18 Blazing Hours in Arches National Park
It’s a universally-acknowledged fact that the best way to celebrate finishing four years of flashcards and late night lab reports is to get in your car and drive away from all of your responsibilities for a week. The job apps and life planning will be right there in the anxiety-inducing pile you left them in, but it’s not often that you’ll get to feel as unattached and free as after you finish your last final and receive your diploma. So I overpacked my car, sent in my last college essay, and drove west with my copilot (and obligatory photo subject) Rachel. I wanted to find the wide open places that felt as wild and unfamiliar as my post-grad life does.The sun-scorched, alien world of Arches National Park was our first stop. Not far beyond the edges of the parking lots, the 100+ degree heat kept the desert still and empty while people and wildlife sought out shade from the afternoon sun. But with less than 24 hours in Arches and a weather check confirming the worst (the heat wouldn’t break until well after nightfall), our only option seemed to be loading up on enough water to impress a camel and toughing it out for some hiking. Once we adjusted to the initial waves of oven-like heat, sweating uncontrollably was a fair price to pay for wandering the arches and narrow canyons mostly on our own. We sat in the precious shade of Broken Arch, taking in the captivating, resilient desert of Edward Abbey’s words and enjoying some relief from the scalding trails below us. The last of our sun-drained energy took us to Sand Dune Arch, tucked between vertical slabs of sandstone, before we climbed the deserted trail back to Devils Garden and the baked red sands of our campsite for the night.After a few minutes of sitting in our parked car while we groaned into the blasting AC, and a wonderfully (not hot) dinner of bagels and guac, we almost felt like people again. Distracted by setting up camp and waiting for the heat to fade, I didn’t notice the sun had begun to set until I looked up from the pages of my book to see that the land had taken on a new tone. Not the muted honey-gold of the sunsets I was used to but a raging, burning light that seemed to surround us in a fiery ring as it caught hold of the irregular rock spires in every direction. That night Devils Garden lived up to its name, delivering an unholy combination of heat, wind, and rain. It was clear that if we would be hiking again, it would have to be well before the sun had a chance to fry everything in sight. After a restless night (thanks to the stifling combination of using a rain fly in ungodly heat) we stumbled around in the pre-dawn light to break down camp and head to the Delicate arch trailhead. For 6 AM, the parking lot was humming impressively with other hikers, so we picked up our pace to catch the final moments of early morning peace at Utah’s most famous arch. The trail eventually turned to shoe-worn slick rock, winding up the ledge of a canyon wall before the improbable sight of the arch came into sight. We joined the scattered collection of people sitting, mostly in silence, to watch the glow of morning light fading from the landscape. We left the park reluctantly, stopping once or twice to see a few final vistas, but we had a long day of driving to reach our campsite at the Grand Canyon North Rim that night. And, now in love with the magic of the place, I knew I would be back anyways.
“It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space.”
― Edward Abbey