Friday, October 31, 2014

Arches National Park: Landscape Arch and Double O Arch Via The Primitive Trail

Essence: The short walk from Devils Garden Trailhead to sublime Landscape Arch accommodates people of all ages and abilities. A more natural trail continues to Double O Arch primarily on sandstone. The Primitive Loop lures the hiker into cracks, under arches, and on top of fins. Visit seven named arches and a solitary earth pillar on the longest hiking trail in the park.

Landscape Arch is the longest natural rock span in the world, 306 feet. We are hold-your-breath lucky to be living simultaneously with this fragile aperture. Visit soon.

Travel and Water: From Center Street in Moab, drive 5.0 miles north on Hwy 191 and turn right/east at the sign for Arches National Park. Reset your trip meter at the entrance station. The Visitor Center follows shortly on the right. A 24-hour, year-round outdoor water spigot is located steps from the parking lot on the north side of the building. Devils Garden Trailhead is at the end of the park road at 17.4 miles. The drinking faucet is seasonal. However, there is year-round water in the campground. Although the parking lot is generous, it does fill regularly so arrive early or visit in winter. There are outhouses at the trailhead.
Fee Information
Devils Garden Campground: The campground has 50 individual sites which accommodate up to ten people. Sites may be reserved between March 1st and October 31st. You may, and should, make your reservation six months out. During winter months, 24 sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Campground information. To make a reservation, visit
Distance and Elevation Gain: 1.8 miles roundtrip to Landscape Arch; 4.2 miles roundtrip to Double O Arch; 5.2 miles for the Primitive Trail stem and loop; 8.0 miles for the aggregate of spur trails. Elevation gain is approximately 1,000 feet for the 8 mile option.
Roundtrip Time: 2:30 to 5:00, depending on extent of explorations
Difficulty: Wide, highly maintained and manicured trail to Landscape Arch is barrier-free, suitable for wheelchairs. Most of the route beyond Landscape is on sandstone and occasionally crosses the tops of low-lying fins. Navigation is easy IF cairns are carefully followed. People with a fear of heights may experience mild exposure crossing one of the fins north of Landscape Arch.
Maps: Trails Illustrated: Arches National Park; Mollie Hogans, Utah 7.5 Quad
Latest Date Hiked: October 30, 2014
Quote: Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear--the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break. Turning Plato and Hegel on their heads I sometimes choose to think, no doubt perversely, that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun. Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Route: The beauty of this stem and loop is that any portion may be undertaken separately or in combination. The majority of people turn around at Landscape Arch. For those unsure of their desert backcountry prowess, go to Double O Arch before committing to the Primitive Trail. Most will think the loop is the definition of fun. However, I have assisted lost hikers (one group missed Double O Arch entirely), and people alarmed by short friction pitches. Do not venture on the Primitive Trail if rock is snow or ice covered.

From the trailhead, elevation 5,155 feet, on a wide, firm track enter a labyrinth of Entrada Sandstone. Fins provide a sense of intimacy and enclosure.

This is an excellent hike for children with proven hiking ability. A sandslide corridor comes up shortly on the left and all playful hearts will race.

The 0.5 mile roundtrip spur to Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch takes off on the right at 0.3 mile. The main trail is not a wilderness or private experience. However, the contemplative's heart may be satisfied steps away in other regions of the park and certainly in the greater Moab topography. Walk to the accompaniment of the world-wide language of euphoria. A woman seated in an electric wheelchair exclaimed, "I'm going as far as I can!" Considering the immaculately groomed trail in this image, she made it to Landscape Arch.

At 0.9 mile, Landscape Arch, while it fills the visual frame, sneaks up on the unaware. It is an improbably thin ribbon below the horizon. A few more steps and the merest strip of Utah blue emerges, giving the arch away. Years ago, I stood directly under the arch. In 1991, it lost a sizable chunk of itself to natural weathering and is now fenced off. A placard display tells the story. Directly across from the placard, the Primitive Trail branches off for those hiking in the counter-clockwise direction. From the main trail a short spur towards the arch affords the best photographs.

Double O Arch is 1.2 miles northwest of Landscape on a pleasingly natural trail. Walk up a rock ramp. The experience is at once bounded and expansive. Follow the cairns; they will delight and surprise.

