A road guide to [nodr:51243 link Arches National Park], available at the visitor center, has detailed descriptions that correspond to place-names along the main road. Be sure to stop only in parking lots and designated pullouts. Watch out for others who are sightseeing in this popular park. The following are major points of interest.
The park road begins a long but well-graded climb from the visitor center up the cliffs to the northeast. A pullout on the right after 1.1 miles gives a good view of Moab Canyon and its geology. The rock layers on this side of the canyon have slipped down more than 2,600 feet in relation to the other side. Movement took place about six million years ago along the Moab Fault, which follows the canyon floor. Rock layers at the top of the far cliffs are nearly the same age as those at the bottom on this side. If you could stack the rocks of this side on top of rocks on the other side, you'd have a complete stratigraphic column of the Moab area—more than 150 million years' worth.
South Park Avenue Overlook and Trailhead are on the left of the park road 2.1 miles from the visitor center. Great sandstone slabs form a "skyline" on each side of this dry wash. The Park Avenue Trail (1 mile one-way) follows the wash north to North Park Avenue Trailhead (1.3 miles ahead by road). Arrange to be picked up there or backtrack to your starting point. The large rock monoliths of Courthouse Towers rise north of Park Avenue. Only a few small arches exist now, though major arches may have formed in the past.
This gravity-defying formation is on the right side of the park road, 8.5 miles from the visitor center. A boulder more than 55 feet high rests precariously atop a 73-foot pedestal. Chip Off the Old Block, a much smaller version of Balanced Rock, stood nearby until it collapsed in the winter of 1975-1976.
For a closer look at Balanced Rock, take the Balanced Rock Trail (0.3-mile round-trip) encircling it. There's a picnic area across the road. Author Edward Abbey lived in a trailer near Balanced Rock during a season as a park ranger in the 1950s; his journal became the basis for the classic Desert Solitaire.
At the park road intersection north of Balanced Rock, turn right and head 2.5 miles on a paved road to the Windows Section. Short trails (0.25 mile-1 mile round-trip) lead from the road's end to some massive arches. Windows Trailhead is the start for North Window (an opening 51 feet high and 93 feet wide), South Window (66 feet high and 105 feet wide), and Turret Arch (64 feet high and 39 feet wide).
Double Arch, a short walk from a second trailhead, is an unusual pair of arches; the larger opening—105 feet high and 163 feet wide—is best appreciated by walking inside. The smaller opening is 61 feet high and 60 feet wide. Together, the two arches frame a large opening overhead, but this isn't considered a true arch.
Garden of Eden Viewpoint, on the way back to the main park road, has a good panorama of Salt Valley to the north. Under the valley, the massive body of salt and gypsum that's responsible for the arches comes close to the surface. Tiny Delicate Arch can be seen across the valley on a sandstone ridge. Early visitors to the Garden of Eden saw rock formations resembling Adam (with an apple) and Eve. Two other viewpoints of the Salt Valley area lie farther north on the main road.
The viewpoint and trailhead for Delicate Arch are found 2.5 miles north of the Windows junction. From the park road, turn right and continue 1.8 miles to the Wolfe Ranch, where a bit of pioneer history survives. John Wesley Wolfe came to this spot in 1888, hoping the desert climate would provide relief for health problems related to a Civil War injury. He found a good spring high in the rocks, grass for cattle, and water in Salt Wash to irrigate a garden.
The ranch that he built provided a home for him and some of his family for more than 20 years, and cattlemen later used it as a line ranch. Then sheep herders brought in their animals, which so overgrazed the range that the grass has yet to recover.
A trail guide available at the entrance tells about the Wolfe family and features of their ranch. The weather-beaten cabin built in 1906 still survives. A short trail leads to petroglyphs above Wolfe Ranch; figures of horses indicate that Utes did the artwork. Park staff can give directions to other rock-art sites; great care should be taken not to touch the fragile artwork.
