Day 10: Arches National Park

Arches National Park—Hovenweep National Monument, Utah

The Fiery Furnace from afar, Arches National Park, Utah

The Fiery Furnace from afar, Arches National Park, Utah.

We planned to spend most of the day in Arches today. We woke up, packed things up, and went to the Fiery Furnace. This is a grouping of tall, thin, and long sandstone fins all lined up parallel to one another. The hike we signed up for occurs twice a day and is three hours and three miles long. They do not let people in the Fiery Furnace without a ranger to guide. The reason for this is that people get lost in the many dead-end canyons and cannot find their way out.

Phallic formations inside the Fiery Furnace

Phallic formations inside the Fiery Furnace.

We were being guided by Ranger Jim. Jim was a guy in his thirties who liked to do volunteer things like this and knew an awful lot about the environment around here. He took us (about 20 people including this couple from Canada and their annoying kids) through these sandstone fins. There was a trail through the fins and many rooms and passageways to stray into. We went along the trail and would all of a sudden find ourselves in a room of sandstone walls that are 40 or 50 feet high. This was really incredible, many of the "rooms" had arches in them, formed from water running into the canyons and carving a hole through the soft sandstone. One of these "rooms" had a large bowl-shaped hole in the rock floor about three or four feet in diameter that was created by water long ago. The bowl was filled with sand and Jim said that once the rain comes, there are fish in the sand that will come out. They know to "wake up" only when there's enough water in the pothole.

A room inside the Fiery Furnace, arch above

A room inside the Fiery Furnace, arch above.

Squeezing through the rocks

Squeezing through the rocks.

There was one room near the end that was huge. The walls were so high very little sunlight was able to get in. We took frequent breaks and Jim would tell us about the animals that live in the area, people who have lived in the area, how they used the local vegetation for food, and how the land came to look the way it does. The sky was a deep blue which really brought out the color of the rock. Jim had us climbing up rocky slopes (without getting rim-rocked), slithering through thin cracks between rocks, and gave us a little quiz, only one question: "What is an Arch?" We all passed and were on our way. Jim was so knowledgeable that we were asking him questions after the hike was over, as were several other people.

The 392-foot Landscape Arch

The 392-foot Landscape Arch.

Landscape Arch with dead tree

Landscape Arch with dead tree.

We continued our trip through the park taking a trail from the Devil's Garden, which was out near the campground. This trail went to the Wall Arch, Landscape Arch (one of the longest rock spans in the world, 392 ft across and 92 feet high), and the Double-O Arch. It was a long trail and I was starting to get tired in the oppressive heat. Jim said earlier that it might actually be double-digit humidity today, unusual in these parts. My legs were getting heavier and heavier. We walked out to and under the large but very thin Landscape Arch. Under it were a whole group of German men resting in the shade of the arch and making a racket.

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch.

Delicate Arch, or a dragon munching off a man's head

Delicate Arch, or a dragon munching off a man's head.

We went to see the Delicate Arch and by the time we got there I really was too tired to go all the way out to the arch so I stayed behind. Andy took off on the trail to the arch. It was a long trail, I could see the tiny people disappear on the horizon. I caught a little nap but didn't sleep much, the French Foreign Legion was eating lunch out of their van next to me. I think the trail was a little longer than Andy expected, he was gone for quite a while and when he came back he seemed a bit surprised. Now we were both tired.

The Windows, Arches National Park

The Windows, Arches National Park.

Balanced Rock, Arches

Balanced Rock, Arches.

Drove to the Windows. This is an area where huge diamond shaped holes are in the distant outcrops. Passed many fascinating rock formations like the Parade of Elephants and the most amazing, the Balanced Rock. This is a huge rock that sits on top of a rock pedestal. Really unusual.

The geologic history behind this area is incredible. Like the Canyonlands, formation began 300 million years ago in the Pennsylvanian Period when salt water from the Cretaceous Seaway flooded the area. The water evaporated and left a deposit of salt. This process of flooding, depositing, and evaporation occurred over and over, leaving many deposits of salt thousands of feet thick. This salt was then covered with debris that fell from higher elevations due to erosion. Over time the debris was compressed into rock. The weight of this rock caused the elastic salt layer to be pushed away creating domes, cavities, faults, and anticlines. By the Late Jurassic Period, the movement of this salt layer ceased. Time passed and thousands of additional feet of rock formed on top of the salt until around 10 million years ago when the deposit of rock slowed. At this point erosion began and it has been estimated that in the last 10 million years 5,000 feet of this rock has eroded away down the Colorado. This erosion has exposed the Entrada Sandstone. Entrada Sandstone is a blend of numerous textures and densities, fused together with varying amounts of this salt cement. These variations in the rock's composition cause the different erosion features in the park and are the reason why some rock erodes faster than other rock. An arch is created from a narrow sandstone wall, or fin, that was isolated as a result of cracks in the earth and subsequent erosion. Water seeps into cracks in the fin, freezes, and expands, weakening and eventually breaking the rock, forming a hole, and eventually an arch.

Enough with the geology lesson. We were both pretty tired by now and decided to leave Arches and get another meal at the Subway in Moab. Taking advantage of the free refills, I probably drank the equivalent of five or six cans of coke. I had been craving something cold for a few days now. Hit the store for the last time and left Moab for good, we had passed through town too many times and it seemed as though we had been in this town for a week. It was not a very nice town, on one of our passings through there was a dust storm. The wind was strong and all you could see was dust blowing around in the air.

We headed south on US 191 the same way we came in. In Blandings we checked out a campground but it was more like a parking lot so we kept going. There's not a lot out here and we finally decided to just hope for a site at Hovenweep National Monument. There aren't really any towns out here. From Moab there are only three towns in the 110 miles to Hovenweep. Turned on UT 262, then it was a mix of San Juan County Road 2416 and Ute Mountain Reservation road. This was the only portion of the road that was unpaved and, ironically, the only sign of civilization.

Setting up camp at Hovenweep National Monument. Rain on the way

Setting up camp at Hovenweep National Monument. Rain on the way.

We finally made it to the park and did get a campsite around 7:30 or 8 P.M. I ate an apple and then we quickly set up the tent. There was a storm in the distance and it was fast approaching us. There is not much soil to stake a tent around here, mostly rock surface. We talked to this older couple who were rangers collecting money and keeping the place clean. They go to a different park each summer to volunteer their services; good idea, I'd say. They repeated what we've been hearing all along, "We haven't had any rain all summer, maybe a third of an inch" or "This is the first storm we've seen in a month." Somehow the rain always seems to find us, but that's all right.

The terrain here is very flat and scrubby but there's something interesting about it. It's as if you're on a large plateau with gradual slopes on all sides. It's hard to explain. I was told coyotes can be heard at night but we heard nothing. Only rain and thunder. The storm inevitably came and it was a strong one. The terrain is so flat I felt exposed to the strong lightning. Luckily there were no strong winds. We watched the action from the tent, Andy was ecstatic.