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.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Jacob Hamblin Arch from Red Well Trailhead

Essence: A long, out-and-back day hike in Coyote Gulch to this commanding and unusual arch within an alcove on a gooseneck peninsula. The canyon is shallow and open to start. Later, it is narrow and serpentine, with high sheer walls.
Travel: From Hwy 12, travel south for 30.4 miles on the Hole In The Rock Road. Turn left/east and go 1.0 mile to a large parking area at the trailhead. 2WD vehicles with good clearance should suffice although the final mile is off-camber in places.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 17.8 miles, 500 feet of climbing
Time: 7:00 to 9:00
Difficulty: Trail and wash walking (take water sandals or get your boots wet); navigation easy; no exposure
Maps: Big Hollow Wash, King Mesa, UT 7.5 Quads; Trails Illustrated: Canyons of the Escalante No. 710
Date Hiked: October 24, 2014
Historical Note: Jacob Hamblin, born April 2, 1819, was a Mormon pioneer who helped settle the American Southwest. He was highly respected for pursuing peace with Native Americans, ensuring the safety of Mormon migrants. He extensively explored the Grand Canyon and helped John Wesley Powell plan his second trip on the river.
Quote:  If you know wilderness in the way that you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go.
Terry Tempest Williams

Sun shines through the arch to light the back wall of the alcove that houses it. 

Route: There are four well-documented routes to the arch. Located within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, this is a straightforward roundtrip hike from the Red Well TH down Coyote Gulch. For those continuing on, overnight permits are available free from the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center in Escalante.

This image looks west to Fifty Mile Bench and Straight Cliffs from the trail register at TH 4,525'.

Walk east on an abandoned road and cross into the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area at 0.3 mile. 

The road thins to a single track which splits to later rejoin. Stairstep steeply down a talcum dirt ramp into Big Hollow Wash. A cairn marks this important route into and out of the wash. In a few steps, Coyote Gulch joins downcanyon-right (DCR).

Coyote is broad, flat, and firm-bottomed with low walls. Old, widely branching cottonwoods co-exist with rabbitbrush.

Water begins flowing just before (ironically) the Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch joins downcanyon-left (DCL) at 2.0 miles. Now, passage is brushy with braided trails. Running water is shallow and small crossing logs are sufficient to ford without getting your boots soaked. At 2.9 miles come to a waterfall. Bypass DCR. The trail splits after climbing 150 feet; both re-enter the wash.

At 3.5 miles, canyon walls noticeably heighten.

There are multiple crossings.

At 4.5 miles, pass through a gate, fastening the chain. Two tributaries add significant water at 4.9 and 5.8 miles DCL. Sheer walls overhang the river and shade prevails in late October. Many beautiful alcoves reside throughout the canyon.

At 6.7 miles, the river makes a sharp bend to the right and a side canyon joins DCL. At 6.9 miles, mighty Hurricane Wash comes in DCR. Many people choose to access Jacob Hamblin Arch from the Hurricane TH because it is a couple of miles shorter roundtrip. I heard it called, "The Death March" years ago but I don't know if that is a valid descriptor. There is excellent camping at the confluence. This curvy area, with so much going on, is a little confusing; just follow the flow downstream. It is another 1.6 miles to the arch.

The final stretch has the highest walls, over 400 feet tall. They are pleasantly decorated with black varnish, stripes, and lichen.  Along the base are seeps and hanging gardens. The river is tightly coiled like a serpent. Nature clearly loves the circle; one bend forms a 270 degree arc with 100 feet of overhang. The canyon is reminiscent of the Paria River.

After Hurricane swooshed in, water sandals were a relief. At 7.7 miles there is a side canyon, DCL. Almost there! At 8.5 miles, the river makes a sharp turn to the right. The massive arch is in an alcove located on the outside of the bend. The geometry is unusual. The river has created goosenecks. Therefore, the walls are peninsular with an alcove in the apex. At Jacob Hamblin, the arch is formed in the roof of the alcove, creating a tunnel-like look.

You can climb up the rubble pile under the arch from this side, but it is impossible to descend on the other, down-river side, shown. (THW, photo)

Turn around and trek home just as you came. I'm not sure about the mileage. My GPS read 8.5 miles one way to the arch but two devices had a total of 17.8 miles. It is a long way home. While many people eschew out-and-backs in favor of a loop, I feel otherwise. The experience is such a sensory overload, it begs to be reversed.

Camping: I prefer Sooner Rocks, south of Dance Hall Rock. Camp on slickrock and friction climb on the sandstone. There are humongous tanks covering this formation. Below is a stitched image of the mother of all tanks, at least 150 feet deep. This is one of three giant sandstone weathering pits in south-central Utah. (THW, photo)

An important note from author Steve Allen about protecting endangered National Monuments in Southern Utah.