The second week in July, we hit the road for Moab – about 230 miles, or just shy of a 4 hour drive southeast from Salt Lake City. Maybe it was a bit crazy to hike in the desert when the temps were in the 100s, but we were hell-bent on visiting the two National Parks in the area: Arches and Canyonlands.
Arches National Park
Arches is located on the Colorado Plateau near the Colorado River. With over 2,000 arches, it has the largest concentration of natural arches in the world. The majority of the rock in the park is sandstone. The arches are formed as water seeped into cracks and through the freeze-thaw cycle ice created pressure breaking off parts of the rock. As wind cleaned out loose particle, fins remained, which further give way to water and wind and became arches. You can see the some of the progress below – the pictures on the right shows the fin stage while the one on the left shows an arch. Fun fact, Skyline Arch (pictured in the photo on the right below) was actually only half that size until 1940 when a boulder fell out and doubled the opening. While we didn’t get to the most famous arch in the park – Delicate Arch – there are so many other beauties to see.
We went in the evening to beat the heat, and while it was still in the 90s the shade made it much more bearable. We drove through the park stopping at Balanced Rock and Skyline Arch before hiking through Devil’s Garden. We passed the Landscape Arch, which is one of the longest arches in the world, before climbing up the rock face to head back toward Double O Arch. We ended up turning around before we got there because the sun was setting and we didn’t want to be scrambling in the dark, but we were able to stop at the Partition and Navajo Arches on the way back. In the dark, we pulled up to the Delicate Arch viewpoint to try and capture it with a long exposure.
Corona Arch is located along a trail in a side canyon along the Colorado River. The arch is partially free-standing and has an impressive 140 ft x 105 ft opening. The trail is relatively easy with only a few short, steep sections, and is 2.3 miles round trip. It’s easy to follow with cairns and green paint to mark the way. While summer is probably not the most ideal time to hike in Moab, we went early in the morning before the sun got too high in the sky. This allowed for some shade along the way from the canyon walls and we were able to finish before the trail got too crowded. We ended the hike with a quick splash (for the dog) in the Colorado River.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park covers over 330,000 acres of land in southeastern Utah. It is one of the more remote National Parks with very little for services throughout; the NPS encourages you to take anything you might need for your visit with you due to the remoteness. The park is divided into three “districts” that are bounded by the Colorado and Green Rivers. You cannot access the different areas from within the park as there are no roads that cross the rivers. To get from one district to the next is anywhere from a 2-6 hour car ride.
The three districts that make up Canyonlands are: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. Island is the Sky, with its proximity to Moab, is the most highly visited area. Island in the Sky is a sandstone mesa that sits over 1,000 above the surrounding terrain. We visited the Grand Viewpoint, which is at the southernmost point of the scenic drive. It gives a great vista of the White Rim – a sandstone formation above the river convergence, as well as The Needles and The Maze.
The Needles is east of the Colorado River and is named after rock pinnacles that can be found in the landscape. The Needles was once the home of Pueblos, and there are still traces of their heritage including well-preserved petroglyphs. The Maze is located to the west of the Colorado and Green Rivers and is the most primitive area in Canyonlands. It is also one of the most remote and inaccessible areas in the entire United States, which has led to it being called on of the most dangerous places to hike. It has many geological features unique to the area including Orange Cliffs and Golden Stairs.