Home » 2005 Cross Country Road Trip

Arches National Park, UT

Tuesday, July 26, 2005 - 3:00am by Lolo
23 miles and 0.5 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


We left Moab early, hoping to get one of the highly coveted campsites in Devils Garden, Arches only campground. Since the campground works on a first-come-first-serve basis and there are only 52 sites, we knew that if we didn't get their early, we would be disappointed again as we had been the day before. Fortunately, there were a few sites left. However, the rule is that they'll hold the site for you until noon, but if you haven't claimed it by then, you forfeit it. Since the campground is located at the very end of the 17-mile scenic drive, this didn't leave us too much time for sightseeing along the way. Fortunately, we had been to Arches twice before and pretty much had seen all there was to see along the drive, so we didn't feel too bad whizzing by what were some truly incredible sights. We did make a brief stop though at one of our old favorites--Double Arch, where we took the short hike from the parking lot and scrambled up the rocks to a ledge right underneath the arch.

Family Portrait at Double O ArchFamily Portrait at Double O ArchNot wanting to risk losing our campsite, we continued on, driving right past the beautiful fiery furnace section along the way. At the end of the drive, we circled through the campground looking on each site's post for the little smiley face that indicated that it was available. Where the heck were the smiley faces? Finally, after driving through the entire loop, we asked a ranger. He pointed us towards the only remaining site. Fortunately it was a good one. It backed right up against red sandstone formations and even had a small tree that provided some well-needed shade. So much for the usual angst we experience in trying to select the absolutely best site. This time it was decided for us.

We met some fellow campers from New Jersey that told us about the wild happenings that went on here the night before. That big thunderstorm that we had just missed on the Colorado River had whipped through here big time, ripping tents from their stakes and canopies off of RVs. Maybe it was a good thing that we weren't able to get in here last night. These people were really good sports though. Their tent was destroyed, their sleeping bags and belongings were soaked, but they were getting ready to go on a hike. All that stuff could be replaced, and it wasn't often that you got a chance to hike through the kind of scenery that you find in Arches, so they were going to have a great day no matter what. I admire their spirit.

Gaidus Family in 1999Gaidus Family in 1999The last time we were here, it was so hot that hiking during the afternoon just wasn't viable. All we could do was spray ourselves with the RV outside shower and wait for the sun to go down. This time, the temperature was reasonable enough (low 90s) to do some hiking during the mid part of the day, allowing us to do two long hikes rather than just one. Needless to say, the kids were thrilled. We decided to hike to the Double O Arch in the afternoon, a hike we had never done before, and repeat an old favorite for sunset--the hike to Delicate Arch.

The hike to Double O was pretty long and strenuous--about 5 miles roundtrip. Approximately a mile or so into the hike, there is a turnoff for Landscape Arch, one of the most beautiful arches in the park. This is the arch in the park that really deserves the name Delicate Arch. It is 306 feet long, but so thin that it looks like it could break at any minute. In fact, in 1991 it almost did when a giant 73-foot slab came tumbling off of it. It is now only 11 feet wide at is narrowest point. Since that incident, walking under the arch is prohibited and it must be admired from behind a wood-rail fence. When we first visited this arch in 1999, we took a family photo posed in front of this fence. Since that was our first cross country trip as a family and this one might be our last, we thought it would be a nice idea to repeat the original photo 6 years later. After arguing for awhile about what sequence we should stand in, we called a friend back home and had him look it up on our website. We then lined up appropriately and smiled. I don't think we've changed a bit--well, maybe the kids have a little.

Gaidus Family in 2005Gaidus Family in 2005The remainder of the hike got a little bit rougher and even somewhat confusing to follow at times, but we eventually scrambled up through an opening, which was the lower O of the Double O Arch. Once through the arch, we crossed over slick rock to a rocky ledge with the best view of this beautiful pair of arches, in which one big arch stands atop a rock wall with another arch cut out of it--definitely one of the most impressive arches in the park.

Every year we say we're going to take a family vacation picture to use on our Christmas cards, but we never do. Thinking that maybe this would be the year, Herb began setting up his tripod and lining us up on the ledge. About halfway through this process, a young--and very good looking I might add--man approached us and offered to take our picture for us. Not wanting some stranger to mess up our Christmas shot, Herb politely told him that he had it under control. "I am a photographer," the stranger said. That got my attention. After some further conversation, he modestly informed us that he was a photographer for Outside Magazine, which as any outdoor enthusiast knows, is a very prestigious magazine. Despite the fact that Herb has every issue of Outside since it first came out over 20 years ago, he still wanted to compose and take his own family shot. He did and I think we might actually use it this year.

Andrew's night shot experimentAndrew's night shot experimentThat evening, we hiked to Delicate Arch to watch the sunset--so did most of the visitors to the park. When we had done this hike 2 years ago, it was late afternoon and we practically had the whole Arch to ourselves. Now, there were crowds gathered as if waiting for a fireworks display to begin. Although I definitely prefer hogging it to myself, Delicate Arch is awesome under any circumstances.
Herb had been playing around a bit with creating Quick-Time panorama movies and thought that this would be the ideal spot for one. So he placed his camera on the tripod, leveled it, and proceeded to take a series of overlapping pictures in a complete circle around him. These pictures can then be manipulated by software to create a Quick-Time movie. It's a great effect that is the closest thing to actually being there that I have ever seen. I've already started bugging him to put it up on the website for all to see.

That night, back at campground, we took out our beach chairs and just hung out watching the stars. The evening had cooled down nicely, as it does in the desert, so it was very comfortable to be outside. We saw more stars that night than we have ever seen in our lives. The Milky Way was so clear that it seemed like you could reach out and touch it. Andrew used Herb's tripod and took some black and white pictures with long exposures. Later when he developed them, we were quite surprised to see how clearly the stars appeared.

As always, Moab and Arches had been a great stop, and one that I am sure we will return to time and time again. For now though, it was time to start heading east towards 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.

Double ArchDouble 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.

LeMoyne Mercer on December 21, 2006

Glad to see your blog continues.
Re. finding campsite in Arches: You might check out nearby Canyonlands National Park. We have stayed at Willow Flats campground there and moved to Arches early the next morning. Be advised, though, that there is no water at Willow Flats. Still, your RV is self contained so that should not be a problem.
One of our most memorable experiences was a full moon over Canyonlands. The desert sky is simply magnificent. We're headed that way again in late April. We're going by way of Guadalupe Mts./Carlsbad Caverns and/or Big Bend, Saguaro, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Lake Mead, Zion and then on up to Arches. Last March we had to evacuate Big Bend because a wild fire started when an electric power line came down in high winds.

Arches National Park location map in "high definition"

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