48 Hours in Arches and Canyonlands
Over the long Fourth of July weekend this past summer Alex and I ventured to Utah to explore Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. We left Thursday after work and flew into Salt Lake City, picked up our rental car and began the 3 hour drive to Moab, where we would base our weekend travels. Although, there was one caveat: we didn’t have a place to stay Thursday night. Since we weren’t going to get into Moab until past midnight we didn’t think it would be worth booking a hotel only to stay in it for a mere few hours. The plan was to drive until we were too tired to continue and pull off on a road and set up on our tent, but we made it all the way into Moab without feeling the need to pull off to the side of the road. Not really feeling comfortable setting up our tent near town we opted for the next best solution: we pulled onto a dirt drive used to service some sort of plant and slept in the car. Or more, I slept in the trunk and Alex sat in the front seat and closed his eyes. After a few fitful hours the sun began to creep over the horizon. We obviously weren’t going to get much more sleep, especially since in the daylight we saw how conspicuous our car was, so we decided to head into Arches and begin our day full of short hikes to the famous arches that pepper the park.
After watching sunrise at Sheep Rock we headed to the Windows area to explore Windows, Turret Arch, and Double Arch. We arrived around 7 and began with Double Arch and thanks to the early hour we were one of the first few tourists and were able to enjoy the arches alone. This would be the only time that would happen all weekend! We then crossed the street and hiked around Windows Arches and Turret Arch.
We spent the remainder of the morning driving to pull offs and hiking short loops. At noon we made the decision to head out to Delicate Arch. By this time the temperature was hovering around 100 and despite the hike only being 3.2 miles in and out we were exhausted. We were also shocked at the number of ill-equipped hikers: hikers in flip flops and hikers without water being the most common offenses. We met a ranger about a mile into the hike and talked with him for a bit. We found out he starts his hike with a backpack full of water bottles and hands them out to hikers without waters, by the time he reached us his backpack was empty. He then went on to tell us that two hikers died in Arches and Canyonlands the past weekend from exhaustion. The number of underprepared hikers is always frightening. The sun and relentless desert heat suck the energy out of you and can quickly render you exhausted. Despite drinking the better portion of our 3 liter camelback we were feeling drained after our trip to the beautiful and busy Delicate Arch. Instead of staying in the heat any longer we checked into our Airbnb and finally slept.
After napping and feeling slightly more invigorated we headed back into Arches in hopes of catching the sunset over the fins at the end of the Double-O Arch hike. Making it to Double-O Arch was a bit more difficult than we anticipated; the hike required some deft maneuvering over giant boulders and protruding fins and was poorly marked at areas. Multiple times we had to double back to find the cairns and get back on the right track. We made it the Double-O Arch about a half an hour before sunset and captured some beautiful golden hour light.
Unfortunately, we decided we shouldn’t attempt to hike back in the dark because the trail was difficult to navigate and our original sunset plan was foiled. We still saw a gorgeous sunset on our hike back but we didn’t get to see it over the fins which was a bit disappointing. By the time we made it back to the trailhead, however, storm clouds were forming and in the end it was fortunate we made it back earlier than planned. Day 1 of our trip ended with a phenomenal distant lightning storm.
Day 2 started early with a stop at Dead Horse Point State Park. We spent the morning walking along the perilous 2000’ cliffs, not something an acrophobe is particularly keen about, but the sights were too spectacular to miss due to an irrationally deep fear of heights. Alex and I had to make a deal that he would never venture closer to the edge than 6’, although there may or may not have been a few anxiety-ridden moments before this deal was made.
After neither of us fell to our doom we headed to Canyonlands. Our first stop: the famous Mesa Arch. As it is only an easy half mile hike from the parking lot to the arch there were many, many tourists around. Despite there being signs stating visitors should not climb on or walk across the arch, tourists were taking their families up on top of the arch for photo ops. Let me repeat that, parents were taking their young children up on top of a precarious arch with a 2000’ sheer drop on the back side all for one photo. Since there were so many tourists taking their turns climbing across the arch, getting a photo of the arch sans tourists was proving to be near impossible. Luckily, another park goer wanting a photo of the arch in its natural state politely asked the other tourists to clear the area for just a few moments and we quickly snapped a few shots and then got the hell out of dodge. That is my least favorite thing about national parks. While I think it is great that people are out exploring the National Parks and especially taking their young children and instilling a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature, I cannot stand visitors who take needless risks and put their family in danger. The parents who take their reluctant children up on Mesa Arch, or people who get close to a bear cub in Yellowstone for a “cute” selfie, or people who tell their adventure partner to “take another step back to get closer to the edge” in the Grand Canyon. But, I digress. After the frustrating experience at Mesa Arch we continued onto Upheaval Dome and had a much more pleasant time exploring that area and standing in wonder of the mysterious salt deposits.
We then headed to Green River Overlook and snapped a few typical tourist photos before heading to Grand View Point, where we hoped to watch the sunset. But, Mother Nature had her own plans. No sooner did we make it to the end of Grand View Point did storm clouds start forming in the distance. At first it seemed as if the storms would roll past and Alex, I and the only other two hikers on the 1 mile peninsula of rock took photos of the rain a seemingly safe distance away. Soon we started to hear thunder which as a multitude of park signs attest to, is an indicator that you need to get your butt back to shelter. We reluctantly headed back and resigned to the fact that we would not see the sunset we had planned.
After the rainiest, lightning-est drive of my life we were back at our Airbnb and the trip was over. It was fast, but it was event filled. We hit the highlights of both parks, but unfortunately because of the time weren’t able to dig deeper and go on any longer hikes, which is the one drawback of planning trips over long weekends. But, I am very glad we got to dip our toes into Arches and Canyonlands. We’ll make another trip in the future and spend more time taking longer hikes and exploring deeper into the parks.
See more photos of Arches HERE!
See more photos of Canyonlands HERE!