Our Utah adventure commenced at Arches National Park. We had just escaped a massive ice storm on our way here from Amarillo, Texas and it was already dark when we arrived in Moab, so we decided to stay in for the night after a huge BBQ meal at The Blu Pig just outside our hotel. Quite frankly, Utah has been my husband’s dream trip. He has been wanting this since we were still living in Japan! While I didn’t have any idea at that time yet, it didn’t take long for this state to capture my dreaming heart away. After all, The Mighty Five of Utah was called Mighty for a good reason.
Majority of those who visit the Arches National Park only come to see the world’s most famous arch, the Delicate Arch. It is the same widely popular arch that is depicted on Utah’s license plates and on the state’s commemorative postage stamp. However, it is only one among over 2,000 documented natural stone arches within the boundaries of Utah’s Arches National Park along with fascinating pinnacles, fins, balanced rocks and breathtaking canyons, with most major sights possible within a day’s drive. Even coming to the park in winter, which is both a good and a bad idea, the list of wonders to love about the park is endless.
INSIDE THE PARK
Just a short drive past the visitor center is an overlook of the Moab Fault. From this viewpoint, you can gaze down upon US 191 carving through the canyon. This is also the part where I joked that is finally not my fault, it is Moab’s fault. :)
Past the park’s visitor center and the Moab fault overlook is truly where the magic of Arches National Park unfolds. I immediately fell in love with the park at the first sight of Park Avenue. We didn’t see any arches at this stop yet since Park Avenue is composed mainly of impressive wall formations which reminded me of a Metro City skyline. As a matter of fact, that is exactly how this spot got its name because it reminds visitors like us of New York’s famous street with its sandstone spires that mirror the city’s skyscrapers.
The La Sal Mountains Viewpoint comes immediately after the Park Avenue providing a majestic view of the La Sal Mountains in the distance. Although quite frankly, there were better and greater views of the La Sal Mountains, which was named by early Spanish explorers who thought the snow-covered mountains looked like huge piles of salt, from a different spot of the park. i.e. Fiery Furnace. I was starting to freeze at this point of our trip but I would not want it any other way. Winter cold may be harsh but those snow-capped mountains in our background is impressive. Besides, there was nearly no one else in the park except us. No arch yet!
Surprisingly, we were able to take a decent view of the Courthouse Towers from The La Sal Mountains Viewpoint.
The next stop is the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint where the famous rock formations called Three Gossips, Sheep Rock, the Organ, and the Tower of Babel can be viewed closely from here. Movie enthusiasts would be thrilled to be know that the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was once filmed here, where at the opening of the movie, Harrison Ford as the young Indy attempted to elude the bad guys through a valley of reddish sandstone towers. Still, no arch yet!
Petrified Dunes are a series of rock formations which are ancient sand dunes that hardened into stone at Arches National Park. At Petrified Dunes Viewpoint is one of my highly recommended spot to get a stunning view of the La Sal Mountains. The petrified dunes’ different shades of red, orange, pink and green vegetation provides a good contrast with the white snow-capped La Sal Mountains in the background. I think my husband was delighted with our photo below. Still, no arch yet!
One of the most visited parts of the park is the Balanced Rock. It normally is a crowded spot but there was nobody around when we visited. I was joking about the odds this rock will fall off its balance while we are around it but it held its fort! Unfortunately, my hands were starting to numb from the cold so I ran to the car after our quick hike around the rock formation. Still no arch yet!
Shortly after leaving Balanced Rock, we saw the Windows, and ARCHES, finally!
Traversing the Spur Road, the Garden of Eden, the Windows, Turret Arch, Parade of Elephants, and the Double Arch came into view. Needless to say, it was a gorgeous work of nature.
After a deep satisfaction seeing the windows and the Double Arch, we are now truly eager to see the Delicate Arch. At this point, I am more determined to fight the cold. We stopped at the Cache Valley Overlook along our way.
Nothing can be more iconic than the Delicate Arch. There are two trails to choose from. First is the Delicate Arch Trail which was described as a difficult hike down the road at Wolfe Ranch. The other is the Delicate Arch Viewpoint, which is shorter and easier but offers a more distant view of the arch. Obviously, we chose the latter :) not because we didn’t want a close-up view of the Arch but we are not prepared time wise. Plus admittedly, we are not fit. :(
Maybe we will do the Delicate Arch Trail next time.
On our way out of the Delicate Arch, we decided to see the Wolfe Ranch. Also known as Turnbow Cabin, Wolfe Ranch isa single room cabin settled in the late 1800’s by John Wesley Wolfe and his son, Fred. Oh boy, it was worth it, especially seeing some petroglyphs which are samples of a historic Ute rock art which was only about 600 feet from the parking lot!
All happy and satisfied, my husband and I drove our way out and made a quick stop at Salt Valley Overlook and drove past the Fiery Furnace area.
The Delicate Arch may be the highlight of Arches Natural Park, but my favorite spot is the Sand Dune Arch. The view of the fins from the distance was so mysterious and incredibly inviting at the same time, it is hard to resist the urge to try one of the passages. Ha, considering I have some issues with close space!
The dusting of snow on top of the fins during our visit also made the scenery lovelier. The fins look like cookies dusted with powdered sugar! The sun was already angled low and the sunset was about to start which particularly highlighted the brightness of the sandstone’s shade of reddish orange. It was very quiet (and cold) and after successfully managing to squeeze ourselves in through the narrow and deep passage between fins, a masterpiece awaits in the center like Her Majesty awaiting on her throne in the midst of the finest desert sand; the Sand Dune Arch. The photos can’t give adequate justice and I can only wish for everyone to experience such an unforgettable moment.
Seeing the Sand Dune Arch was overwhelming but we managed to make our last stop at the Skyline Arch. The hike to the arch was pretty easy and short and I highly and strongly recommend coming at this spot on a sunset. The sunset’s light reflection simply amplified the grandeur of sandstone’s color and it left us with a stunning scenery.
We attempted to drive to the Devil’s Garden but we ran out of time. The sun was setting and the temperature was really low. But oh boy, what an astounding day it was at Arches National Park. My husband has dreamed of this day for a long time but here I am, already massively in love with Utah and its most treasured national parks. It is even just our first day yet!