Arches National Park should be a one-liner park. It has 2000 stone arches or natural bridges, so that should be what it’s about. But as Edward Abbey wrote in Desert Solitaire, which is his account of being a park ranger there in the 1950s, the arches are least of it. It is about experiencing the totality of the landscape, the wildlife, the ecology; the arches are just the exclamation point.
We spent a few days hiking in the park with that approach, for which the park is well-structured. There are a few arches which can be viewed from car-accessible overlooks, but most of them require hikes with easy to moderate demands. The hikes were superb – lots of scrambling on slickrock, and at the end of a few miles of enjoyable activity, there was the payoff of the arch.
At this point on our way back, we did our good deed for the day. We were asked by some middle-aged hikers whether the rest of the trail was easier or harder, as one of their group had vertigo. We told them it was a lot more precipitous, and so we saved her from getting to this point. The rock formations in this area are big fins, and part of the trail runs along a fin ridge. Greta as scale figure in the landscape once again, with the La Sal Mountains in the background.
Delicate Arch is freestanding at the top of this rock bowl. The people walking towards it in this photo are on a slightly-sloping surface, and the slope increases continuously towards the bowl to the right, to the point where you might find yourself on a rock face that is just too steep, facing a drop of hundreds of feet below you. We all watched as one woman dropped her water bottle, and started to go after it until she thought better of it. The bottle rolled back and forth on the slope, picking up speed, and then finally bounced to the bottom of the bowl.
Arches was one of our favorite parks – the landscape is spectacular, there are things to pay attention to at all scales, and the hikes were just right. We had been frustrated by some parks where you either can see a little from car overlooks, or you have to commit to a much longer hike. In Arches you can get out into the park and see a lot, all within the range of the committed day-hiker.