Arches National Park in Utah is without a doubt one of the most awe inspiring places I’ve ever been to. With a four-day weekend over the American Thanksgiving, and having already gorged on turkey for Canadian Thanksgiving Jamie and I decided to take a mini-vacation and head out to the desert.
The drive out from Denver was decent and holiday traffic wasn’t too bad and we left right after work heading up and over the mountain passes and down into the desert. My first thought after passing through Grand Junction and over the Colorado/Utah line was “wow, look at all those stars!” and my second though was “I really should have filled up in GJ” (c: Fortunately after only 30min with the gas light on we rolled into a Shell station and I put 17.2 gallons into an 18 gallon tank!
Camping in Arches was easy to find, there is one campground in the entire park and it was only about half full as we cruised through at 10:30pm. The vacation had a few goals
- Relax and be outside without worrying about summits
- Enjoy the warm(er) weather
- Get some really good photographs
Since #3 generally requires sunrise or sunset I had looked up the good times and locations for Arches and Canyonlands and the first on our list was Double Arch, at sunrise.
Double Arch before sunrise
Dutifully at an ungodly hour we rolled out of the cold tent, peeled back the mountain of down and drove a few miles down the road to Double Arch. Since I had only been there once before and Jamie hadn’t been there at all it took us a little while to find the right trailhead and we scampered in to see the magic happen. I scouted out a few good locations, climbed right up under the arch and when I was satisfied that everything was set up properly we waited for the sun to crawl over the horizon. And when we were done that we waited some more, and then some more! Two other photographers came ambling up the trail and also set up shop and the sun finally rose at 7:45am, a full 1/2hour after we had expected it too! The result though was definitely worth the wait.
Double Arch at first light
Double Arch, sunrise
One of the guys that had come up the trail lent me his $600+ fisheye 15mm lens for this photo. What a wonderful gesture from a complete stranger! Unfortunately I don’t have a full-frame camera so you don’t get the proper bending effect at the edges.
Jamie decked out in down
Elephant Rock and more
The inside of Double Arch
Once the sun had crawled up above the horizon and I’d had my fill of photos we cruised back to the tent, packed everything up and wolfed down some breakfast before heading out to a hiking trail. Arches is a relatively small park and you can conceivably and thoroughly cover it all in one day I would say. The trail we hiked was the 7.2mi Devil’s Garden loop which takes you past many of the most spectacular arches in the park.
Famous Landscape Arch was definitely worth the hike, it’s as delicate as it looks in the picture and at over 290ft long it’s the longest in the Park. Unfortunately a huge section of the arch broke off back in 1991 and the trail under the arch has been closed ever since.
Jon with Landscape Arch in the background
Desert and Mountains’
Really cool rock fins
Double-O Arch was a really cool arch to see, it’s two arches stacked on top of each other and the smallest one (not shown) was at least 50 ft tall. Unfortunately the light wasn’t grand while we were there and the lower arch is in shadow in all my pictures.
After Double -O Arch we took the Primitive trail back to towards the trailhead. It’s a beaten path marked with cairns that can be tricky to follow if you aren’t really paying attention. It was a great trail that wandered in and out of the different rock fins and past a few lesser-arches.
Private Arch with a vew visitors
Private Arch, a little more private
Towers and high peaks
By the time we got back to the truck it was just after mid-day and we didn’t have any plans other than to go and see Delicate Arch at sunset. We stopped in at the Fiery Furnace overlook, which was neat, but after a day of hiking not terribly intriguing (plus you need to be a Ranger-guided trip…)
The parking lot for Delicate Arch was suitably busy and lots of people were coming back down the trail which gave me a good feeling that sunset was coming and that we probably wouldn’t see too many other people out there. Feeling confident I cranked my seat back and grabbed a quick nap with warm sunlight pouring in through the windshield. 20min later and feeling like a new person I gathered my gear and Jamie grabbed her pack and we set off the trail to Delicate Arch.
It was immediately obvious that we were the most over-packed people on the trail! Our plan was to catch the arch at sunset and then stick around for a few hours and try to get some long exposures with star trails in the background so our packs were stuffed with down jackets, down pants, down sleeping bags, and two thermos’ of tea. The hike in to the Arch was longer than I had really expected and there was more elevation gain as well… not to say that there was an unreasonable amount, just more than I had expected. As soon as we crested over the final hill to the viewpoint of Delicate Arch it was pretty clear that I was poor at assumption making! Rather than there being nobody on site I think anyone that was in the park that day was up there! Including: lots of tourists climbing all over the arch, lots of photographers, and lots of gawkers in general (ourselves included)
The crowd waiting for good light
It seemed that just when the last person was stepping out of the frame 3 more rushed in to it and the light was quickly fading! Finally the whole gang of paparazzi started shouting “hey, c’mon!”, “get out of the shot, we only have 10 min left!” and surprisingly everyone listened. The air was filled with the sound of happy shutters and the earth shook with the force of their collective closing.Â Here are my achievements:
Classic Delicate Arch shot
View of the desert near Delicate Arch
Delicate arch at sunset
Delicate arch at sunset
True to our plan we stuck around after the sun had gone down and this picture was the result of a few extra minutes of waiting.
Delicate arch, just after sunset
Before long the assembled hoards had dissipated and the crowd had dwindled down to myself and Jamie; Jim and Chris from Salt Lake city, and a lady who’s name I never caught. We tried our hand at some long exposures and Jim had brought a powerful handheld light that we used for light painting. Unfortunately none of my shots turned out terribly well but it was a good learning experience none-the-less and Jim was very helpful in giving pointers and suggestions.
Back at the trailhead we had a “Thanksgiving dinner” of pesto-pasta with shrimp cooked on the tailgate of the truck before kicking off down the road to Canyonlands National Park.
We would return at the end of our trip for a sunrise at North window, but otherwise I believe we covered all of the highlights of Arches National Park in a [long] day.