At 1.3 miles, there is a sign for a left spur to Navajo Arch (0.3 miles roundtrip) and Partition Arch (0.5 miles roundtrip). At 1.7 miles the route climbs to the top of a wide, flat fin (shown) and traverses the length of it. While most people will relish the view of Book Cliffs north of I-70 and finlandia below, those with a fear of heights may need encouragement.

Assuming no side trips, Double O Arch is at 2.1 miles on the left. It is named for the two circular openings stacked on top of each other. As can be seen in this image, the lower arch is quite small yet it carries its hefty companion.

A juniper log helps when clambering up and through the lower arch. This is a must.

The best view of the pair is from the other side.

The obelisk Dark Angel is 0.5 miles to the north.

Return through the arch and find this trail junction. If you've had enough adventuring, return to the trailhead as you came. For those excited for more, the Primitive Trail awaits.

The 0.5 mile roundtrip trail to Private Arch heads off to the right, 0.5 mile from Double O. Chances are excellent that you will garner solitude at this arch.

There is a crazy abundance of off-trail play in this area. Everywhere is an entrance into restricted space. Go into the squeeze, climbing cracks between fins. Give in to your irresistible desire to walk on fin spines. Some are nearly flat; others will test the stickiness of your boot soles. In this image the "Book End Fins" are some distance to the south. The rules are simple: stay on the rock and off the top of arches and cryptobiotic soil.

Obviously, our route must follow the dictates of the landscape so keep a sharp eye out for cairns. If you do find yourself no longer in the company of those reassuring rock piles, follow the time-honored practice of promptly returning to the last one you were sure of. Now locate the next cairn and proceed. In this image, a cairn shows the least troublesome route up and over a fin at its lowest point. When the rock is dry, it is easy enough. If the rock is wet, it is slick. However, the pitches are never terribly exposed. The steep slab that gets my attention requires just a few steps to skirt a pool.

The park really should be called Fins and Arches National Park. In the distance, two teens explore fin-top.
After 0.1 mile in a wash, the trail gradually climbs out of the maze of stone. Here is a look back at the terrain that contains the Primitive Trail.

Half a mile before rejoining the main trail at Landscape Arch (take another look!), the track becomes sandy as it heads south. Plants in this area include Indian rice grass, euphedra, juniper, sage, yucca, and rabbitbrush. The La Sal Mountains are in the background. From Landscape, it is a quick 0.9 mile walk back to the trailhead.

Arches are defined by emptiness, space between stone. The park has the largest concentration of natural stone arches in the world, 2,000 and counting. To qualify, the opening must be at least three feet long in any one direction. The skyhole can be a mere slit.

For photos of the Devils Garden Campground and information on road riding in Arches, please see the end of the Delicate Arch travelogue.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Arches National Park: Delicate Arch

Essence: Not often is visiting one of Earth's great treasures so easily achieved. We are supremely fortunate to be alive at a time when this fantastical ring of stone remains tenuously grounded upon the rim of its sandstone bowl. While solitude is unlikely at the arch, communion amongst an eclectic, international group is probable. Information on Double Arch, camping, and road riding follow.

Travel and Water: From Center Street in Moab, drive 5.0 miles north on Hwy 191 and turn right/east at the sign for Arches National Park. Reset your trip meter at the entrance station. The Visitor Center follows shortly on the right. A 24-hour, year-round outdoor water spigot is located steps from the parking lot on the north side of the building. The only other source of dependable water is at the Devils Garden Campground 17.3 miles up the road. To reach the Delicate Arch trailhead, drive up the park road, turn right/east at 11.4 miles and go 1.2 miles to a large parking lot which typically fills in peak season. Since over-flow parking is not allowed, get there early or come in the winter. Expect an outhouse but no water.
Fee Information
Devils Garden Campground: The campground has 50 individual sites which accommodate up to ten people. Sites may be reserved between March 1st and October 31st. You may, and should, make your reservation six months out. During winter months, 24 sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Campground information. To make a reservation, visit
Distance and Elevation Gain: 3.0 miles round-trip, 500 feet of climbing
Roundtrip Time: 1:45 to 3:00
Difficulty: Highly manicured trail leads to a pleasurable climb upon a sandstone slab, the route well-defined by cairns; navigation is easy; some people will experience mild exposure on the stone ledge just prior to reaching the arch.
Maps: Trails Illustrated: Arches National Park; or, The Windows Section; Big Bend, Utah 7.5 Quads;
Latest Date Hiked: October 30, 2014
Quote: If Delicate Arch has any significance it lies in the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out of their ruts of habit, to compel us into a reawakened awareness of the wonderful--that which is full of wonder. Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Route: The footpath crosses Salt Wash and a sage-rabbitbrush flat with excellent views of The Windows. Holding a northeast bearing, the route ascends a broad sandstone slab. Finally, it narrows onto a 0.1 mile ledge with excellent footing before reaching the bowl that is graced by the arch.

