Home » 2003 Cross Country Road Trip

Arches National Park, UT

Thursday, July 24, 2003 - 5:30am by Lolo
23 miles and 0.5 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


When we entered Arches National Park, we were shocked to find out that there were still a few sites available in the Devils Garden Campground, the only campground in the park. The campground is located at the very end of the 17-mile scenic drive, so we skipped all the sightseeing for now, and high-tailed it down to the campground to claim one of these highly coveted spots.

Lolo approaching the Delicate ArchLolo approaching the Delicate ArchOur campsite was absolutely fabulous, surrounded by spectacular red sandstone rock formations. The only problem was, it was over 100 degrees out and there were no hookups, which meant no air-conditioning. We knew we would be okay when the sun went down, because nights really do cool off in the desert, but we didn't know how we would make it through the afternoon. Hiking mid-day was simply out of the question, so we decided to put off our hike to Delicate Arch until late afternoon. Instead, we spent the afternoon spraying ourselves with the RV outdoor shower and enjoying the few refreshing minutes before it evaporated.

Around 4:30 we headed over to the trailhead for Delicate Arch. It was still so terribly hot that we soaked ourselves once more with the outdoor shower before heading out on this fairly strenuous 3-mile hike, most of it along slickrock. We were pretty motivated though--we really wanted to see and photograph Delicate Arch. We had been to Arches before, but hadn't gotten the chance to do this hike, which is supposed to be the most scenic one in the entire park--and that's saying a lot. Towards the end of the hike, we came to a narrow section along the edge of a cliff with a rock window through which we got our first view of Delicate Arch--very awesome. After much picture taking, we continued along the top rim of a slickrock bowl and sat beneath this incredible 45-foot-high arch, which sits at the very edge of a steep drop-off. We shared the shade of the arch with a group of French tourists. We were kind of hoping they would move along so we could get some pictures of just us under the Arch, but they weren't budging. Things were beginning to cool off so the hike out was much more pleasant than the way in.

Windblown family reaches Delicate ArchWindblown family reaches Delicate ArchThat evening back at the campground, we had the good fortune of seeing a spectacular thunder and lightning storm over Devils Garden. We waited for the cooling rains to come, but they never did. No wonder the desert is so dry--even their thunderstorms don't have rain.

When the sun set, things did cool down nicely. We strolled over to the campground amphitheater with a few other fellow campers to listen to the Ranger Talk, which that night was on the flora and fauna of Arches. It was interesting because plants and animals are not usually something you think about in the desert. However, that night we learned that although the desert might look pretty barren, it is actually teeming with creatures and organisms that have learned to adapt to this harsh environment.

Family on Fiery Furnace hikeFamily on Fiery Furnace hikeThe next morning before leaving the park, we went on the 3-hour ranger-guided walk through the Fiery Furnace, a maze of narrow canyons created by tall, red sandstone. We usually don't like going on guided hikes and sharing our wilderness experience with about 30 other tourists, but this time there really wasn't much of a choice. There are no marked trails through the Fiery Furnace and it's quite confusing, so a guided hike is the recommended way to go. There is a fee for this hike and reservations are recommended--we had made ours the day before. The hike was quite interesting and we got a chance to learn a bit more about what an arch actually is. By definition, a natural arch is any rock that has a hole completely through it formed by a natural process (no drilling allowed!), leaving a rock frame behind. Most of the 2,000 arches in the park are not quite as dramatic as Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch--some of them are only a foot or two high. If you discover a new one, you get to name it, but that wasn't very likely in this highly trafficked area.

Arches was a great stop, but now it was time to head east and start our journey home.


Arches National Park contains the greatest concentration of natural arches in the world--more than 2,000, and more are being discovered every day. The park is more than just arches, however. There are also numerous brilliantly-colored balanced rocks, spires, fins, and domes made of the same soft red sandstone.

The required Delicate Arch photographThe required Delicate Arch photographThe park's 77,000 acres are part of southern Utah's canyonlands, which have been carved and shaped through millions of years of erosion. About 300 million years ago, a 3,000 foot thick layer of salt was left behind in this region when the inland seas evaporated. Over millions of years, debris covered the salt bed and compressed into rock. The salt layer shifted, thrusting the rock layers upward into domes. Further pressures from within the earth produced vertical cracks in the domes. Millions of years of surface erosion gradually stripped away the younger layer of these domes, exposing the salmon-colored Entrada Sandstone and yellow Navajo Sandstone below. The cycle of freezing and melting of water within the cracks in the rocks caused bits of them to break away forming free-standing fins. Wind and water continued to do their job on these fins, breaking off chunks of rock and forming the arches we see today.

Gaidus family and Delicate ArchGaidus family and Delicate ArchUnlike Canyonlands, Arches is much more visitor-friendly in that its treasures are easily accessible. A 41-mile round-trip paved road in the park leads to the major sights, including Balanced Rock, the Windows Section, the Fiery Furnace, and Devil's Garden. From these stops, relatively short trails lead to most of the park's main attractions.

From the Windows Parking lot you can take the 1 ¼ mile Windows Loop past North and South Windows and Turret Arch. Another choice from there is the ½ mile hike to the spectacular Double Arch.

Delicate Arch is probably the best-known feature in the park--it's even on Utah license plates. The hike to Delicate Arch, which is probably the most scenic hike in the park, is a 3-mile round trip, fairly strenuous one across slickrock and along a narrow cliff. However, the dramatic and spectacular view of 45-foot-high, 33-foot-wide Delicate Arch perched on the very edge of a slickrock bowl at the end make every bit of it worthwhile. Because of the heat, this hike should be done either early morning or late afternoon. That's also when the lighting is best for photography.

In the summer, rangers lead a 1 1/2 hour guided walk into the Fiery Furnace, which is named for its sandstone fins that turn flaming red when the lighting is low. Reservations and a fee are required and must be made at the visitor center.

At the end of the scenic drive at Devil's Garden, there is a 52-site campsite which works on a first-come, first-serve basis. It usually fills up quickly, so get there early in the day. The campground is surrounded by spectacular red sandstone rock formations and is the starting point for several hikes into the Devil's Garden.

Arches National Park location map in "high definition"

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