Arch You Glad I Went?

Silly, yet fun title for this post from my overnight flash trip to Arches National Park in Moab, UT. I decided midday on Friday that I wanted to go to one of the national parks in Utah. Since I live here, I could pick whatever one I wanted because they are all less than a 3.5 hour drive from my house.

A couple enjoys the view looking through one of the Windows
Shot during my first visit to the Delicate Arch

I had considered going to see the Cathedrals at Capitol Reef National Park, but after researching the road conditions in the northern Cathedral Valley, it was not clear whether or not the roads would be passable. So, I headed to Arches.

The big draw for me at Arches is, well, the myriad of arches throughout the park. There is one arch, the Mother of All Arches called Delicate Arch that has always been a point of fascination for me from the first time I saw a picture of it years ago. The photo (right) of the arch is from a previous visit.

The big drawing point that brought on much anticipation for me as I was driving down to the park, was the idea of hiking up at night to the arch and taking star pix with the arch in the foreground. I have seen a few other photos and they are super groovy. I wanted to give it a try. I also was trying to get there before sunset to see if that would make a cool pic of the arch.

When I was about 1 mile from the park entrance, the traffic came to a standstill stop. This was exactly was I was fearing – huge crowds at the park on a Friday. Some states were on Spring Break and I had been seeing out of state license plates during the drive. I was dreading the fact that there was an over mile-long line to get into the park. The sun was going down and this looked like it was going to take hours with every car stopping at the entrance, paying the fee and moving on.

I took the photo below once in the park. It shows the backlog in traffic I was speaking of.

Ugh! Traffic!

Fortunately, the traffic jam was NOT due to people getting into the park, it was due to a traffic light and the fact that many were trying to go in town in Moab. I was so relieved when I was able to see that there was no line to get into the park and even more thrilled by the fact that they were not making anyone pay to get in!

I arrived at the park around 6:30p with plenty of time to spare. As soon as I made the serpentine drive up onto the shelf of the park, I got excited like a child in a candy store.

There was eye candy everywhere!

Below is a map of the park. Look how big it is. Now look at the second picture which zooms in on where I was shortly after arriving. So much beauty in one small area. So much more throughout the entire park.

One small area of the park!

I had the strength to not get distracted by Park Place, which is the first site you see on the left as you are on top of the shelf. I did make a promise to myself that I would catch Park Place on my way out Saturday.

But then shortly after passing Park Place, I saw the wide open space and then the amazing land ornaments called the Courthouse Towers and The Organ. On their own, they would have been enough to stop me as the late day sun was allowing them to show off their majesty and grace.

I was summoned to the Courthouses and I had to get out of the car and “pay my fine” by taking some pix! I also heard some music and I had to “play” The Organ as well with my camera and lenses.

The Organ in late day sun

There was a secondary reason I had to stop. On my way into the park I could see off in the distance that a cycling team was riding up behind their team van and someone was taking pix from the back of the van.

The Primal Cycling Team poses for some Courthouse snaps

When I got to the Courthouses, they had pulled over and apparently also has to pay the same fine as me. They were making an amazing picture with one of the towers in the background.

Since my original plan was to get to the Delicate Arch and try to shoot a sunset pic, I only spend about 5 minutes shooting here.

The view looking down at The Courthouses with late-day light

While doing so, I could see a line of rock formations off in the distance. They included Balanced Rock and the Windows. I captured a nice image of this and hopped in the car to head to Delicate Arch.

The landscape off in the distance. Must explore!

After starting to drive, something dawned on me about the sunset. The sun sets in the west and Delicate Arch is more aligned with South and easterly pix.

I was getting close to the turnoff to go to the Windows, so I called an audible and turned. The change in plans now involved shooting the Windows at sunset, climbing Delicate Arch at night and then again for sunrise the next morning.

A good plan!

When I got to the Windows, it was clear that others had the same sunset idea. From the parking lots it was amazing and was even better as I approached.

My hope as I was surveying the surroundings was to find an angle where the sun sets and I can shoot it through on of the arches.

I saw a couple possibilities, but they involved me going off trail by a good distance. I chose not to do that. I did take a few steps off trail, but was not able to get “the shot.”

I was able to make some nice pictures. One of my favorite from the trip is the cover photo for this post. I am posting it again below. It shows a man and woman chilling in southern corner of one of the Windows as they look out over the expanse of the park. I like how it shows the perspective of how big the arch is.

I was hoping the sun would bolt through one of the arches….but no!
A very interesting pic looking into the sun. Not the dust blowing.
Lots of folks had the same idea
A nearby arch on the other side of the parking area for Windows.

On my way out of the Windows area, I saw a formation that looked like a sulking giant. I have officially named it Sad Giant. Now if I had only take an official photo of it so I could show it to you! I guess I will now call myself Sad Photographer.

It was now getting dark and it was time to head to Delicate Arch.

When I arrived at the parking area for Delicate Arch, the sun was no longer visible, although there was still a little light left. I quickly got all my gear into my backpack, which weighed about 40 lbs. and included cameras, lenses, tripod, ring light, jacket, food and water, a dealy knife and some battery powered lanterns.

I started the hike up to the arch. I could see hundreds of people coming down the trail at all visible points.

The video below gives a sense of what it was like hiking the way up.

After the trails of downward hiking people ended, it was dark and the pathway to the top was becoming challenging to follow. It turns out I was way off trail a few times, so much so that I had to do some jumping to find my way.

Fortunately there are some black poles along the way. Once I found the first one, it was easier to find the next and then I was back on track.

The entire time, was like an adventure. Also, on the way up, I had a bit of anxiety of what it was going to be like during the last stretch of the hike, where the trail narrows and off to the left is a steep drop. The one advantage of going at night was that I could not see how high I was and was not terrible freaked out during this last stretch.