Delicate Arch may be seen from the trailhead. In this image, it looks like a pinnacle. In the jutting sky lineup below, it is sixth from the right.

I have visited Delicate Arch in a windblast, drenching rain, and freezing fog. On a day when the temperature was forecast to top out at 110 degrees, we began our hike at dawn. Below, Delicate Arch is the thin form just right of center.

The Wolfe Ranch homestead, a one-room cabin and corral, was settled in 1888. At 0.1 mile, cross Salt Wash on a bridge.

Visit a Ute petroglyph panel via a short loop that returns to the main trail, adding 0.1 mile. The hunting panel, created sometime between 1650 and 1850, depicts horses with riders, big horn sheep, and canines.

The relentlessly trodden trail was, not so long ago, a crude track.  While it continues to undulate with the terrain, it is a now a sturdy, meticulously groomed affair, wide enough for three abreast. This is a nod to the sheer numbers of people who traverse it daily.

Look south and find an open window.

At 0.8 mile, reach Entrada Sandstone and mount a block staircase.

Now on the slab, begin the consistently gentle, broad ascent. Enjoy the playfulness of unconstricted terrain.

The pitch decreases and the route narrows as it wends its way through rounded forms.

At the beginning of the stone ledge, Frame Arch is on the right. Standing beneath this arch is one of the greatest features of the hike. Leave the trail and do a 20 foot friction climb with decent holds. Spoiler alert. If you have not been to Delicate Arch, this vantage point affords a first glimpse.

Seen from Frame Arch, Delicate sweeps up from its bowl's deep depression. When the sun is in the south, the shadow cast by the arch has its own animated presence.

Back on the trail, marvel at the blasted-out ledge pathway and feel the exhilaration that comes while walking along a safe edge.

I have been to Delicate many times, but still, when I round the corner and see the freestanding arch, I am startled and awestruck. On a personal note, I have a first edition copy of Desert Solitaire, published in 1968, and I rolled through Moab long before the streets were paved. While I lament the lack of solitude at Delicate, my loss is trumped by the delight and elation of the crowd. An 82 year old man exclaimed, "There's my quest!" So while throngs aren't so good for those seeking intimacy with this great structure, the arch stands hugely, out-sizing us, and is ultimately unaffected. And that is the more important thing.  In this image, the La Sal Mountains are in the background.

To stand beneath the arch, walk on the sloping side of the Entrada Sandstone bowl. This is not for everyone but for those who make the short journey, the reward is deeply felt. The top of the ring soars 65 feet overhead.

There are endless opportunities for scampering on stone in this neighborhood. The rules: stay on the rock and off the top of named arches.

Return to the trailhead as you came and consider your options.

Additional Hiking Opportunities: Arches National Park is a landscape of continuous astonishment. It is best seen on foot. Since Delicate Arch is a half-day hike, it is quite possible to just keep walking. The eager and fit can comfortably add Landscape and Double O arches from the Devils Garden Trailhead. Or, visit Double Arch in The Windows.

Double Arch: The turnoff for The Windows Section is 9.0 miles from the entrance station. However, if you are traveling from Delicate Arch, return to the main park road and turn left. Drive 2.5 miles to a signed left turn. Go 2.3 miles and park in the lower lot. While heading east on this road, keep your eyes wide open for this too-quick glimpse of Turret Arch and the La Sal Mountains.

It is 0.5 mile roundtrip to Double Arch. The trail passes through enchanting surroundings.

The larger of the two arches spans 144 feet, the third longest in the park. At 112 feet tall, it is the highest. For those who like to play on rock, it is a happy climb with good holds to the base of the smaller arch.

If you wish, cross to the east side of the parking lot and take the 1.0 mile trail to Turret Arch and North and South Windows. On your way out of the park, consider stopping at Balanced Rock or strolling along ever-so-beautiful Park Avenue.