Delicate Arch stands in a magnificent setting atop gracefully curving slickrock. Distant canyons and the La Sal Mountains lie beyond. The span is 45 feet high and 33 feet wide. A moderately strenuous hike (3 miles round-trip) to the arch begins at Wolfe Ranch and crosses the swinging bridge, climbs a slickrock slope, follows a gully, then contours across steep slickrock to the main overlook. Another perspective on Delicate Arch can be obtained by driving 1.2 miles beyond Wolfe Ranch to the Delicate Arch Viewpoint. Look for the small arch high above. A moderately steep trail (0.5-mile round-trip) climbs a hill for the best panorama.
The Fiery Furnace Viewpoint and Trailhead are on the right side of the park road, three miles north of the turnoff to Delicate Arch. The Fiery Furnace gets its name from sandstone fins that turn flaming red on occasions when thin cloud cover at the horizon reflects the warm light of sunrise or sunset. Actually, the shady recesses provide a cool respite from the hot summer sun.
Closely packed sandstone fins form a maze of deep slots, with many arches and at least one natural bridge inside. Both for safety reasons, and to reduce impact on this sensitive area, hikers are strongly encouraged to join a ranger-led hike. To visit the Fiery Furnace without a ranger, visitors must obtain a permit at the visitor center.
Broken and Sand Dune Arches
The trailhead for these short walks is on the right side of the park road, 2.4 miles past the Fiery Furnace turnoff. The short Broken Arch Trail (1.2-2 miles round-trip) leads to small Sand Dune Arch (the opening is 8 feet high and 30 feet wide) tucked within fins. A longer trail (1 mile round-trip) crosses a field to Broken Arch, which you can also see from the road. The opening is 43 feet high and 59 feet wide.
Up close, you'll see that the arch isn't really broken. These arches can also be reached by trail near comfort station 3 at Devils Garden Campground. Low-growing canyonlands biscuitroot, found only in areas of Entrada sandstone, colonizes sand dunes. Hikers can protect the habitat of the biscuitroot and other fragile plants by keeping to washes or rock surfaces.
Skyline Arch is on the right side of the park road, one mile past the Sand Dune/Broken Arch Trailhead. In desert climates, erosion may proceed imperceptibly for centuries until a cataclysmic event happens. In 1940, a giant boulder fell from the opening of Skyline Arch, doubling the size of the arch in just seconds. The hole is now 45 feet high and 69 feet wide. The short Skyline Arch Trail (0.4 mile round-trip) leads to the base of the arch.
The Devils Garden Trailhead, Picnic Area, and the campground all lie near the end of the main park road. Devils Garden offers fine scenery and more arches than any other section of the park. The Devils Garden Trail leads past large sandstone fins to Landscape and six other named arches. Carry water if the weather is hot or if you want to continue past Landscape Arch (2 miles round-trip). Adventurous hikers could spend days exploring the maze of canyons among the fins.
Klondike Bluffs and Tower Arch
Relatively few visitors come to the spires, high bluffs, and fine arch in the northwestern section of the park. A fair-weather dirt road turns off the main park road 1.3 miles before Devils Garden Trailhead, winds down into Salt Valley, and heads northwest. After 7.5 miles, turn left and go one mile on the road signed Klondike Bluffs to the Tower Arch Trail (3.4 miles round-trip). These roads may be washboarded but are usually passable for cars in dry weather; don't drive on them if storms threaten.
The trail to Tower Arch winds past the Marching Men and other rock formations; the distance is three miles round-trip. Alexander Ringhoffer, who discovered the arch in 1922, carved an inscription on the south column. The area can also be fun to explore off-trail (map and compass needed). Those with four-wheel-drive vehicles can drive close to the arch on a separate jeep road. Tower Arch has an opening 34 feet high by 92 feet wide. A tall monolith nearby gave the arch its name.
A rough road near Tower Arch in the Klondike Bluffs turns southeast past Eye of the Whale Arch in Herdina Park to Balanced Rock on the main park road, 10.8 miles away. The road isn't particularly difficult for four-wheel-drive enthusiasts, though normal backcountry precautions should be taken. A steep sand hill north of Eye of the Whale Arch is very difficult to climb for vehicles coming from Balanced Rock; it's better to drive from the Tower Arch area instead.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition