I need to go to bed, but I know that if I don't take this day by day it will get overwhelming and I won't do it justice and Arches DESERVES justice. It's one of the most amazing places I've ever seen- so beautiful and so foreign, like we're walking on Mars. It's impossible to describe and the pictures can't capture it all, but I'm going to upload a bunch and try to describe them anyway.
We planned to get up early, but we all slept in and thst was totally worth the line of cars we had to wait in at the entrance to Arches at 9:30. We packed snacks and lunches and probably not enough water. I didn't have a handle on the weather- it was 27 out when we woke up, with a high of 55; that seemed chilly, but when you're up in the mountains anything over 30 is practically hot, but this is the high dessert so I don't know- we wore layers and gloves and hats but forgot the one thing we might have actually used- sunscreen. We also accidentally bypassed the Visitor's Center (pro tip- it is immediately on the right after you enter; I was putting our beautiful new Southeast Utah Parks Pass away and bam, missed the turn, and the narrow 2-lane road did not allow for u-ey's), so we pressed onward up the road through the park, ogling the crazy rock formations out every window.
We decided to do the Delicate Arch hike first. It's 3.0 miles round trip and rated as Difficult. There's really nothing technically difficult about it all, especially if you stay on the nice smooth trail, it just has a lot of elevation changes and steep grades up and down along the way. Obviously we went off trail and climbed on rocks the whole way, making it considerably harder and a lot more fun (footnote: we only left the trail in the purely rocky areas; I always read every word of the trail guide and it educated us on the delicate ecosystem at work in the soil, so made sure to never touch any dirt or sand unless it happened to be covering a marked and approved trail. These parks are precious; we're careful about that.). Landon probably hiked at least 5 miles total with all the extra climbing and running back and forth he did.
Part of the hike involves walking up this enormous smooth hunk of red rock. It's such a bizarre hiking experience- so very different from hiking up and along mountains though I can't quite describe why. The weather was perfect and after about 20 minutes I had stripped off my jacket and long sleeve shirt and was sweating in a tank top. In 45 degree weather. So, yeah, that part was just like hiking in the mountains.
We climbed up the sides of the walls, stood in a few archways (unnamed on the trail map, though I'm sure they're cataloged somewhere), and generally got distracted by every rock face before us.
We even found an awesome cave to sit and take a little break.
The pathways were sometimes narrow, thrilling the kids, and the views were breathtaking in every direction.
The "view" pictures are the ones that really don't translate to the screen- or maybe they would if I knew how to use photoshop to punch up the color the way it looks in person, but parts of it are so barren- beautifully so- and then these giant red rocks rise up, and behind them, mountains, and behind those more mountains, these topped in snow. It's just gorgeous. I kept looking around in awe of it all and I hadn't even seen my first famous arch yet!
We climbed up one rock face to stand in another arch and Delicate Arch was right through it! Simply spectacular. And so big! And surrounded by more sheer rock, a crater, and more strange rock formations all around. We got a picture and excitedly scrambled down our cliff to get back on the trail and walk around the bend and BAM there it was again.
All the pictures I'd seen made it seem more, well, delicate. But no. It's huge and tall and proud. We look like little ants standing underneath.
But it is also delicate and simply amazing to think it was carved by nature and has stood there for so long.
We put our packs down, let Cora loose (omg she needs a leash; "I WALK MAMA! NO HANDS. I JUMP! NO. HOLD. HANDS!"), climbed up the rocks around us, and ate a snack.
It was really such a beautiful spot. If you can, I highly HIGHLY recommend the 3 mile trip. You just can't feel the impact of the arch from a distance.
We finally packed up and hiked/ran the 1.5 miles back, marveling again at new rock shapes we missed on the way up.
After getting to the car we drove over to Devil's Playground Trail Head and picnic'd in the car before taking the hike out to see Landscape Arch. The Devil's Playground area is really neat. I wish we'd had the stamina left to go all the way to Double O Arch and beyond, but Landscape Arch was only 1.6 miles round trip and I know the kids didn't have much more than that in them- and I was surprised to find I might not have much more than that either.
So we soaked up more alien scenery and looked forward to seeing the longest arch at Arches- 306 yards- longer than a football field! And so we hiked and climbed and the kids ran and then, whoa, there it was!
Again, a lot is lost in translation. The arch is huge, and so thin, James kept calling it Delicate Arch on accident. Even though we'd reached the end of the trail we were supposed to do, there was a sign for a "primitive trail" that you shouldn't hike if you're afraid of heights and it looked like it went straight up one of the rocks and we just can't resist things like that, so we pressed on just a little further. Landon and I hiked up one steep pathway and then James and Cora went further. Claire decided she "just wanted to watch" so she picked a boulder and watched us, neck craned up and waving. At one point, after I had started to walk back to her, a group of 20-ish hikers passed through and yelled up to James- who was really high up, with Cora on his back- "Hey, look at that! That's a rad dad! Go you rad dad!"
Cracked us up. And he is a rad dad. Landon joined him and then they made their way down another angle while Claire and I sat on a surprisingly comfortable rock in the shade of the cliff.
We walked back, coming to a sign that promised two more arches just off to the side and this time it was Landon who said, "please no." Apparently we finally, FINALLY found out his physical limit. The kid was done. This has maybe never happened in his life and I was so surprised I didn't even try to convince him. His calm pleading and the finality in his voice said it all. So we kept going, getting to the car, passing out cookies to everyone, and verifying to both big kids that yes, we're done, even though mommy really wanted to stop to see Double Arch and the Windows on the way out. (We're now coming back on Day 6, just for a few wrap up items.)
They did perk up when we mentioned the Visitor's Center, so we stopped there on the way out. My love of Visitor's Centers and Park Rangers just grows every day. I have rainbows and unicorns in my eyes when I see one.
And then we went home. Everyone put on jammies and we vegged out, even letting the kids go watch a show up in their bedroom because they'll never have a TV in their rooms ever and they might as well enjoy it now. Plus they were troopers and amazing little hikers and James and I were also troopers and very much wanted to sit on the couch with wine and not parent. Cora walked continuously up and down the stairs between us, letting everyone know the (unchanging) status of the other group and generally showing that did not actually hike much today at all. Dinner was chicken barley chili and dessert was putting the kids in bed 30 minutes early and watching House of Cards.
Tomorrow we hit up Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park. My legs are exhausted and pretending like I've never done barre or run a mile in my life, but the rest of me is so excited to see another part of this beautiful BEAUTIFUL place.