November 7, 2012 by Deborah W. Trotter
What does it mean when someone keeps National Park brochures in her car long after her most recent visit? That she’s a packrat? That the brochures were forgotten along with the napkins and the rubber bands and the gas receipts others have stuffed in the door pocket? Or does it mean that keeping the brochures at hand in her car somehow nourishes her connection to those Parks? You can probably guess that in my case, it’s the latter. And one of those brochures is from Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, a Park I have visited several times in my life, both as a kid and with my own children.Many of you may have seen photos of Delicate Arch. Maybe you have even hiked the three-mile, round trip trail to see it in person. But if you haven’t spent time in the Park, you might not have any idea just how many other arches you will find there. The official number is 2,000! And one of the great things about Arches is that many of them and other nature-sculpted rock formations can be seen from your car and explored with very short hikes.
If you feel like getting away from the cars and the road, however, the trail through Devil’sGarden is a perfect place to experience the variety of holes in the rocks that Arches is famous for. We’ve hiked there twice as a family of six. The first time our youngest was 3 years old. It was sunny and hot, and some of us didn’t make it past Landscape Arch before returning to the car.
The second time we all hiked the Devil’s Garden trail was in 2005 when ouryoungest was 13. Our other kids were 15, 17 and 19. Yes, it was that summer. The summer of four teenagers. (See my Zion National Park – Angel’s Landing post from August 22, 2012.) What a difference a decade makes!
This time we waited until evening to hike. A breeze was coming up, andmost of the other hikers were coming out when we started into the Devil’s Garden. Shadows and sunlight played on the sandstone formations, and so did our rambunctious kids. We took the side trails to Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch before returning to the main trail and continuing to Landscape Arch (pictured above), another iconic feature that you might have seen photos of.
Just beyond Landscape was Wall Arch, right next to the trail. This chunky formation collapsed in 2008 and is no more. Sandstone in the Park is constantly changing: new arches appear and old ones disappear as water, ice and wind have their way with the relatively crumbly rock. Between Wall Arch and Landscape Arch, however, who would have predicted that Wall would fall first?
Beyond Wall Arch, we took a side trail off the main one to Partition Arch, and then the kids ran up another trail from that one to Navajo Archwithout us. By the time they returned to the main trail, it was after 7:00, and we might have been the only humans left in those far reaches of the Devil’s Garden. We certainly had not seen anyone else for a while.
The next half mile or so of the trail was fairly level until it took us up onto some rock fins. One inparticular was quite narrow, and I had to focus on my feet and take the wind into account to be sure that I didn’t fall off! Double O Arch was the end of the trail for us, and it was irresistible to the kids. Up they went into the openings and onto the surrounding slickrock. Our youngest, who could zip up the bunk bed ladder before he could walk and still likes to climb everything in sight, temporarily got “rimrocked,” but found his way back down to the trail.
The official end of the Devil’s Garden trail is at the Dark Angel formation, but we decided not to hike to it because we didn’t want our return trip to be overtaken by darkness, even though a nearly full moon was on the rise.As we hiked back from Double O, the sun set where we were, but snow on the distant La Sal Mountains still held its light. Along the trail, some cottontail bunnies and ravens were startled to be sharing the day’s end with us. We could feel the sand and rock beginning to release the heat they had spent the day absorbing. And the Garden’s walls and other rock formations seemed to be their own light source, as if all the light they had soaked up while the sun was shining was seeping back out to prolong the darkening day’s end.
The ebbing evening light stayed with us long enough to get us back to our car. Then we happily drove back into town for dinner at Miguel’s Baja Grill where the signature dish was the M.O.A.B. (Mother of all Burritos)! A delicious end to a marvelous day.