Arches National Park was so cool that I came back to see more the next day (Sunday). This time, the visit started in the early evening. My goal was to capture the warm evening sunlight against some of the rock formations I (intentionally) skipped the last time. In case you missed it, here’s a link to my earlier visit to Arches National Park.
Courthouse Towers Area
The Courthouse Towers area is the first major area you see in the park. There are several attractions clustered here. Park Avenue is a kind of valley between two large sets of rock formations. The rocks are at least 100 feet high. In the first photo below, the Park Avenue Trail takes you along the valley for a mile. The crazy long but skinny rock structure (known as a “sandstone fin”) on the right is the Organ. I think it is supposed to look like the pipes of a large pipe organ in a church.
The next two photos below are of rock structures found on the left side of the above Park Avenue photo. The first photo is of the first big formation along Park Avenue. I don’t know what its name is though. The second photo is of the Three Gossips.
Courthouse Towers is a pretty imposing structure itself. Look how small the cars look compared to the Towers! The Park Avenue trail ends at Courthouse Towers. You can drive directly there too.
The next major section of the park is the Windows. I actually went here on Saturday morning, to catch the sunrise. One landmark I skipped, however, was Balanced Rock. It’s supposed to shoot better with evening light. As the name suggests, it’s a large round rock that is balanced on a column of rock. Don’t breathe too hard – it might fall!
The highlight of Arches National Park is Delicate Arch. In a park full of arches, Delicate Arch stands above the rest. It’s Utah’s state symbol, in fact. And it might be the most well known arch in the world. Maybe the only exception is l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but that arch was built slightly differently haha…
In many parks, the most well-known attractions are super easy to get to. This is not true about Delicate Arch. Yes, there’s a “viewpoint” for the arch that is right next to a parking lot. But the view is from 1.5 miles away. You need a good pair of binoculars to see anything from the viewpoint. Therefore, you have to go on a hike in order to see the arch for real.
The Delicate Arch Trail is a short, but surprisingly difficult hike. It’s only 1.5 miles long, no big deal. But it’s almost a 500 foot climb, and parts of the hike involve walking along rock ledges. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not super hard. But you need to be reasonably fit and have some decent balance to get there. Oh yeah, the hike is very exposed to the sun. So bring a hat, sunscreen, and lots of water. Also, going in the evening is much safer on the skin.
The hike starts out really easy. The first half mile of the trail is pretty flat and well worn. It’s a breeze, and you feel like you’ll get to Delicate Arch any second now….
Then you get to the second half mile – the hard part of the trail. Most of the climbing on the trail is done in this second half mile. You have to hike up a mountain of slickrock (see photo above) at a constant 15-30 degree angle. To digress a little, I don’t know why it’s called slickrock; the rock is actually rather sticky and provides good traction. Anyways, you’ll probably get a bit winded though. I certainly did, but I made it fine enough. I suffered a bit, however, climbing down the slickrock. The descent at a constant 15-30 degrees caused a lot of stress on my bad knee; there are no switchbacks on this trail. My knee was a bit sore the next day.
The third half mile is much more palatable – a medium difficulty hike. You have to climb up and down a bunch of large rocks. You need to watch your step here and there. And you need to pay attention to the trail. I ended up making several wrong turns – oops.
“Is it really worth it to do all this hiking just to see this one arch??” That’s what the lazy person in me wondered several times during the hike. But once you get to the Delicate Arch area, all those bad thoughts disappear. You stand in awe. The reward at the end of the rainbow defies the imagination.
The first thing I realized was that Delicate Arch didn’t just stand in the middle of some random, dull area. Instead, it’s the majestic focal point of a huge sandstone fin. It looks and feels like you reached the summit of a mountain. It’s not just the arch that makes Delicate Arch so famous; it’s really the arch as well as the surrounding area that are so scenic and unique.
Delicate Arch stands on the ledge of an amazing sandstone formation. On one side, the formation is a cliff the drops you hundreds of feet to your doom. On the other side, the sandstone forms this bowl that kind of looks like a bathroom sink.
Can you see all the tiny humans in the distance in the photos? Yes, they are still far away! You need to hike around to the left to circumvent the deadly cliff and huge bowl. Once you arrive, you can take a relax with the other tourists (once again, there were lots of French and Germans) and admire the scenery. Delicate Arch is best seen in the evening, because the evening sun shines radiantly against the rock. The sunlight is so warm and radiant. The La Sal Mountains provide an awesome backdrop too. I could probably sit there for hours to admire the beauty.
I did some planning in advance before this hike. I looked up when the sunset would be, and I timed my hike such that I would get to the arch in plenty time for the sunset. One thing I didn’t account for, however, is the big rock formation standing between Delicate Arch and the sun. The sun rays that shined on the arch got blocked by the rock formation, much earlier than the actual time of sunset. You can see the shadow in the photo above. I thus had only about 15 minutes of shooting the Arch with the sun shining directly on it. I’m pretty happy with these photos, but I could have used more time to shoot more angles.
Here’s a shot of the arch, taken after the direct sunlight waned. Note how big the arch is, compared to the random dude! Also this photo may illustrate how some people call this arch the “Cowboy’s Chaps.” The arch reminded me personally of the legs of action figure toys like He-Man 🙂
As I wrote earlier, being at Delicate Arch felt like being at the summit of a mountain. You get to see some great panoramic views of the area. I stood here (along with all those other hikers) to catch the sunset too.
After taking in the sunset, I headed back down the trail – a 1.5 mile hike of downhill suffering. But the high of the beautiful scenery kept me going and happy.
Nightcap at Balanced Rock
When you live in downtown Chicago, one thing you get used to is all the city lights. They never die. At Arches, there are hardly any lights. It’s just you, the stars, and moon. I decided to hang out at the park for a while and just stare at the sky. The crickets provided a good soundtrack as well. Sometimes you kind of forget that all these things can be seen in the sky….
The above photo was one of the last photos taken on my camera. Just a few minutes later, the shutter died. I haven’t been able to take a photo since 🙁 It’s at the shop now – $240 of repairs! Eww. But hey, what is the price for good art and good memories? At least it broke at the end of my trip and not at the beginning….
The next morning, I packed up my gear and drove back to Salt Lake City. I flew home later that afternoon. The final toll for the weekend: 1800 miles flying, 1000 miles driving, and 15 miles hiking! Not to mention 600 photos taken and 4 gallons of water consumed. Phew! 🙂
The trip was well worth the effort. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Arches and Canyonlands were such beautiful parks. I am still in awe of the scenery at Delicate Arch. I was originally a little nervous about hiking by myself in the middle of the summer heat, but it wasn’t bad at all, as long as you were a little careful with water. Now I need to return to Utah a few more times. I need to visit Zion, Bryce, Antelope Canyon, and Monument Valley national parks. Wanna join me? 🙂