How hard is it to google the name of a national park before you visit to find out the latest conditions? This is an easy one – it’s not hard at all. If you are now guessing that I didn’t google “Arches National Park” before our hiking trip to Utah, you pass go and get $200! We got quite the surprise when we arrived thanks to my little omission!
Having five days ago gone to my physical therapist Stephane wondering if I would even go on this hiking trip, I continue to follow his advice to stretch my hammies, take Tylenol, sport a compression sleeve for my left knee, and always use a whopping big bag of motel ice on my knee after hiking.
Pulling through the entrance to Arches National Park, just minutes from Moab, a little before 8A, we see no one is there collecting fees from the steady stream of vehicles entering the park. WTF!
Even though we don’t pay because of our $10 lifetime Senior Pass (soon going to $80 – still a helluva deal), lots of greenbacks are whistling by as we are among 40 cars and RVs winding our way through the entrance and up the switchbacks above the visitor center this late May morning.
Unfortunately for us, since the visitor center doesn’t open till 9A, we have no map for the hiking trails; we do have memories of being here 11 years ago. As such, we have no idea what awaits at the end of the park! Winding our way up the mountainside, we reach 5000’ on our way to Delicate Arch, the iconic arch that has been on Utah license plates as long as I can remember.
Being a part of a caravan of now 50 vehicles, we decide to skip following the horde turning right onto the road to Delicate Arch and head directly for the Devils Gardens with its eight-mile trail passing seven distinctive arches. Can’t wait!
Much to our surprise, we find that the Sand Dune Arch parking area is literally the end of the road. No Devils Garden! Who knew? Well, all those people that googled “Current conditions in Arches National Park” knew. Later we learn from the signage that anyone going into the forbidden area will be prosecuted. Whoa, the feds are thinking we might be some sort of latter day Butch Cassidy and Sundance Woman in hiking shorts.
Life is how you deal with Plan B, and deal with it we will. Not hard to pull out your Zen, when you have few choices. (Of course, there is the choice of whining, bitching, and reminding oneself how unfair life is. – And tell me, How is that working out for you?)
Taking the sandy trail through the shadeless high desert, I hardly notice my left knee in a compression sleeve on its maiden voyage. The hope is building that I might just make it hiking through four national parks and playing pickleball in the coming week.
As you can imagine with the unexpected road closure, it’s busy on the trail. Not Disneyland busy, but lots of people have been funneled into hiking to Broken Arch on a day going to 90F.
Fortunately, the Tapestry Arch lies beyond Broken Arch making our 2+ hours under the relentless sun a good morning of arch hiking.
With the aforementioned monster bag of motel ice at the ready, I ice my left knee while Hannah drives us back to Delicate Arch. Expecting a mob scene of cars, what with the road closure, we are committed to trolling the parking lot for a spot for as long as it takes! We’ll even park down a side road not made for parking so we can hike the trail to Delicate Arch today.
Surprisingly, the ranger waves us into the Delicate Arch trailhead parking, saying there are plenty of spaces. It’s just about 1130A and 92 degrees. Let me tell you, that here in May and June (as it was in the Phoenix area when we lived there for ten years in the 1970s), there is such low humidity that 90F is the new 70F, well, okay 75F.
Waiting in line behind ten others to do our duty in the three available port-a-potties, we know this is a very doable three-mile round-trip hike to Delicate Arch with just 500’+ elevation gain. Summery, there are many people on the trail, a joyous mix of senior couples, younger, spunkier dating couples, and families (school ends in late May in much of the West and South).
The trail begins with red rock paving, which eventually leads to switchbacks; we then ascend onto a sloping stone mountainside climbing to Delicate Arch. It’s not a walk in the park, dry heat or not, but a workout for a left knee with already five miles on its tread.
Never perilous, the trail is without cliff edges until the final 300 yards; carved into the sandstone, the trail is safe for families and seniors, as long as you apply even the smallest amount of common sense. As we hike, we ask parents how old their young kids are and how the hiking has been. Looking forward to the day when Molly and Tip and our grandsons, Owen and Max, can come to the Arches with us, we find a family with a six-year-old who has rocked this heart-of-the-high-desert climb without complaint.
There is nothing like the visual of first coming around the bend and seeing the Delicate Arch. With 50-60 people in the area, it’s happy people, pleased with their accomplishment. It’s easy enough to get within 100 feet of the Arch and get a picture that is not cluttered with other people.
High desert hiking with a balky left knee in 90 degrees for eight miles is something I wouldn’t have thought possible five days ago. Here’s one vote for stretching, Tylenol, and a compression sleeve; all of which give me a shot at hiking in Canyonlands National Park manana. Merci beaucoup, Stephane.