The first thing we noticed upon entering Arches National Park was the enormous size of everything. Park Avenue, which, per the name, is a little like walking through Manhattan, features huge red rock walls jutting straight up hundreds of feet on all sides.
The second thing we noticed about the park, being the mountain-dwelling homo sapiens we are, was the heat. On our mid-September visit it approached 100 degrees every day, and although the nights were generally cooler for us tent sleepers at the Devil’s Garden Campground, the mornings heated up quickly, turning our tent into a sauna by 9 a.m.
“On the rocks?” “Definitely!’ “Salt?” “Yes, please!”
We also found a place to float our tubes in the Colorado River, which runs along the southeastern edge of the park, and discovered a very good (air conditioned) wine tasting room at the Castle Creek Winery, also on the river.
But like most visitors to the park, we took in the sights from our air-conditioned vehicle most of the day — stepping out only briefly for photo ops of the most scenic areas. We were able to see a great deal of the park from our car, such as Balanced Rock, and the Windows section, which features several arches that can be viewed from the road.
We also connected with our nocturnal nature, using headlamps to explore some of the park’s most scenic places by night. The trail to Landscape Arch was more like a long gravel-based pathway, so there was no chance of us stumbling around in the dark.
But the highlight of our trip had to be Delicate Arch — one of the most famous arches in the world. It’s the one you see on Utah license plates.
We, along with dozens of others, ascended the sandstone trail to the iconic arch deliberately, like seekers on a pilgrimage through a vast desert land. Our plan was to reach the iconic arch just before the golden hour — sundown — a time when, as any photographer will tell you, magic happens.
The trail was about three miles long with an elevation gain of 500 feet — nothing at all for a pair of seasoned Colorado hikers. But the heat added an element we were unaccustomed to dealing with, the temperature being well into the 90s with almost no humidity. Luckily we were smart enough to bring water.
When park service employees tell you to bring plenty of water on your hikes, they’re not joking around. Hikers who don’t follow this advice usually end up severely dehydrated before they become disoriented and lose their sense of direction. Rescue crews stay busy all summer in the American Southwest finding people with no water, no map and stupid shoes.
When we reached the arch we joined the hundred or so people already there who were just sitting, speechless, experiencing a very special place. The arch sat on the rim of what appeared to be a large sandstone bowl like a renegade Cheerio, standing on end. But it was more than just an arch; it was a symbol of beauty in the natural world, and we enjoyed just being in its presence until the last light was gone.