, but you won’t necessarily need more than a day, especially if you are planning on hiking in other areas around Moab. Basically my thought is, that although each formation is unique, it could be said that if you’ve seen some arches, you’ve seen them all.
3) Plan for a solid meal at a local place in Moab. Arches is very close to Moab (10 minutes or so from the visitor center), so if you have any backpacking ahead of you or have already spent a day already eating camp food, fill up here – FOR YOUR HEALTH! (and for your general pleasure).