While we’ve done some online reconnaissance for this part of our trip – focused heavily on national parks – Walt and I had really good luck at Mesa Verde just by telling the ranger at the visitor center how long we would be in the park and asking what do we “have to see.” So we decide to try this method at The Arches National Park.
Arches is mostly a driving park, with overlooks and short walks to some of the major sites. There’s no camping at all so we have a room at a hotel in nearby Moab, Utah.
On the ranger’s advice, we drive to Courthouse Towers, the Three Gossips, Balanced Rock and the Fiery Furnace overlook. We take short hikes to Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch before calling it a day. It’s late afternoon and 100 degrees.
Ice cream seems to be in order. We stop at the Moab Diner for two of the best milkshakes we’ve ever had.
We’re up early the next morning to do two separate hikes: the 3-mile roundtrip to Delicate Arch and the 4.5-mile roundtrip to Double O Arch. Yesterday the ranger had told us to save the Delicate Arch for early morning since there’s no shade. He was absolutely right. The hike starts out in the open and then it goes up over nearly 500 feet of open rock before continuing on to a huge red bowl of stone that slopes down to the sand. On the far end sits a huge arch. There’s a crowd but people are queuing up to take pictures under the arch in a nice, orderly fashion.
The guy in line behind us takes a bunch of pictures of us, including one of Walt smooching me under the arch.
We head back, glad we hit it early and trying to figure out which of the many out-of-shape, under-watered people we pass are not going to make it to the arch and back without suffering heat exhaustion, or worse. There are warnings all over the place that too much sun and too little water are the most common, by far, causes of illness and injury in this park. We probably look silly carrying our packs with 3 liters of water each, plus bug spray, sunscreen, a first aid kit, a liter of Gatorade and rain jackets but we’d much rather hike with confidence that we’re in good shape. Besides, our packs are so much lighter than they are when we’re backpacking with tent, stove, mattress pads, etc., that they don’t feel heavy.
We start the Double O hike (Walt keeps calling it the Double D hike, which makes me laugh) from the Devil’s Garden parking lot. There are half a dozen other arches to see on the way to it; with most in the first mile. The trail is pretty crowded until we get past the Landscape Arch, when the trail veers from a nice hardened path to a chunk of red rock going straight uphill.
The ranger had told us there was some shade on this trail. As the temperature hits the 100-degree mark and I’m panting under a spindly pinyon tree, I think this ranger should get together with the “lush trail conditions” ranger from Isle Royale; they both have a bit of a fast-and-loose way with the English language.
The hike is extraordinary. We get to hike up red fins with gorgeous views of the surrounding landscape before we finally come to the Double O Arch. It’s just as stunning as the other arches. Even better, we enjoy a snack in the shade of a large rock before heading back.
The arches were lovely although the heat takes it out of us. We recuperate with dinner at the diner (after showers) and apple pie a la mode that turns out to be 2 huge scoops of ice cream on a regular-size piece of pie. Sigh.