Arches National Park is worth visiting just for the Visitors Center. If you are passing through the area, questions abound about the intricacies of the landscape and this place has the answers.
Actually, we missed the turn into Arches the first time because someone had climbed the sandy bank on the other side of the road and scuffled “BEEF JERKY” into the steep embankment.
We drove North on 191, discussing the fors and againsts of beef jerky. After a few minutes, No Pants Bandit declared we had gone too far, and we headed back. A $10 for a 7 day pass was the cheapest ticket into the park. We stopped in the Visitor Center where we got maps, read informational boards about the ecosystem, watched a video, climbed on the brass mountain goats outside the front door, then drove up along a cliff.
Boulders balanced precipitously hundreds of feet just above our heads. Narrow formations jutted impossibly upwards. Fallen rock was everywhere except the road. We climbed over and through the first wall and the terrain opened up, an encompassing view of the various sites where rock protrudes from desert floor.
Faces and animals loomed out of the rocks. Sometimes they were distinguishable enough that all of us recognized them. Others dissipated back into the folds as quickly as they had appeared.
Dozens upon hundreds of people roamed amoung each of the attractions in the park. We opted to drive to the furthest back of the protrusions as there was a 4 mile trail which promised views of the majority of the greatest attractions.
Boxed in by rental RVs and SUVs full of families obviously arguing about whether to pull off or not, we crept back to Devil’s Garden Trailhead. It was a large, dusty loop, absolutely packed by vehicles. We found a spot and trekked onto the pedestrian highway between the massive, upright slabs called ‘Fins’. The majority of the admirers were foreign. It amused me to be a minority in my own country. Although I do expect every Nature Loving American to visit these wonders at least once.
The rocks sprouted like flowers in a garden; contrasting and complimenting one another. Different clusters having common character. The salt streaked red sandstone incurred feature names (according to a pamphlet I picked up) such as Fiery Furnace, Devil’s Garden, Dark Angel, Garden of Eden, and Pit Toilet.
Just past Navajo Arch, Partition Arch and the famous Landscape Arch, the handrails end and the crowd thins. Just beyond these the trail passes a collapsed arch. The breaking points in the wall showed like new gashes as it happened mere decades ago. The park no longer allows picnicking under certain arches. We climbed along the spines of low fins and wove between tighter spaces. We explored the spiderlike ability to stick to the sandpaper walls. Out on the fringe of Devils Garden is Double O arch.
No Pants Bandit and I took a sit and watch while Crypto and Birthday Girl ventured around the back of the arch and then up and over the higher of the two planks. From my vantage point I am certain there is a time fold between the arches. I know because I saw a pterodactyl fly out and a Diplodocus winked at me from the other side.
The sun warmed the broad open spaces, while long, dark, narrow crevasses slit the expanses. Looking out across them I imagined what Indians, Settlers, or Cowboys might have been thinking when passing through this country.
I was able to construct on this query further when we drove Snow White out into Salt Valley in search of fun Jeeping roads. Sure the first 7 miles were over washboards, but we hoped the 9 mile descent ahead would make it worth it. It took an eternity to jiggle and jostle our way out across the moon; for that is the only place we could possibly be. It was strange to spot the rock gardens from afar. They were Children’s Toys I could pick up with one hand. Tiny castles and fortresses.
As we pulled up to the first steep climb onto the 4 wheel playground, we paused to shift into 4L and Crypto got out of the car to scope what was around the corner. As he stepped outside, the skies opened up. Within seconds it was a deluge. A few seconds later, it was hail. We turned around and drove across the moon washboard lamely as the storm overtook us and raged all around. It was still raining by the time we got back to town. Back at camp our main thoroughfare to our camp was a calf deep stream. We de-shoed in the dark, realizing we had built camp between a cliff and a tiny river. It was our own little island! The rain stopped long enough for us to make a fire, cook supper, and exchange thoughts on the day. That night, the few times I drifted into wakefulness, I was lulled back to sleep by the pitter patter of rain and whispered echoes of eternity along the curving sandpaper sheet rockwalls.