Arches and Canyonlands National Parks | Utah

Arches National Park is one of the most popular parks in America and we were actually kind of dreading returning to it after our previous visit 9 years ago. We did all we could to beat the crowds though, waking up as the sun was rising and having breakfast in a car park before hiking. Our first stop was a hike to the parks highlight – Delicate Arch. We were on the trail by about 7:30am and it was pleasantly quiet. Just before the main arch was another one that perfectly framed delicate arch. We headed up to it and took some photos alongside another couple. Then an old guy came up and loudly said “It’s not a good photo anymore, I didn’t have anyone in my photo thirty minutes ago..now it’s ruined!”. He was referring to the 6 or so tiny people that were barely visible in the distance beside the arch. We continued taking photos as it was a lovely shot to us, while this guy scurried down to his wife and shouted “THE PHOTO’S TERRIBLE NOW, PEOPLE EVERYWHERE”. We couldn’t help but laugh at his gloating and made a joke to the other couple as we headed off “I wouldn’t bother, terrible photo that way”.

The arch was as majestic as it was the first time we saw it in 2010. Standing 60ft it’s hard to comprehend the size until someone is standing beneath it. In the distance were the snowy La Sal mountains which made a beautiful contrast to the burnt orange rocks around us. By the time we got back to the carpark it was full and a long stream of people were beginning the hike. We decided to try and beat the crowds again and head to the north western corner of the park known as the Devils Garden. It seemed that everyone had the same idea though, but we did manage to get a parking spot.

It was pretty crowded with families to begin with as we passed multiple arches including Landscape arch which is the largest arch in the world at 290ft across. Slabs of rock the size of cars have fallen from the arch, leaving an extremely thin and fragile bridge. Each arch was different, some totally hidden down trails while others had trees and waterholes beneath them.

We reached a point where the trail turned into a primitive route. This basically meant there wasn’t an obvious path at times and the terrain would be rougher which was good as it scared off a lot of people and created a perfect loop hike for us. It was pretty easy to follow but a few areas proved challenging with slick rock walls to slide down on our bums. One lady asked for a photo and then commented on my hiking sandals saying “no idea how your managing this hike in them”. They couldn’t of been better designed for the hot desert conditions and the tread on them was much better than her trainers. We got to a pretty tricky section where a man in all brand label hiking gear and big alpine boots was shuffling around a ledge and panting like a dog. We felt a bit worried that we wouldn’t make it around as he made it look so challenging and his girlfriend didn’t even try and just headed back to the carpark on her own. Then it was our turn and we shuffled around the edge (in our hiking sandals) like two very balanced mountain goats, I should of swung one leg out in the air towards the lady that was rude about my footwear and said “NOT SO SHIT AFTER ALL HUH?”

There were pink and yellow cacti flowers blooming everywhere on the route back and much to our surprise the carpark had seriously calmed down. We drove through the park and it was strangely quiet…there were no cars driving the roads and the car parks were pretty much empty. Then it all made sense, it was memorial weekend and we were warned to arrive early as sometimes the park can’t handle the number of visitors and it closes for a few hours. So the park was closed and it was the ideal time to explore without crowds. We stopped at some nice viewpoints with the red rocks and snowy peaks and then we headed out. The entrance gate had over 150 cars waiting to enter and we even saw a man hiking into the park!! It was an astronomical walk to reach any of the arches and the first section was up a very steep road. But he would of at least witnessed some of the parks other features like the thin red walls rising up beside the road.

The following day we headed into Canyonlands National Park. It’s a much bigger park with three separate areas and we’d seen the southern part on our first visit so this time we wanted to see the ‘Island in the Sky’ section to the north. It wasn’t ideal weather, in fact it was pretty awful with thunderstorms and hail. The park was extremely busy too with everyone stopping at the same viewpoints and hikes. To be honest the park didn’t wow us much, the canyons were too far away to appreciate and we could just see the deep red cracks through the valley floor, but maybe the weather tainted our trip and opinions.

It was time for us to leave Moab after five days hiking and boating in paradise. We exited along highway 128 again as it was so pretty. On the way we stopped at Castle Valley for dinner in the van with an incredible view. We hiked up a nearby hill and then we slowly drove north as the sun was setting and all the red rocks were glowing in front of the La Sal peaks. The final rays of sun hit the Fisher Towers which we’d hiked on our first day in Moab and then we watched them fade away in our wing mirrors.

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