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Day 12 - Arches National Park, UT [Aug. 18th, 2004|10:00 pm]
Trip Odometer: 3566 mi
38°46’N, 109°35’W

Woke up early in Salt Lake and checked out of the hotel. However, before we hit the road we stopped by a sporting goods store for hiking boots for krchicken and some replacement tent parts for me (remember that a pole had half-snapped in the badlands and I didn’t want to find out when it broke the rest of the way without being prepared). We also had breakfast at a nearby food court.

During the drive south to Arches National Park the terrain did an eerie conversion from the gray/green forests and plains of Wyoming and Idaho to the redder desert-and-mesa look that I remember from my last visit to Arizona. The change was amusingly gradual though and quite pleasant to watch.

When we arrived at the park we stopped into the visitor’s center (or atleast the trailers they were using on a temporary basis) and watched the intro video, which was depressingly poor. Then we took the 18 mile scenic drive through the park (That conveniently ended at our campground).

This park’s mantra was similar to Yellowstone’s (“Don’t step on the thermal feature!”), except here it was “don’t’ step off the trail at all!” Apparently the desert soil in this area is actually home to a very complex set of microorganisms (“cryptobiotic crust”) that have the tough job of holding the sand down and in place, as well as providing other services to . One step can apparently damage hundreds of years of growth, so they take it pretty seriously.

On the drive we stopped at a number of scenic overlooks and took a few hikes around formations known as “The Windows,” “Double Arch,” and “Turret Arch.” This was a fun hike especially since you could, in many cases, walk right up to and sit under the natural arches. The views were also quite spectacular (and weren’t “just for the view” as many overlooks are – the hike made it all the better).

We also stopped at a formation known as “balanced rock.” Here, many hikers had taken the hiker-graffiti thing of piling up bunches of stones on the side of the trail a bit too far. There were literally hundreds of little rock-graffiti piles along the 0.2 mile trail that went around “Balanced Rock.” I think they were all paying homage or something.

The big feature of this park is supposed to be “Delicate Arch.” This is the arch that is on one version of the current Utah license plates (others include “Ski Utah!” and “Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics”). We didn’t have time to take the trail up to the arch itself, but from the two overlooks it didn’t look that terribly impressive. Maybe I was tired or something, but I’m glad we didn’t go on the 3 mile hike out and back.

There’s also a section of the park called “Firey Furnace” which is a whole lot of needle-like formations in a single area, where the rangers will give guided tours. From the outside, the area looks like a bunch of flames (hense the name – apparently inside the formation it is quite shady and cool).

When we finally reached the campground at the end of the park, someone was in our spot (apparently they missed the big “reserved” sign). With the help of the campground host, an arrangement was worked out such that they were not a problem to us at all. We did set up the tent despite winds that reminded me of the Badlands, and ate some potato soup (Turtle Island is the company that makes it, its dehydrated to start, but surprisingly tasty, and I strongly recommend it. krchicken tells me you can find it on Amazon, but since I’m in the middle of the wilderness, I haven’t checked myself and can’t provide a link).

.The ranger program here tonight wasn’t that great, the ranger dressed up as a woman who had lived here in 1906, and talked about life on Wolfe Ranch (currently on park grounds). This would have been fine if she hadn’t been acting like the audience was all 3-year-olds. Oh well, maybe tomorrow.