IntroMy wife and I decided to take advantage of the long MLK weekend and took a trip to Moab in celebration of her upcoming 30th birthday. We wish we would have had more time to explore, as Arches and Canyonlands NP’s are truly spectacular places. We probably picked the coldest weekend of the year in Moab, as I don’t think it ever got out of the mid-20’s when we were there.
Delicate ArchDelicate Arch
3 miles RT, 480’ gain
January 13, 2007
We arrived at Arches late in the afternoon on Saturday, just in time to squeeze in the short hike to Delicate Arch. Sunset is obviously the best time to view this well known spectacular arch, which adorns the Utah license plate. We set out at 3:30pm and were surprised at the number of cars for the dead of winter. There was about 3” or so of fresh snow from the previous storm, but it was well packed on the heavily used trail. About a third of the way into the hike, the trail heads up a cool slickrock outcropping and is heavily cairned. The slickrock was dry, so we had no problems with footing. At the top of the outcropping, the trail then traverses a dry wash and ascends a fairly wide 3-4’ ledge which was a little icy but had enough snow over the ice to give us good footing. The arch does not come into view until you round the corner on this ledge. We arrived at 4:10 and the lighting was superb on the arch.
The La Sal Mtns where clouded over, so it wasn’t the best background but we weren’t complaining. We jogged most of the way down as Jenni was getting pretty cold.
Devil' Garden Primitive Loop Trail-Arches NPDevil’s Garden Primitive Loop
~7 miles RT, 1000’ gain
January 14, 2007
I was excited about this hike and it did not disappoint. Jenni usually doesn’t like hiking in the cold and snow, but the world class views this hike affords made it worth it even for her. We got a late start of 11am after a leisurely breakfast at our nice B&B in Moab (Cali Conchita-highly recommend). We stopped by the visitor center on the way out so Jenni could get her NP stamp for Arches. I would guess temps were in the upper teens as we started out. The goal for the day was to see all the arches on this hike, and we saw all except for one. I didn’t think it would take more than 4 hours at a leisurely pace, but it took a little longer than expected. There was a little more snow on this hike as quite a bit of it was on north facing slopes in the shade.
The first mile or so of the hike is on a wide tourist path with side trips to Tunnel and Pine Tree Arches.
These were nice but the arches just kept getting better as we went! It was now time to see my favorite arch in the park and one of the most inspiring places I have ever been too, Landscape Arch. Photos can’t describe this surreal place as the arch towers above you. Landscape Arch is recognized as the longest natural arch in the world at a staggering 290’. In the early 90’s, a huge chunk of the inner part of the arch broke off and visitors are no longer permitted to climb or hike underneath it. As brittle as the arch looks, there is a good chance it may not be around in the next 100 years.
Most folks call it a day at Landscape Arch as the trail becomes more difficult beyond. The park service describes it as the “Primitive Loop”, although for the average hiker it’s a straightforward path other than one section. The next two arches we came across were Partition and Navajo. Partition was a real treat as it perfectly framed the scenery below.
We met the only hiker that we saw outside the tourist trail at Partition. He warned us that the trail would likely be much steeper and slick after Double O Arch.
On the way to Double O, the trail crosses a cool fin that was plenty wide even with snow. Double O Arch is a nice treat with arches right on top of each other.
From here, we took a spur trail that headed to the edge of the loop at Dark Angel. We ate lunch halfway to Dark Angel and Jenni decided to wait for me as I took the short stroll over to this impressive tower. There was only one set of tracks out here.
As we got ready to head back, Jenni was trying to transfer some of the water in my water bladder to her water bottle and dropped it, spilling all but about 6 oz’s. Fortunately this hike was not very strenuous, so we were not too worried about it. On the northern part of the primitive loop, there is only one arch (Private Arch). Jenni was not interested in this side trip, and I ended up turning around before arriving to it as I didn’t want Jenni to get too cold waiting. This was the only arch we missed seeing.
Just beyond Private Arch, we crossed another fin and the trail began descending some short sandstone slabs. No problem, just slide down or jump! A few minutes later, we came to a steep slab that dropped at least 15’ and still held snow. This was not looking good. It appeared that nobody had tried either ascending from the other direction or descending this. We could either reverse the loop and finish in the dark or take our chances by sliding down somehow. I was OK with turning around, but Jenni wanted to get back to the car and was OK with finding a way down! I put my Yaktrax on for some sort of traction, but they’re not designed for this.
There was a narrow ledge that it looked like I could scoot across on my butt to a less steep area where we could probably safely descend the rest of the way, but the odds of keeping my butt secure on the snow covered sandstone was slim. I began inching my way across and after a few seconds I started sliding down. My speed picked up beyond my comfort level, but I was able to plant my feet and roll to the right as I hit terra firma without any injuries. I looked up and told Jenni this was not good!
I thought Jenni would freeze up after seeing me fly down, but she still had the guts to proceed. I had her take a slightly gentler line and climbed up a ways in an attempt to slow her down. She came down pretty fast too and I wasn’t able to slow her down too much. She came down pretty hard on her tailbone, and I rushed down to make sure she was OK. It was a little sore, but she was OK. Advice: With snow or ice you should turn around at Private Arch as this slab will likely hold snow. It would be an easy downclimb on dry rock for an experienced hiker, but we should have cut our losses and turned around.
The rest of the hike was uneventful as we saw a few tourists heading for Landscape Arch and we arrived back at the car at 4pm. This is one of the most spectacular hikes I have been on in a N.P.
Upheaval Dome & Mesa Arch: Canyonlands NPUpheaval Dome & Mesa Arch
~2.5 miles RT, 400’ gain
January 15, 2007
We only had a few hours in the morning to spend at the Island in the Sky district at Canyonlands NP, so we decided to hit Upheaval Dome and Mesa Arch. Jenni’s tailbone was sore from yesterday, so she opted to wait in the car. Upheaval Dome is a cool 2 mile hike if you go to both overlooks of a crater, the formation of which is debated. It was either caused by a meteor impact or the salt dome theory in which salt deposits from the sea eventually form a dome. This mysterious place is cool to visit with the huge mounds of salt present in the crater. Today was even colder than yesterday as the winds were chilling my face on the crater rim.
Mesa Arch is a short ½ mile hike just south of the northern park entrance. This impressive arch is short and stubby, but lies right on the cliff of the canyon, beautifully framing the La Sal Mountains.
You can view the valley floor some 600’ below through the arch. We topped off the morning with stellar scenery at the Green River and Shafer overlooks. We’ll have to come back soon and explore the longer hikes through the canyons of the Needles district. Hard to believe this park is such a secret!