Devils Garden Campground: Make every effort to stay in this campground. It is right in the middle of Heaven. Skyline Arch frames the western backdrop. Walk there. And hike from your camp to Sand Dune Arch. The sites are generously spaced.

The views from each space are incomparable. The image was taken from Site #1.

Road Riding in Arches: Visiting Arches on a bicycle is an intimate and interactive way to engage with the landscape. Ride in the winter or early spring when traffic is moderated. There are no shoulders. Start in Moab and take the bike path to the park. Show your park pass or pay $5.00. From the Visitor Center, it is 43 miles roundtrip to Devils Garden Campground to water-up, out the spur road to The Windows Section, and rolling to assorted viewpoints. Expect several big climbs. Elevation gain is 4,226 feet.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Burro Mountain, 11,575': The Northern Summit

Essence: The drive is longer than the hike. Most northerly summit in the La Plata Mountains, and perhaps the most humble. A keen lookout from the survey benchmark. One of the very few easy La Plata crests to reach.
Travel: From the US 550/160 intersection in Durango, drive west on US 160 for 27.4 miles to the signal in Mancos. Zero out your trip meter. Turn right/north on CO 184 towards Dolores. In 0.3 mile, at the sign for Mancos State Park, turn right on Montezuma CR 42. In 1.5 miles, the road turns to an excellent dirt surface suitable for 2WD. See the west side of the La Platas from a fresh perspective as you pass by scattered ranches. At 5.5 miles, the road becomes FS 561, West Mancos Road. Pass the Transfer Campground at 10 miles and the Aspen Guard Station at 11.3 miles. Roll through a mature aspen and ponderosa forest, and turn right at mile 12.3 on FS 350, Spruce Mill Road. Avoid all spurs, staying on FS 350. At 18.8 miles the troublesome road leading to the Twin Lakes and Sharkstooth trailhead turns off to the right. Stay straight on FS 350 for another 0.8 mile and park at Windy Gap. This is 19.6 miles from the US 160 turnoff. Allow 1:15 from Durango. 2WD vehicles should be able to reach Windy Gap.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 3.7 miles, 837 feet of climbing for the loop; 3 miles and 610 feet of gain for the out-and-back
Time: 2:00 to 3:00
Difficulty: Off-trail; navigation easy; no exposure
Map: La Plata, Colorado 7.5 Quad; Trails Illustrated #144: Durango and Cortez
Date Hiked: October 29, 2014
Quote: I would like to do whatever it is that presses the essence from the hour. Mary Oliver

Seen from the actual highpoint at 11,575 feet, the formal summit is located at the northwest end of the Burro Mountain ridge.

Route: Burro Mountain is a northwest running ridge with three highpoints, all within 1.5 miles of Windy Gap. The hike can be done as a loop or, even simpler, an out-and-back.

Looming over the parking area, Hesperus Mountain is three miles south as the crow flies.

From Windy Gap, 11,026 feet, walk northwest up the Burro Mountain ridge. The conifers on the lower reaches are so uniform and plentiful it looks like a Christmas tree farm.

Stay on the ridge, close to the north drop for the best views. The substantial amount of deadfall on the lower mountain quickly becomes a non-issue. From Pt 11,454' at 0.7 mile, there is a big-swing view from the La Sals to Pigeon and Turret with Lizard Head stationed mid-way. Mountaintops skim the horizon with Indian Trail Ridge cutting off their bases. Below, Lone Cone is on the left and the Bear Creek drainage, in the foreground.

Simply and pleasantly, walk along the northern edge of the comfortable ridge.

At 1.3 miles, stand on the highpoint at 11,575' feet.

At 1.5 miles, come to Burro Mountain proper at 11,553 feet. Over a year had lapsed between signatures in the register. (EJB, photo)

The survey benchmark was placed by the Department of Agriculture in 1958.

From the summit, Hesperus Mountain is commanding. Burro has a sizable rock glacier on its north slope.

Undoubtedly, the easiest way to return is to retrace your steps. For the loop, walk down the northwest ridge for 0.1 mile.

Drop 400 feet west down a steep slope taking aim off Sleeping Ute.

The pitch levels out at 11,160'. From there, walk along the base of mountain, shown, reaching the road at 3.1 miles, 10,800 feet. Go left/east. One could join the road earlier or later. The road ascends gradually back to Windy Gap at 3.7 miles.