Are you in the mood for a major change of scenery? As in, scenery resembling jaw-dropping rocky, Martian-like landscapes? Brilliant desert surroundings and unparalleled hiking adventures are all in a day’s work for Arches National Park. Its unique vistas embody the Wild West, but are enhanced ten-fold in Technicolor. Matt Damon, eat your heart out. I was witness to stunning, bright rustic striped rock faces that bring Montana’s big sky drabness to shame. As if!
On a recent trip there, I walked (gingerly) on geologic formations that were once a seabed thrust up by tectonic plates. This landscape is rife with ancient fossils, Anasazi ruins and the occasional dinosaur footprint (although I didn’t see any of those!)
The Best of the Wild West
Arches National Park is quite expansive. Be sure to drop by the information building just past the entrance for maps and information. You can easily spend a week or more exploring every trail and point of interest. Serious hikers should allow 1-2 weeks. There are several “arches” to see, but the main arch, called Delicate Arch (the one you see in all of the travel books, and on the Utah license plate) is 3.2 miles round-trip. Allow 2-3 hours for this hike.
The beginning of the trail up to Delicate Arch is innocent enough, but after the first quarter mile, the elevation rises, albeit gradually, until you reach a sharper incline. This stretch of the trail has flat rock and is smooth on your feet (and easy on the ankles), but you’ll still want to take breaks if you’re not a seasoned hiker. Having water with you is key; partake of it as much as possible. And take your time. After all, this isn’t a race, although many tourists can’t help themselves.
It was bright and early for us the morning we hiked up to the arch, 7 am to be exact! But the sun was already threatening to turn on the heat quickly. We saw two different people carrying a folded ironing board, one on the trail going up to the arch, and another coming back down. Seeing the first lady schlepping the awkward domestic tool on the hike up was amusing, but when we saw the 2nd gal on our descent, we just had to ask. It turns out they were partaking in “extreme ironing”.
I didn’t expect my breath to be taken away…
Rest assured, once you round the final bend and the Delicate Arch suddenly looms before you, you will be blown away. Photos do not do justice to this magnificent natural wonder. You will have to come see for yourself. However, if you do want your picture taken under the arch, you will undoubtedly have to get in line. We were there in mid-June at around 8:30 am, and were 8th in line. Most people are gracious and will take your picture if you want to get everyone in your party in the photo. Be sure to return the favor!
Tip: Hike in the early morning hours, or late afternoon/evening. Midday hiking is just too much with the sunlight hitting you directly, even in the winter/early spring season. Most trails offer little shade. For you night owls, night hiking is particularly rewarding, as the clear nights provide breathtaking stars and luminescent moonlight over the landscape.
Tooling Around Town
Must see in town: Just as you’re heading into Moab from the north, on the left you’ll see the Rock Shop. Do stop in and take a look! If you’re in a hurry, just park it for 10 minutes and browse their extensive outdoor collection, displayed right in front. Rocks, stones, and dinosaur teeth of all kinds. They even have an “honor system” cash box out front if you happen to be shopping after hours.
Best Sweet Treat in Moab: The Spoke on Center – this is a good lunch spot, but belly up to the bar for a delicious sundae or thick milkshake.
Suggested Accommodations: Go Glamping Under Canvas – rustic tee pee-like accommodations with comfy queen beds, full baths and showers just a few miles north of Moab.