Arches National Park
Updated: Nov 23, 2020
Magnificent Landscapes; Fascinating Rock Formations; Historic Town; Stunning Milky Way
A quick stop at Bryce Canyon National Park, and we were off on a 247-mile journey to Arches National Park! Utah is famous for its "Big 5" or "Mighty 5" National Parks, including Capitol Reef National Park, Zion National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Arches National Park.
We arrived at Arches pretty late in the day and were both equally exhausted from driving over the past few days. So, we elected to navigate through the Park with our Gypsy guide giving us the history of the Park, the people, and the geology. If you plan to go to a National Park, I recommend 1) buying the National Park annual pass and 2) downloading the Gypsy app for whichever Park you are visiting.
After cruising through the park, I wanted to check out Moab. I drove through this vibrant town in February when I was road-tripping from Salt Lake City, UT to Raleigh, NC, and taking a southern route to avoid any bad weather in the Rockies. Moab was a refreshing oasis out in the middle of Southern Utah. We shopped around the historic downtown strip and bought some souvenirs for our friends and families back in North Carolina.
After shopping and grabbing a bite to eat, we got a hotel room and went to bed early in preparation for a full day and night of exploring Arches National Park. The first photographic objective of the day was to catch the sunrise through the North Window.
Sunrise at the North Window and Turret Arch
The morning started with a dark drive through about 1/3 of the Park to the Windows Section. In this 2 square mile area, there are both the North and South Windows and Turret Arch. From the pictures I had seen doing my sunrise research, my favorite had to be the shot of Turret Arch through the North Window. To capture this unique vantage point, I had to do a little scrambling around the backside of the North Window. The colors in the sky were soft and cool, as I was facing west looking through Turret Arch.
As a photographer, I have learned that shooting into the sun during sunrise or sunset is not always the most beautiful shot at the time. It's critical to keep your head on a swivel and be able to pivot from your original plan to find the right picture. The sun continued to rise and once it peeked over the clouds, could see the near-perfect circle created by the North Window to the right of Turret Arch.
Subsequently, we went back to the hotel, packed up, and checked out. Returning to the Park, our next stop was Becca's favorite of Arches - Balanced Rock. According to the National Park Service (NPS), Balanced Rock is one of the Park's most "iconic" features, standing tall at 128 ft.
Although this may appear like a giant balancing act, the rock and pedestal are different types of rock that have eroded differently. Eventually, erosion will win and the massive rock will fall. The NPS reports most recently in 2015 the widening of the North Window and, in 2008, the collapse of Wall Arch.
Our next stop would have been Delicate Arch if I hadn't already seen it. In February, my first time at Arches National Park, I explored the Windows Section before driving right to the Delicate Arch trail. Delicate Arch is the arch on Utah's license plates, so I figured I should go and see it in person - and boy was it magnificent.
This was a 3-mile roundtrip solo hike with the crux being the narrow trails slick with ice. I saw plenty of people on all fours, as the resulting fall would be upwards of 40 ft. Once I got to the end, however, it was well worth the effort! In the second picture, you can see two people to the left of the arch, which helps give it scale to just how grand it is.
Salt Valley Overlook and Fiery Furnace
Continuing through the Park, we made it to the Salt Valley Overlook. According to the Utah Geologic Survey, Utah has been covered by oceans and inland seas through geologic time. These waters deposited layers of salt, which, over time, have hardened and helped form the Salt Valley. The La Sal Mountains or "The Salt Mountains" are in the distance, and Wikipedia credits these Mountains as a prominent landmark on the Old Spanish Trail between Sante Fe and Los Angeles. If you compare these pictures of the La Sal Mountains to the ones in the Delicate Arch section, you can see the white caps in February and what appear to be salt caps in the summer.
Fiery Furnace was a place that we only saw from afar. The only way to view the Fiery Furnace from up close is through a ranger-led tour. The reddish hue it gives off at sunset is what gives it, its name according to the National Park Service.
Sand Dune Arch
Our next stop was Sand Dune Arch, which was a quick hike from the parking lot. It was as if we were hiking through a sandstone hallway, which protected us from the wind and sun. Being protected by the elements, specifically the wind, is why I believe the sand on the ground was so deep. It has eroded and not been blown away like the many other parts of the Park.
It was getting dark, and we decided it was time to find a sunset hike and wrap up our day. We continued down the main road to Devils Garden Trailhead, which contains at least seven arches. Since we only had enough time for one, we decided to take a relatively short hike to Landscape Arch. This is, according to Utah.com and other sources, the largest arch on the planet! It is incredibly thin for how long it is, which makes me side with the school of thought that this arch is at the end of its geologic life cycle.
All of these arches are temporary features of this landscape, and in 1991 there was a large chunk of Landscape Arch that fell off. From the video taken by Michael Muller, you can hear the arch's cracking and popping before a significant slab fell from the underside of the arch. There is plenty of rubble below, providing us with pieces to the Landscape Arch puzzle.
Milky Way in Arches National Park
The sun had set as we walked back from Landscape Arch to Devils Garden Trailhead. I next needed to decide where to try and capture the Milky Way. I remembered my sunrise shots from earlier that morning and thought I might capture the Milky Way in the North Window. So, we trekked back to the Windows Section, where I grabbed my camera and Lume Cube (light) to work on some astrophotography.
Arches National Park was wonderful and I was pleased to experience it with someone so special. Thank you for coming along on my journey. I hope you have subscribed to my weekly newsletter and if you are interested in hanging any of these pictures up, visit www.chadgunton.com/archesnationalpark Also, check out my Instagram and Facebook!