Find Your Park

5 Lessons in 5 Parks – Arches Nat’l Park

Preface: Last year while road trippin’ out west with a good friend, I came up with a central theme, or lesson if you will, for each park. So, five big lessons for five national parks. In an effort to avoid my all too typical lengthiness, I will separate these into five separate posts!

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First, Arches holds my all-time favorite moment from my entire cross country trip. Even better than frolicking up on Trail Ridge Road. The lesson here? A little wind never killed you. Well, it might actually, but this is about going with the flow and not sweating the small stuff. The importance of perspective.

This lesson began the moment we drove into Moab, Utah. The park’s campground was full. I suppose we shouldn’t have expected anything else considering it was a Friday night at the beginning of the season.

The rangers at the visitor’s center gave us a map with tens of other campgrounds for us to try as well as huge yellow zones in the area where pulling off on the side of the road and pitching your tent was acceptable (BLM land). With over three million visitors every year, I guess they are used to this. We weren’t.

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Up to that point we had been lucky and gotten away with not having to make reservations anywhere. We drove along a road and all of the more popular campgrounds near the park were already full. We tried along another road, same thing. After about an hour of driving, we found a large campground far back into the canyon along the Colorado river. Finally!

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When you are hungry and tired, being unable to find a place to stop for the night could be mildly irritating right? Well that really just depends on the perspective you decide to take. The saying “don’t sweat the small stuff” actually carries a lot of weight. And really, most everything can be considered “small stuff”, or what my father would refer to as “up-town problems.”

Instead of being agitated or frustrated, I decided to just enjoy the scenery and landscape surrounding me. I was in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and I knew that we would find a place to camp. If not, we could just pull off and pitch the tent on the side of the road or sleep in the car. Either way we would be able to sleep that night. A mindset like this, while it took a lot of work and time to make it a habit, is one of the best things I have ever worked on and achieved for myself. Life is too awesome to sweat the small stuff.

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Secondly, the wind. The following morning we hiked up to the iconic Delicate Arch within the park and the wind was out of control. I have never experienced gusts like that except for playing in my backyard during hurricanes back in Virginia. Still, this somehow seemed crazier.

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We walked on bare rock at elevation with the sand-filled wind tearing against our legs and faces. When we got closer and closer to the arch I started hearing comments from fellow hikers saying that “the wind was crazy and it wasn’t worth seeing the arch” or that “the wind ruined the whole experience.” I couldn’t disagree more. I thought that the crazy wind elevated the entire experience. It blew us here and there and made the hike more precarious and exciting. It snatched Taylor’s brand new NPS Centennial hat and miraculously deposited it on the edge of a cliff with a 20-foot drop.

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The minute the arch came into view the wind didn’t matter. I was blown away, if not almost literally, by its beauty. The wind made it exciting and because of it, we went through more effort, and sometimes pain, to see the arch.

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Life isn’t only about appreciating the good moments but also the more difficult albeit irritating moments that can make an experience stand out as exceptional. It is all a part of life and if you choose the right perspective, you can appreciate and love it all.

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While in Moab, both at dawn and dusk, Taylor or I would drive through the park while the other stood up through the sunroof. We listened to the Lumineers and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes’ “Home”. And we really felt home. When I drove across the country this summer we visited Moab and Arches again. I cried when I saw the red sandstone again. 

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Hike Details: Delicate Arch 
~3.2 miles roundtrip, out-and-back style, 610 feet elevation gain, moderate to heavily trafficked, rated as moderately difficult.

Almost all of the elevation gain is at the beginning of the hike where you walk up open, slick bedrock with no shade. There is some exposure to heights during this section. Once at the top of this section, there are shaded areas beneath rock to catch your breath or escape the heat. Follow the rock cairns to stay on trail. There is some ledge walking in the last section beneath the arch and the exposure to heights at the arch is fairly high. Beat the crowds and heat by hiking Delicate Arch in the spring or fall, or arrive at the trailhead early in the morning. 

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