The towering curves of rock in southern Utah that make up Arches National Park have been on our to-do list for a long time. Stone bridges, teetering pipe organs, gossiping monoliths, mountains with windows… Each one looks like an impressive art installation or ambitious experiment, relegated as impractical and abandoned.
So when we put our plans for a visit to Iceland on hold, opting instead for a domestic trip, we couldn't resist charting a route that would take us to the über outdoorsy city of Moab. And we were very glad we did. Outdoor gear consignment shops and independent book stores to keep us company, and with the La Sal mountains, Canyonlands and Arches right outside our tent? Paradise.
Perhaps most well known for its iconic Delicate Arch (yes, the one on all the license plates), Arches National Park actually has the highest number of natural sandstone arches in the world. Two thousand to be exact. (Now, what is an arch, you ask? An opening in the rock that stretches at least three feet in one direction.) But it's not just the arches, themselves, that stop visitors in their tracks. Rather, it's their contradicting qualities: height and balance, coarseness and curvature; science meets art.
The graceful character of these massive stones suspended in air is hardly what you'd expect to see from nature, let alone mountains.
But our fate was sealed; one look and our attraction was immediate. We wanted to see as much of the park as we could in our measly three-day stay. While certain areas (ex. the Fiery Furnace) are closed off and only accessible by permit, most of the arches and trail heads are easily reached and require little-to-no effort. Score.
Matt and I had been going hard this trip - enduring 4 and 5 a.m. alarms to catch the first light of day, staying up past our bedtimes to photograph star trails, hiking in the oppressive desert heat in between. Moab was supposed to be a break from all of that. We were going to do the unthinkable: sleep in! go out to eat! walk around downtown! And though we did, the siren song of those sandstone arches drew us in just the same and we abandoned our plans for a restful few days in favor of some more adventure.
How We Did It:
We used our National Parks Pass to get into Arches, though a seven-day pass is just $10 per person (or $25 per vehicle).
We stopped in at the Visitor's Center for a brief history of Arches NP and to get the lowdown on what trails would give us the most bang for our buck. Come here to get any permits you might need (Fiery Furnace, rock climbing, etc.) or to fill up your water bottle before heading out on any hikes. There's also a really awesome museum inside the building that explains exactly how the arches in the park are formed.
Note: Please (please!), stay off the biological soil — that black crusty stuff off the trail that looks like dead moss is actually quite alive, thank you very much, and it’s preventing erosion. If you remember anything at all from this blog post, remember to follow the cairns (don't make your own) and stay on the marked trail!
Where We Stayed:
We pitched our tent at Up the Creek Campground in Moab for all three nights of our visit. Though it may not look like much at first glance, the campground is quiet, clean, has free showers (for paying guests) and has a place to charge your electronics. A little book nook completely won me over. The campground also offers campers the option of purchasing a luxury tent if you don't have (or want to sleep in) your own.