I’ve seen photos of Arches National Park, and it was one I definitely wanted to hit while we were in Utah. It’s known for its unusual rock formations, including precariously balanced rocks and naturally formed arches and windows.
Most visitors explore the park by car, driving along the 18-mile road up to the campground, stopping for viewpoints and short hikes along the way. The Visitors Center is wonderful, with a small museum, miniature arches you can walk through, and kiosks you can use to figure out the best things to do given the amount of time you have. A ranger there was very helpful, highlighting spots on the map that with hikes short enough that we could leave Bailey in the car for 20 minutes or so (windows open, of course). She also gave us a map to a trail outside the park where we could take Bailey afterwards.
Leaving Bessie in the Visitors Center parking lot, we started up the steep switchback road into the park. We were immediately awestruck. Every direction we looked there were monometal red cliffs, fascinating formations, wildly balanced hoodoos. We were so glad we’d come.
Balanced Rock is one of the first major landmarks there. It’s a huge boulder, precariously balanced on a giant hoodoo. It’s hard to look at it without imagining what a nudge would do. We took the short hike to and around the rock, ogling it from every angle.
We took another hike or two to get better views of a couple arches, but we were hesitant to leave Bailey for long. The most famous arch in the park, Delicate Arch, is viewable from a distant viewpoint, but most visitors take the 1.5 hike to the arch itself to get a close-up view. I would have loved to photograph it more closely, but it was getting too hot to leave Bailey in the car.
Kate’s eagle eyes spotted climbers on a distance hoodoo, and later, driving back by it, she spotted them again, just as the first climber, a woman, reached the top and stood with her arms outstretched. A man climber was right behind her. I’ve done a little rock-climbing myself, and it looked so exhilarating. I could only imagine what it felt like to stand on top of that huge pillar after such a vigorous climb.
In the late afternoon, we left Bessie in the parking lot and drove to Negro Bill trailhead, just east of Moab. The trail follows a stream to a natural bridge. We didn’t make it as far as the bridge, but it was great to get Bailey out walking and splashing in the water. Parts of the stream were even deep enough for her to swim-fetch.
Canyonlands National Park
We were pretty tired toward the end of the day, but we were so close to Canyonlands, it seemed crazy not to see it. We were hoping for a quick drive-through. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing. Although the turnoff for Canyonlands is only a few miles up Highway 191 from Arches, the two-lane road to the park itself is a slow 17 miles. Then another seven miles to the first lookout. And there’s no driving through the park – it’s 12 miles in, 12 miles out, 17 miles back to the highway.
If we hadn’t just seen Grand Canyon, we would have been more impressed. But it was a lot of driving for a view that paled compared to what we’ve seen lately. And the drive itself was not all that interesting – on a grassy plateau with free range cattle. The most beautiful part we saw was just off the freeway, before the park.
I’m sure I’m not giving the park a fair chance. There’s probably a lot more to it, and hiking down into the canyon would be a whole different experience. But it’s not a park that you can drive through quickly for a few photos.
Devil’s Canyon Campground
It was getting late, and we didn’t have a place to stay. The Arches campground was full, and although Moab is a beautiful little town, its RV parks were spendy trailer lots. We decided to just head south and look for a cheap overnight.
Note to self: Return to Moab in the future with more time and money to spend. It’s pretty touristy, but cool, outdoorsy touristy. It’s got a great paved bike trail that goes for miles along the Colorado River. Cute restaurants and shops. One of those places you really want to stop and walk around in.
We drove south for an hour or two, and then discovered Devil’s Canyon, a no-frills national forest park just off the highway for only $10 a night. A very nice park on a woodsy mountainside, it was fairly empty, and for $10 a night… a bargain!