Arches National Park
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Monday, June 16th, 2017
When I step into a new environment, all the senses register it. The desert is open and the light is brilliant. The air has a faint smell of sage and taste of dust. It is also dry, I can feel it like a rasp file, scraping the moisture from may skin. But, midday, it is the sounds that stop me; the stillness is deafening.
I was looking for a walk which would give us a taste of the desert. Maybe I have just read too much Edward Abbey recently (he wrote "Desert Solitaire" about his time as a ranger here), but I think part of the desert experience is about being alone. So I picked out "Tower Arch" as our destination.
Tower Arch is in the Klondike formation, in the northwest corner of the park. There is only one road into the park, entering from the southern boarder. We headed north, ignoring the turn-off for Windows Arch, and later the turn-off for Wolfe Ranch and Delicate Arch. Delicate Arch one of the most popular walks, and it is the arch which decorates the Utah license plate. We passed Fiery Furnace parking area which was very busy and finally came to the end of the road at the Devils Garden Trailhead, which had absolutely no parking available. But where was the sign to Tower Arch?
And then I remembered an obscure turn-off a mile back. Labeled only as "unimproved road", a gravel and dirt road has left the pavement and headed out across the Salt Valley. We backtracked and turned on the road less traveled. As we snaked our way down to the valley floor we paused to read the warning;
Soft sand in wash crossings.
The sky looked safe and so I look our rental car into the wash, the sandy bed of a dried stream. It was like driving on the beach, above the high tide mark, where the sand is loses and the going slow, like running in deep snow or a bad dream. Finally we rose out of the wash and ran a straight half dozen miles across the sage to the Klondike Bluffs.
It is pretty warm when we step out onto the trail. How warm? The car actually has a thermometer but I can think of no reason to consult it. All it could do is tell us that it is warmer then warm. In fact I expect it is genuinely hot. But why think about that when the Klondike is calling? (It was 104 degrees when we finished our ramble.)
Immediately we are scrambling up the bluff, pulling ourselves up the red sandstone, assisted by the roots of junipers which are calmly doing the imposable and growing out of solid rock. Eventually we top that first ridge and enter a great red basin.
Here the quiet is deafening.
Our trail winds across the slick rock and among the blackbrush, pinyon pine, sage and juniper. On our left towers a series of obelisk, "hoodoos", of red sandstone, known as "The Marching Men".
Climbing up the other side of the basin is slow in loose sand, but at the top the shade of a great monolith offers relief from the sun's attention. Through a narrow corridor in the rock, and without warning, there is Tower Arch.
This Arch gets its name from the hoodoo which towers up right behind it, and whereas most arches in this park right now have dozens of groupies admiring it, being photographed with it; Tower Arch only has two fans. We climb under its vault and bask in its shade.
A few chipmunks chase each other among some broken boulders, but by enlarge, we have the place to ourselves. Blue sky, brilliant sun and red, red sandstone.