Arches National Park is an American icon, and rightly so. In this one park alone it is claimed there are over 2,000 such features, more than anywhere else in the world. I’d come here to see more than I did last time, a grand total of three and, on the day of my arrival I scooted up and nabbed another, Double Arch, which is a ball shaped hole in the rock with two huge gaps up the top. I’d managed to climb into that and have my picture taken, along with about 10 other tourists at varying intervals.
Now, it was three days later and I hadn’t seen any more and I was off tomorrow. Time to make some sort of effort. In order to capture the best light I left in the dark and reached a spot where a feature called Balancing Rock stood. It was there I pulled up because of the amount of other vehicles coming in, and I knew where most of them were headed, because Delicate Arch is the one most people want for a shot of the sun coming up behind an arch.
So I sat there in the car while several others passed and, when the dark started to become light, stepped outside of the car. It was about then that I realised my flannelette shirt and windcheater were inadequate for warmth. The bracing wind off the nearby snow-capped peaks of La Sal Mountians took the short route and my exposed parts were freezing. Trying to stay focused on the task at hand wasn’t easy but, having no idea of how the sun would actually strike the features, kept my mind alive to possibilities.
The first rays kissed the summits and it was time to move. The thin band of cloud offered little in the way of assistance in colouring the sky so it was time to concentrate on the rock formations and wait for the sun to bless some of the walls. Soon there’s a curved wall with brightness on its upper parts and I make for that and spend probably nearly half an hour wandering around its precinct. To be honest, I’ve never seen shots of this particular unnamed outcrop and the fact that there are no footmarks indicates that it’s well down in the pecking order of chosen photographic subjects. Still, there’s no-one else here fighting for an angle.
Eventually I’ve worked the dawn here long enough and head up towards Devils Garden, the end of the road, but I don’t quite make it because I can see numerous opportunities en route for something unique, ever my goal. The light is almost perfect and every venue delivers so that by the time I reach the Devils Garden loop I can’t be bothered stopping and head back to base once more. Still, I did get to see Skyline Arch at one of the stops, that’s one more.
Afternoon rolls around and it’s time to make one last effort, probably at Landscape Arch, even though Delicate Arch is the one most pictured and I’d intended to see it but, I’d been as far as the carpark on the first day and couldn’t get a spot so; for my last sojourn, I punched on to Devils Garden, the end of the road inside the park, stopping off to get some weird alternatives en route.
There were quite a few of the desired features up here I was led to believe, including the thin Landscape Arch that you could walk beneath once upon a time. That was prior to Wall Arch, located along the popular Devils Garden Trail, collapsing sometime during the night of August 4, 2008.
The Natural Arch and Bridge Society considers Landscape Arch to be the longest natural arch in the world. Three sections of sandstone have fallen from Landscape Arch since 1991, measuring 30, 47, and 70 feet in length, giving enough warning so people beneath could flee as the 70 foot slab dropped 180 tons of rock on the floor, leaving a decidedly thin lump of curved rock, necessitating the realignment of the Devils Garden Trail just before Landscape Arch.
After parking I shuffle off on the sandy well-worn trail, bypassing two off-trail arches before Landscape. It’s a cool arch but the light is difficult; it’s really a dawn shot, so I decide to continue. Surely the next arch isn’t far? Except that the trail gets difficult here and you climb up and along a rock slab to the next level before veering left. There’s a turn-off to Partition Arch but I only probe 50 metres before returning and making for Navajo Arch.
I have no expectations, just looking to get the numbers up so I can at least say I saw some. As I near Navajo, it’s apparent that it’s more like a cave. Someone else is taking pictures and, as it comes clearly into view, I bless my luck. For there, right before me, is a rock pool beneath the centre of arch and late afternoon light is streaming through the hole, reflecting on the water and the light is rebounding to the roof of the cave. Wow, my dream come true. These circumstances would only come together if it had rained recently and it was the right time of day, approximately 15 minutes before the sun dipped below a nearby outcrop; and I had fluked it.
Another hiker arrived and we all shared names (Corey and Brad) as we clicked happily away. I was able to pass on some tips to Brad as we all shared this special place at a special time.
Then I was walking back to Partition Arch. Suddenly I felt a lot more like going there with company. It, too, was worth a view and you could walk underneath the Entrada sandstone and gaze at the panoramic views across Cottonwood Wash. There’s also another small arch adjacent that, in time, will become part of the main one.
Strolling back with Corey and Brad was, yet again, a lovely experience. There’s this camaraderie among hikers that’s hard to ignore. Just wanting to be out in natural surroundings makes for a special bond, something you don’t get wandering around a supermarket, and it’s sad to bid farewell, but we all have to go our separate ways and I can reflect that, at least, I finally got another three arches.