From our campsite in Thompson Springs we went to Arches National Park. To get there we took a route recommended by our campground host. It was a little out of the way but this drive is not to be missed. The Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (UT-128) is 44 miles of breathtaking views.
Driving south from I-70, we entered desert sands. The bright sunlight reflecting from the monotonous landscape caused us to squint and shade our eyes. We stopped at the first of many pullouts where we learned that UT-128 is part of the larger Dinosaur Diamond National Scenic Byway. It’s an area know for it’s many prehistoric fossils and dinosaur footprints.
Continuing south, a striking transition occurred as we entered the Colorado River Gorge. As the name implies we paralleled the Colorado River. Breathtaking views of the river, red sandstone cliffs, and towering mesas emerged before us. We learned that these iconic grand western views have been the set location for many movies and television commercials.
We passed several BLM campgrounds located on the Colorado River and drove through some to check them out. Most of the spaces were suitable for tents or small campers, but there were only a few that we saw that would accommodate our 25 feet trailer. Additionally, there are no hookups. Despite the summer heat, these campgrounds were still nearly full.
The closer we got to Moab the more we saw people on the river. Fishermen, rafters and kayakers taking advantage of the recreation opportunities the river has to offer. We stopped at a park to watch some rafts float down the river. We could hear the screams from those riding downstream as the boats bounced through the rapids. It looked like they were having a good time. We might have to check this out later in the week.
As we continued our journey, the valley widened and we started seeing some lodges and ranches. We stopped at JJ’s Mercantile at Sorrel River Ranch. It’s a country store providing grocery items, outdoor gear, and souvenir gifts. In the back of the store is a deli and bakery where one can get a sandwich or buy some baked goods. We bought a couple of large cinnamon buns that we’ll save for tomorrow.
A little further down the road we stopped at Castle Creek Winery located at the Red Cliffs Lodge. Their website says they are an award winning producer of local wines and offer tastings Monday through Saturday. Their location along the Colorado River surrounded by beautiful red cliffs obviously makes for a delightful atmosphere to enjoy a couple of hours sampling their wines. However, we felt it was a little too early for us to sample wines so after looking the place over we continued down the road. But we’ll keep this place in mind for another time.
Our drive on the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway came to an end at US-191. Four miles to the left was Moab. To the right was Arches National Park. We turned right. A sense of excitement was building as we turned onto the road leading toward Arches National Park. We’ve been looking forward to visiting this park for a long time. As one of the nations top rated national parks, it’s reputation for numerous sandstone arches and amazing rock formations attract visitors from around the world.
Located just before the entrance gate was the park’s sign. We’ve made a habit of stopping at national park signs to pose for a picture. Then we stopped at the visitor center to get some tips from a park ranger and to purchase a souvenir refrigerator magnet, another habit we’ve started when visiting a national park. Then finally we started our drive up into the park.
The awesomeness of the park was immediately apparent. The rock formations were stunning. We took the rest of the afternoon driving around stopping along the way to take in the grandeur of the place. We stopped at Park Avenue Viewpoint, Courthouse Towers and Tower of Babel. In one area as we were driving along, I pointed to a rock formation and said to grammi, “look at that, it looks like the three wisemen”. Well I almost got it right as I learned the formation is called The Three Kings.
We stopped at the Petrified Dune Viewpoint where we learned about ancient sand dunes that were cemented into hardened rock over time. Then we went to Balanced Rock where we took a short hike around this iconic park feature.
Another short hike that we really liked was to Sand Dune Arch. This was a hike to a secluded area between the sandstone fins. Though it was a short hike, it’s soft sugar sand made for a difficult walk. Similar to a slot canyon, the shade from the sandstone fins offered protection from the hot sun.
From the road you can see Skyline Arch. It was just a short walk from the pullout to where I took this picture.
Another short hike we took was to Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint which is another iconic park feature. Delicate Arch is a large free standing arch that has become a symbol of the park. There is a popular hike to get a closer look. It’s a steady 480 feet climb and 3 miles round trip. We passed on this hike due to the stifling heat.
The afternoon temperatures reached 103 degrees so we skipped the longer hikes opting to see what we could from the comfort of our air conditioned truck or from short walks to a viewpoint.
It was a good day of exploring but we soon realized we’ll need more time here. We will return.
Two days later and we’re back in Arches National Park. We arrived at the Devil’s Garden area just after 9:00 a.m. as we’re hoping to get ahead of the brutal heat of the past few days.
We hiked to Landscape Arch, spanning 290.1 feet, it’s the fifth longest natural arch in the world and the longest in the United States. On the way back to the parking lot we took a side trail to two more arches, Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch.
Then we drove to the Window Section of the park for what I consider to be the grand finale of arches for this visit. We hiked to the North Window Arch first. We climbed around on the rocks underneath the arch trying to find that perfect picture. Then as we were doing so, a rescue team came down the trail below us carrying a stretcher with an injured hiker. Hmm…maybe I shouldn’t be climbing around up here. Admittedly though, the lure is irresistible, even for this old man. Eventually after realizing that the entire area was picture perfect, we settled on a place to sit and have our lunch.
After we finished lunch we hiked to the South Window Arch, Turret Arch, and Double Arch. Each one indescribable, elicits a feeling of amazement and a sense of wonderment. I hope the pictures I’m sharing help to convey some of the miraculous landscape we’ve seen.
Because of the summer heat, we were done hiking by 2:00 p.m. and reluctantly left the park. We realize there was much more to explore but we’re satisfied with what we’ve accomplished on this visit. I’m not sure where I would rate this park among all the other national parks we’ve visited, but rest assure it is near the top. As we exited the park, we turned toward Moab to find the Moab Brewery where we raised a glass of local craft beer and toasted our adventures in Arches National Park. Cheers!
Until next time…happy days and safe travels.