Arches National Park is one of my favorite places in the entire world. I’m not sure if it’s the desert beauty that I am drawn to, or the fact that I feel so tiny traversing the trails, past monumental sized rocks of sandstone, or if its the arches themselves, that seem to defy the crushing weight of gravity. I have been to this national park numerous times and each and every time I enter the vast landscape I feel as if I have been dropped onto an alien planet. Reds, yellows, whites and greens fill the landscape as I climb and crest the hill from the entrance.
Like most national parks Arches can get super busy. More than a million people from all over the world visited last year. Thankfully this last trip happened before the busy season and there were only a few people along the trails and roadways which adds to my feeling of minuteness as I point my car in the direction of The Windows, Turret Arch and Double Arch. These are but four out of the over 2,000 natural stone archways that can be discovered in the 119 square miles of the park and all four are easily accessible in a mile and half hike. They are by far some of the most popular to see but are also some of the most iconic. Each time I visit Arches, I like to start out with this route to get myself reacquainted with the landscape. Double Arch is gorgeous. The main arch spans from one massive stone to the next while the secondary arch forms a hole in one of the walls that gives views of the Garden of Eden. I spend some time underneath this wonder before making my way towards North Window and then South Window. As I trek down the red, dusty trail towards Turret, I turn and get to see The Windows together. From my vantage point, they seem to form a stone, masquerade ball type mask.
I head back to the car and make my way towards Delicate Arch. It’s too late in the afternoon to start the hike to the top so I head over to a shorter trailhead that gives a few faraway views of the 46 foot high, free-standing arch. (Delicate Arch is in the above photograph over to the left.) The sun starts to set as I finish my trek through the park covering the peaks of the La Sal Mountains over to the east in hues of pinks, purples and blues. The sandstone burns red by comparison as I decide I want to come back once night has fallen.
It’s beautifully clear night when I head back into Arches. The moon hasn’t risen above the horizon and even though Moab is only five miles away, the darkness is vast and infinite as my car’s headlights try to cut their way through the blackness. I make my way back to the trailhead for Double Arch and I find myself alone. As I gather my photography equipment and headlamp and shut the car door I am immediately enveloped in a deafening silence. The stars shine brilliantly as my ears strain for any sound whatsoever. The silence is more than a little unsettling. I am alone in the desert (where everything is trying to kill you) in the dark. I can’t even see the outlines of the massive sandstone structures that I know are right in front of me. Having seen too many horror movies I freak myself out and almost get back into the car and drive away. Instead I set up my tripod and my camera and start to take some photos. My mind, now focused on something more tangible and familiar, calms. After a few minutes I have enough courage to turn on my headlamp and head down the trail to Double Arch. It is still way too quiet. All I can hear is my heart beating in my ears and the echo of my footsteps on the small stones and sand that snake their way through the desert. I stop a few times along the way and again the loudness of the absolute silence screams in my ears. My tiny light cuts through the darkness and after a short time I arrive at my destination.
The moon still hasn’t risen but there are so many stars that I can see the black outlines of Double Arch that rises, towering in front of me. The click of my camera’s shutter cuts through the stillness and actually echoes off of the walls that support the arch. I adjust my position, moving slowly down the trail until I am right underneath the main arch. I paint the arches with the light of my headlamp as I continue to take photos. My nerves have completely calmed as I am caught up in the astounding beauty that surrounds me. I am concentrating so much on the archways that it takes a while for me to notice that the moon is starting to finally rise. It hangs low on the horizon at first. I turn around and the landscape is bathed in a soft and faint glow. I can see Turret Arch off in the distance and decide to head towards The Windows. I hike back down the trail and can see the moon dotting through the North Window as I climb the ledge and watch light clouds dance past. It doesn’t take long and the moon now hangs higher in the sky as I head back to my car and end my nighttime adventure in the desert. My heart is happy and full.