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Arches National Park

The Windows

Arches National Park is an Utah icon, to the point where the Delicate Arch situated within the park is the inspiration for the artwork on the over 2 million license plates issued in the state. While Arches is the third most visited park among southern Utah’s big five and ranks 17th in annual visitation overall, the trend in visitation is moving upward. According to the National Park Service, the increase in visitor traffic is up over 66 percent between the years 2009 and 2019. As such, the Park Service implemented a pilot timed entry ticketing systems for vehicles arriving between 6 am and 5 pm. We found out the hard way that rangers at the entry kiosk strictly enforce this timed entry. I had two entry times on consecutive days and had gotten them confused, so when we arrived at the park just under an hour early on day one, we had to turn around and hang out in Moab until our assigned time. But even this snafu could not put a damper on the day; Arches National Park is a world of adventure contained in just 119.8 square miles. It is easy to see why this park is so highly visited.

Over the course of millions of years, the movement of a massive salt flat underneath layers of sedimentary rock along with the resulting uplift and erosion created the sandstone monoliths, fins, spires, and of course, the arches after which the park is named.

Cool statues in the visitor center courtyard.

Our first stop after finally being able to enter the park was the visitor center. There we purchased a few more park souvenirs and completed our junior ranger books. We refilled out water bottles then headed back onto Arches Scenic Drive, which connects the major visitor areas in the park. From there, we headed first to Balanced Rock, a huge boulder perched upon a rock pedestal, the result of wind and likely ice wedging. The softer Dewey Bridge mudstone at the base erodes more easily than the Entrada sandstone which makes up the boulder, thus creating this striking formation. The 128-foot feature can be seen from the road, but it was definitely much better up close.

Finding balance at Balancing Rock

We were able to park fairly easily at the parking area near the trail. The trail to the rock formation was flat and wide, easily accessible. It continues around the rock for even closer views. This portion was not as flat, but it was still short and easy. We were careful to stay on the trail. An important feature of the soil in semi-arid Utah ecosystems is the biological soil crust. This ‘living soil’ in non-rocky areas consists of cyanobacteria, algae, fungal microbes, lichen, tiny mosses, and their byproducts, and is crucial to the stabilization of the soil in both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The soil crust helps to prevent excessive erosion, fix nitrogen to provide nutrients to plant species, and traps moisture in these dry areas. We followed leave no trace principles and stayed on the trails so that we wouldn’t “bust the crust.”

After finding our balance at Balancing Rock, we headed over to the Windows. Sami really loved this portion of the hike. There were plenty of areas where she could trek on the rocks leading up to the series of arches. The Double Arch trail is flat and easily accessible, however the trails to the Windows and Turret Arch have stone steps and some rocky areas to climb on. For Sami, this was the adventure she was waiting for since we started planning this trip.

Sami at the Turret Arch

We spent a nice chunk of time at the Windows. The day was clear and pretty, and with the sun high in the afternoon sky, we were able to take some striking photos of the arches around us. Sami especially loved climbing up onto the rocks. The only bad thing was the wind, which was really beginning to pick up again, blowing sand and stirring up some allergies. Still we were not ready to leave. We had a fun time hiking down, then got back in the car to head to the Delicate Arch Viewpoint trailhead.

Delicate Arch from the Upper Viewpoint

Because it was late on a warm day, we opted not to hike to Delicate Arch itself. While it is only a three-mile roundtrip hike, the trail is difficult as it goes for about a mile along the slickrock sandstone. It is also popular especially around sunset. One day I would love to return an hike up to the arch itself, but that will be a trek for another time. Sami wasn’t feeling it, and after a long day, we felt is was best not to risk our safety or chill vibes. Instead, we hiked the half-mile uphill, moderately difficult trail to the Upper Viewpoint. From there, we could see Delicate Arch from across the canyon. It was still really pretty, standing solitary on the sandstone bluff, a testament to time and creation.

After taking in the views, it was time to head out. We enjoyed the Garden of Eden’s features from the road as well as the gorgeous scenery along the road. Sometime before we hit Petrified Dunes, Sami was out, exhausted from a full day of adventuring. It was really a beautiful day.

As the sun was getting lower in the sky, it cast its golden glow on the red rocks of the national park. The drive back into Moab was short, but glorious. We arrived back onto Main Street, and decided to go for some quality pizza instead of our planned camp dinner. A family-sized pizza and some cold drinks made for a perfect end to a perfect day out- an adventure meant to be shared.

Some things to consider:

The timed entry system is currently a pilot program that began in September 2021. For now, a timed entry ticked is required to enter Arches when arriving between 6 am and 5 pm, peak hours. It may become permanent, but this remains to be seen. Check for the most up-to-date information. Entry tickets are $2 per reservation time and can be purchased at

Arches is a beautiful park and national treasure. The spectacular landforms were created over millions of years of geological process and erosion. The arches that exist today likely will not be around in the next several thousand years. But our impacts can speed up the natural processes in a bad way. There are many places to climb, but on the arches is not it. Climbing on the arches is prohibited, both for our safety and to protect these geologic features.

There was limited cell service in the park once we passed the visitor center. I was able to catch a cellular signal at many of our stops in the park, but data was limited. It was good to be able to disconnect, but on the flip side, the service is spotty in the event of an emergency.

While the day wasn’t too hot, it was warm and windy. As a result, we got thirsty very quickly, and had do make sure we were taking plenty of water. We refilled our bottles at the visitor center and had gallon jugs in the car just in case.

The arches are exposed, so sun protection is a must. I was reminding Sami to reapply sunscreen at almost every stop.

There is one campground at Devil’s Garden, but sites fill up quickly. Fortunately, Moab is literally a five minute drive from the park entrance, and there are a number of lodging options from camping to glamping to hotel stays.

The Arches were truly amazing. I loved being able to share the adventure with my family, and hope one day to return. Because we were there so late in the day, we missed the Devil’s Garden area and its many landforms. Still, I was thankful to be able to enjoy many happy trails with some of my favorite folks and learn more about the wonders of creation. Cheers!

For more information, and source info, check out:

U.S. Forest Service- biological soil crusts
Arches National Park- learn about the park
Only in Your State- Utah

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