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Hiking Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, 3rd comes out in early 2013--just in time for you to plan the perfect spring trip with your family. This book covers more than 60 of the finest hiking trails in southeastern Utah, where the breathtaking canyons, multicolored sandstone arches, and magnificent spires of Canyonlands and Arches National Parks provide the setting for countless outdoor adventures. With this book in hand, you'll discover the most spectacular trails and amazing scenery Utah's red rock country has to offer. Two of the hikes from the book are featured here in this sneak peek:
Arches National Park
Compared to many national parks, Arches is small (73,379 acres), but it’s very scenic and very popular. It was designated a national monument in 1929 and then expanded and designated a national park in 1971.
Water, extreme temperatures, and other geologic forces have created the greatest diversity of arches in the world at Arches National Park, along with many other multihued, finely sculpted rock formations. Delicate Arch, perhaps the park’s most famous feature, shows up in an endless array of videos, postcards, posters, books, and magazines. However, the numerous arches along the Devils Garden hike, the cathedralesque columns of Park Avenue, the cavernlike canyons of Fiery Furnace, along with many other spectacular features rival the Delicate Arch (and just about everything else in nature!) for awesome beauty.
A hole in a rock has to have an opening of at least 3 feet to be officially listed as an arch and be given a name. Arches National Park has more than 2,400 arches, a preponderance of arches that makes the park unique. In fact, there is no place on Earth even remotely like it.
Arches National Park is not well suited for the serious hiker. Instead, it’s better suited for the visitor who doesn’t mind seeing most scenery from the car window and on short walks. The trails offer spectacular scenery but, with one exception, all on short day hikes. And unlike Canyonlands National Park, Arches offers limited opportunities to the four-wheeler, with only three short backcountry road sections.
The park is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The visitor center is open every day except Christmas from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from September to mid-April and later during summer months. The park has a fifty-two-site campground at Devils Garden. Camping sites go on a first-come, first-served basis, and getting a site can be difficult.
Getting to Arches National Park
Arches National Park is located 25 miles south of I-70 and 5 miles north of Moab on US 191. The starting points for hikes and drives are referenced from the entrance station.
A moderately difficult and very heavily used route to the world’s most famous arch
Start: Wolfe Ranch Parking Area
Distance: 3 miles; out and back
Maps: Trails Illustrated Arches National Park and USGS Arches National Park
Finding the trailhead: Drive 11.7 miles north into the park on the main road until you see the right-hand turn to Delicate Arch and Wolfe Ranch. Turn right and drive another 1.2 miles to the parking area on your left (north). Look to your right for a lot for oversize vehicles. Trailhead GPS coordinates: 38° 44' 7.703" N / 109° 31' 14.941" W
The Hike: If you’ve ever seen a postcard or poster of Arches National Park, you’ve probably seen Delicate Arch. This amazing arch has become the symbol of Arches National Park, which is somewhat surprising because it’s barely visible from the road.
You have three options for viewing this magnificent natural feature. You can take a 1.5-mile trail (3 miles round-trip), which goes right under the arch; you can go to the Delicate Arch Viewpoint; or you can take a 5-minute walk to a closer viewpoint. If you choose the hiking option, be aware that the trail to Delicate Arch is not a stroll. This is a real hike, and you should be prepared. Bring extra water (a minimum of one quart per person), wear good hiking shoes, and try to avoid the midday heat. You’re often walking on slickrock following cairns much of the way, and there’s little shade along the way. The NPS describes the trail as “strenuous,” and it truly can be for the inexperienced, poorly conditioned hiker, especially on a hot summer day. So be prepared.
If you decide to see the famous arch from the viewpoint instead of taking the hike, you have to keep driving past the Wolfe Ranch Trailhead for another 1.2 miles to the Delicate Arch Viewpoint Parking Area.
At the Wolfe Ranch Trailhead, you can see the remains of the historic Wolfe Ranch, settled in 1888 and sold by John Wolfe in 1910. Shortly after leaving the trailhead, you cross over Salt Wash on a sturdy new bridge. Right after the bridge you might notice a large pile of “green stuff” on your right. This is volcanic ash with a high iron content that has gone through a chemical process that gives it this greenish cast.
Just after the bridge you can take a short side trip to the left to a Ute petroglyph panel. This is well worth adding a quarter mile to your trip.
During the first part of the hike, watch for collared lizards. These large lizards can run on their hind feet when chasing prey.
For the first half mile or so, you hike on a wide, well-defined, mostly level trail, probably the best trail you’ve ever been on. Then the excellent trail disappears, and you start a gradual ascent to Delicate Arch. Most of the rest of the trip is on slickrock, so be alert. You have to follow cairns the rest of the way, and sometimes the “cairns” are only one rock.
As you get closer to Delicate Arch, you can see Frame Arch off to your right (south). This arch forms a perfect “frame” for a photograph of Delicate Arch. If you decide to climb up this short, steep slope to get that photograph, be careful.
Just before you get to Delicate Arch, the trail goes along a ledge for about 200 yards. This section of trail was blasted out of the cliff, and you can still see the bore holes in the rock. If you have children with you, watch them carefully in this section. Just after the ledge ends, you see Delicate Arch with its huge opening (33 feet wide and 45 feet high). You can take an awe-inspiring walk down to right below the arch, but you might ruin somebody’s photo. A shot of Delicate Arch with the often snowcapped La Sal Mountains as a backdrop must be one of those photos every professional photographer has to have in his or her file, so shutterbugs are usually setting up tripods for the grand view.
When you finally come around the corner and see the full breadth of Delicate Arch, you’ll know why this is such a classic hike, perhaps the best in Arches National Park. And definitely one of the most popular. Thousands of people take this hike every year.
If you prefer the less-strenuous option for seeing Delicate Arch, drive past the Wolfe Ranch Parking Area and go another 1.2 miles. From the parking area take one of two short walks—a short (0.5-mile) trail to the top of a small ridge where you can look north for a good view of Delicate Arch, or an even shorter trail to a different viewpoint. These views don’t quite compare with being right there, but they’re still awe inspiring.
The first part of the longer viewpoint trail is well defined, but the last part goes over slickrock marked by cairns. There is no sign marking the end of the trail, but you’ll know when to stop. At the end of the trail, you’re at the edge of a steep cliff that drops down into Winter Camp Wash. You can’t hike to the arch from this point.
Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky
Island in the Sky is a high mesa wedged between the Colorado and Green Rivers like a natural observation platform. Vistas rival those found anywhere. This district of Canyonlands National Park is also the darling of the mountain biker, and mountain-biking tours on the White Rim Road have become intensely popular. During peak seasons campsites along the road are always full, having been reserved many months in advance. However, those without a mountain bike need not worry. Island in the Sky has lots to offer hikers, four-wheelers, or casual tourists driving a rental car.
Although the trail system is not as extensive as in the Needles District, hikers may choose from a variety of well-maintained trails. Trails dropping off the mesa and going to the White Rim Road are for the serious hiker, but the area also has easy and moderate hiking opportunities. Many four-wheelers enjoy the White Rim Road and side roads, but these roads might not present a serious challenge for experts. Tourists with only a day or two to spend here can view some fantastic scenery from the main paved roads in the park. They can supplement their brief visit with several excellent short hikes on the mesa (Grand View, White Rim Overlook, Mesa Arch, Aztec Butte, Whale Rock, or Upheaval Dome Overlook).
Rangers at the Island in the Sky Visitor Center (on your right about a mile past the entrance station) can answer your questions about the natural features and recreational opportunities found in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park.
Getting to Island in the Sky
From Moab drive north on US 191 10 miles to SR 313. To reach the same point from farther north, drive 22 miles south from I-70. Once on SR 313 drive southwest 25 miles to the Island in the Sky entrance station.
A popular day hike and one of the few loop routes in Island in the Sky
Start: Neck Spring Trailhead at Shafer Canyon Overlook
Distance: 6 miles; loop
Maps: Trails Illustrated Island in the Sky and USGS Musselman Arch
Finding the trailhead: Drive 0.2 mile south of the Island in the Sky Visitor Center and turn left (east) into the Shafer Canyon Overlook Parking Area. GPS coordinates: 38° 27' 8.626" N / 109° 49' 13.597" W
The Hike: The Neck has historical significance. Here the Island in the Sky plateau narrows to about 40 feet with sheer cliffs dropping off on both sides. This natural phenomenon allowed early ranchers who ran livestock in the area (before the park was created) to control the entire 43-square-mile mesa with one 40-foot fence across this narrow spot, later named the Neck. Nature is also making a play at the Neck. Erosion is gradually wearing away the already narrow entrance to Island in the Sky. Sometime in the future Island in the Sky might really be an island.
One pleasant characteristic of the Neck Spring Trail is that it’s a loop, one of the few in the Island in the Sky area. Most trails in this district are out-and-backs or shuttles. This trail description follows the counterclockwise route. For more information you can get a small brochure on the Neck Spring area at the visitor center.
For hikers looking for a moderate, half-day hike, this trail is ideal. The trail is well defined the entire way, with good footing (only one small slickrock section) and minor elevation gain. Parts of the trail parallel the main road, but you’re far enough away that you hardly notice. You will notice, however, the panoramic views from the trail.
The Neck Spring area allows hikers to experience a wide variety of high desert habitats in a small area. In spring the area often turns into a wildflower garden, so wildflower buffs will love this trail.
After leaving the trailhead, immediately cross the main road and continue on the trail on the other side. The first part of the trail is actually an old road built by ranchers who used Neck Spring as a water source. Along this section of trail, you’ll notice signs of past ranching activities, such as pipes and water troughs.
The trail then drops down in elevation and angles to the left toward Neck Spring, but not directly to the spring. You can easily see it, however. It’s tempting to bushwhack over to the spring, but please enjoy it from a distance. This trail gets heavy use, and this is an extremely fragile area.
From the trail you’ll notice a change in the vegetation, with species such as Gambel oak and maidenhair fern able to exist in this area with its extra moisture and shade. Also watch for hummingbirds, deer, and other wild animals frequenting the area.
After Neck Spring the trail climbs slightly as you head toward the second major spring in the area, Cabin Spring. At this spring you see the same type of vegetative change as you did at Neck Spring—and a few aging signs of past ranching activity. Shortly after Cabin Spring you face a short but steep climb up to the Island in the Sky mesa. The trail gets a little rough here, some of it on slickrock. At the top you get a grand vista of Upper Taylor Canyon and the Henry Mountains off in the distance.
The last part of the trail follows the rim of the plateau directly above Cabin Spring and Neck Spring and through Gray’s Pasture, a grassy bench used for cattle grazing until 1975. With no livestock grazing, the area’s native grasses have begun to recover and now provide food for native species only. After passing by the top of Neck Spring, cross the main road again and follow the old road cut about a half mile back to the parking area. Be careful crossing and walking along the road.
Pick up your copy of "Hiking Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, 3rd" here.