When I traversed the dreaded last stretch and turned the corner, I could see the Delicate Arch hiding in the dark. There were a few people still at the top. I found my place to set up “camp” and started to get out all my gear. As I was doing so, all the rest of the remaining people left the area.

I was the only one there and I loved it!

As soon as I got comfortable with my spot and got all of my gear out, I shot the video below using the battery powered ring like I brought with me.

If you follow this blog or know me well, you know that I have a pretty bad fear of heights. While I didn’t really get triggered too badly on the hike up, once I sat down, I started to freak out. My eyes were adjusting to the blackness and I was now able to see the silhouette of the Delicate Arch and the elevation.

In addition, the wind was blowing about 35 mph and it was blowing some of my gear. That was totally freaking me out. However, the little mice scurrying around was NOT freaking me out. There were cute and made this tiny and intriguing sound.

The result of my freaking out was that I was not going to be able to position myself to get a star shot. I needed to move deeper into the area, and I simply was not going to be able to do that. I did not have lights powerful enough to illunate the arch, so I did what I could – I shot the big rock that was to my right. I was thrilled with the pix, but at least I have one decent image from the climb.

The rock, the moon and the stars

Another consequence of my slight freak out, was that I could not prepare the dinner I brought with me. I had some delicious chicken and rice and a beef stroganoff that I was going to hydrate with my JetBoil. But because of the wind and my awareness of the height, I could not manage doing all of that. Lame, I know.

So once I felt I had at least one picture, I packed up and made my way back down. It was about 11:30 and I needed to at least get a little sleep before coming back in the dawn for sunrise.

The trip back down was equally amazing. I actually passed a small group who was hiking around. I am not sure where they were going. It looked like they were going up but about 5 minutes later they changed direction and I could see them when I was almost at the bottom that they were also coming down.

When I got to the van, I hopped in an drove to the Panoramic View area and parked there for the night. All my seats were down and I slept magically in the van. It was terrific sleep!

When I woke up moments before the beginnings of sunrise, I looked to the east and could see it was very cloudy. It looked like the sunrise was not going to be anything spectacular. Hiking up to the Delicate Arch for gray and overcast sunrise didn’t seem like a good idea, so I went exploring.

I ended up heading back toward the Courthouses and The Organ. As I was driving through, I started to see a glimmer of light and color on the horizon. I couldn’t make it back to the Delicate Arch and hike up in time, so I pulled over, took out a camera and shot a 40-minute hyperlapse of the sunrise behind The Organ. That video is below (the video is not 40 minutes, that’s just how long it took to shoot the lapse).

If you look carefully, you can see me in the video toward the end

At the beginning, it didn’t look like it was going to be much. But all of a sudden, the sky caught on fire and I knew I had something special.

While the sky was on fire, I went out and made a few pix looking back toward Park Avenue.

Sky on fire! Looking west.
Looking east

After the sunrise fire was over, I began the rest of my adventures of the day. The first place I went was to the Delicate Arch viewing area (not the trail that leads to the arch itself). I had never been and was curious to see how the view would be from down below. The hike is a short 0.3 mile hike with a small climb. The 2 pix below are from that viewing area.

The view of the delicate arch from the viewing trail.
A close up of the Delicate Arch. Note the person jumping underneath.

From the viewing area, I decided to go to an area of the park I have never seen, Devil’s Garden, on the northern most part of the park. (Refer to map above)

I loved this trail. There was plenty to see. I actually did not do the whole trail so I could save some of it for whenever Ann could join.

The entrance to the trail is a narrow passage through I very high rock wall on the right and some smaller formations on the left. It is a physical way of saying, “Welcome into the Devil’s Garden.”

The entrance to the Devil’s Garden trail

Immediately inside the passageway to the left, is the slot shown below. It is filled with sand and the further you go in, the higher the sand is. It was fun seeing the children see how far they could go in.

While on the trail, I stopped at many arches: The Tunnel, Pine Tree, and Landscape. The most impressive was the Landscape Arch. They are all shown below.

The Tunnel
The entrance into the massive Pine Tree Arch.
The other side of the Pine Tree Arch
Landscape Arch

Seeing the Landscape Arch was quite impressive. I got the impression that it may not be with us for too long. It seems like it should be falling.

Right past the Landscape Arch is the primitive trail that heads out deeping into the garden. The trail leads to Double O Arch and Dark Angel. When I arrived at the part of the trail with a rock climb shown in the photos and videos below, I decided I would stop and save the rest for later. I am very much looking forward to finishing the trail.

It was a very busy area as shown in the hyperlapse video below.

The rock climb up to get to the end of the trail.
A hiker begins the ascent up the rock.
The view looking back from the rock climb. Note the snowy mountains in the background.

My next stop after Devil’s Garden was to check out Park Avenue prior to heading back home. I had never been before. As soon as I walked up into the area, I was BLOWN AWAY. It was huge and gorgeous! The pictures do not capture the grandeur of the place. You can see in the first photo that there is a trail that leads through the valley. I saved that hike until Ann could be there. I am very excited to do it and feel the enveloping of the tall structures on all sides.

A wide view of Park Avenue
Looking deep into Park Avenue

I feel so fortunate to have been able to get away and take this short and stunningly wonderful journey to Arches National Park. I have fallen in love with it and can’t wait to go back.

One thought on “Arch You Glad I Went?

  1. Scott, this was so much to take in! What a great place to visit. I have only seen a few pictures here and there of this park, nothing that really let me know how massive and absolutely beautiful it is. Thanks for sharing! Hope to someday visit and let you take us on a “tour” of this awesome place.

    Liked by 1 person

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