Bagging Arches

A sunny start on the trail to Corona Arch

After our loop hike through Little Wildhorse and Bell Canyons, we drove to Moab for the night. There are a lot of hotels, restaurants and shops there as well a lot of hiking options nearby. It's always a fun place to stay. It's not your typical Utah small town. It's dominated by the tourist industry that serves all the outdoor activities in the area: hiking, climbing, rafting, canyoneering, mountain biking and four wheeling.

Moab is usually crowded during the main tourist seasons in spring and fall when there are lots of visitors. It's expensive to stay there and you need to make reservations well in advance. Things were totally different this time since it was the week after Thanksgiving. Hotels had vacancies and the rates were low. Some businesses had already shut down for the winter. There were hardly any people. Sandy and I agreed that this was definitely the best time to visit Moab if the weather is still good for hiking.

A fixed cable helps on steep slickrock

One hike that both of us wanted to do was Delicate Arch. Our friend Ivan has always wanted to visit but everytime that I tried to plan a trip to Arches National Park with him something would come up that would cause us to cancel. Sandy and I both wanted to tease him by doing the hike and sending a picture of the arch to him. It's a short hike though, only about two hours, so it doesn't fill the whole day.

I suggested that we do another short hike to Corona Arch. I had done it before early in the year when I came to Moab on my own but Sandy had never seen it. In my opinion Corona is one of the most impressive arches in the southwest and visiting it would be well worth it. With two short hikes to arches on the agenda, Sandy had a good idea. She suggested that we dedicate the day to "bagging arches". I've done peak bagging before but never arch bagging. It sounded like a fun theme for the day. There are quite a few arches that you can reach via short hikes or see from viewpoints in Arches National Park. Hey, there's a reason why it's called Arches National Park.

We stayed at the Homewood Suites, a nice, new hotel right on the main street in Moab where Sandy could use her Hilton Points for the stay. We started out the next morning with a good breakfast. When Sandy picks out the hotel you can be sure that a nice breakfast will be included. Properly fortified, we drove to the trailhead. It took about twenty minutes, an easy drive on the paved Potlash Road which followed alongside the Colorado River as it flowed west.

A ladder leads to Bowtie Arch (left) and Corona Arch (right)

The hike to Corona Arch takes less than an hour. It's only a mile and a half with five hundred feet of elevation gain. For a short hike, it's quite interesting. It starts with a short climb and a view of large cliffs. Then the trail crosses a railroad track, where the train's route is completely blasted out of the rock. Soon the trail is replaced by slickrock but there are a lot of cairns so the path is easy to follow. It turns a corner and climbs up steep slickrock, made easier by a fixed cable and indentations cut into the rock for steps. A last short rock step is climbed by a ladder and then the route makes a long, level traverse, following the curve of Bootlegger Canyon on a broad slickrock shelf. It passes below Bowtie Arch, a beautiful pothole-type arch. Finally it reaches Corona Arch, one of the most impressive arches I have seen on all my hiking trips to the canyon country. The opening of the arch is 110 feet high and 140 feet wide and the rock structure of the arch itself is massive. It's truely impressive to walk up to Corona Arch, stand under it, and then go through to the other side.

Bowtie Arch

We had some sun at the start of our hike but the clouds had increased as we walked. By the time we reached Corona Arch the sky was completely overcast. Unfortunately we couldn't get those perfect pictures of the bright red rocks against a deep blue sky. The scenery was still impressive though. The temperature was great for hiking - cool enough that you didn't get hot and sweaty but not cold either. A long sleeve shirt was comfortable. Best of all we didn't see anyone else on our hike in. We had the arch all to ourselves. With easy access to the starting point and a short trail, the arch is usually very crowded. We were really beginning to like this off season hiking.

As we started back a lone hiker was approaching the arch, the first other person that we had seen. On the way to our car we passed several other parties heading for the arch. It still wasn't very many hikers for such a popular trail. The most interesting people we saw were an elderly couple. The man was walking with a small brush and can of green paint. His wife was following with a big roller. They were using paint blotches to mark the route. Given that in some parts of Bootlegger Canyon there were cairns pretty much everywhere, I guess it would make the route easier to follow.

It was still well before noon when we got back to the car. We had bagged three arches: Corona Arch, Bowtie Arch and Pinto Arch. We had barely been able to see the last one from the trail but we still counted it.

Approaching Turret Arch - does that look like a turret to you?

Now we left BLM lands and drove to Arches National Park. We went to the Windows Section, an area of the park that I had never been to before. There are a number of short trails there that lead to different arches.

First we went to Turret Arch where we both couldn't help making jokes about the large, phallic looking rock formation that rose next to the arch. To other people I guess it looks like a turret because that's where the arch gets its name. There weren't many people around except right at the arch itself. There were two large families, both with several young kids. The parents were way overweight and so were the kids. Some of them were trying to climb up the rocks into the arch itself and were having a lot of trouble. Multiple kids were screaming at the top of their lungs. Sandy and I call them "Screechers". The ones at the bottom didn't want to be left behind. The ones at the top were scared to come down. Sandy finally looked at me and said "I've got to get out of here!" We hurried down and got out of sound range as quickly as we could.

We leave The Screechers in control of Turret Arch

We had been lucky so far on this trip. Because it was off season, there weren't many people on the trails. In this case though, just a few were way too many.

Next we took the short loop around North and South Windows. They were pretty arches that looked virtually the same, like identical twins. The trail passes right through the North Window but when I tried to scramble up to reach the bottom of South Window I couldn't even get close.

Finally we hiked to Double Arch. As the name implies, it's two arches. They are at right angles to each other and joined at one end, sort of like Siamese twin arches. When you are inside the arch there are actually three openings in the rock, two windows looking out and one overhead. Sandy stayed below but I was able to scramble up to the base of the arch in the back. There was a cool view looking down from the top of the high, steep cliff that dropped away on the other side.

Twin arches - North Window and South Window

Driving back to the main park road we passed Pothole Arch, visible high up on the cliffs beside the road. We thought that it counted too so we had bagged six more arches: North Window, South Window, Turret Arch, Double Arch (counts as two) and Pothole Arch.

It was midafternoon so we still had time for one more hike. We had to do Delicate Arch. When we reached the trailhead the parking area was almost empty. I've done the hike at least half a dozen times and never seen that before. Usually parking is a real problem, especially late in the afternoon. Not so in December.

The trail to Delicate Arch is a fun hike, about half on slickrock. It's only a mile and a half and a little over five hundred feet of elevation gain. Even taking our time we made it in less than an hour. There were people on the trail and at the arch but not nearly as many as I had seen on previous trips. We got someone to take our picture with the arch in the background and texted it to Ivan. He responded and said that he was suitably jealous.

Approaching Double Arch

After going just a short distance on the way back we passed beneath a small arch. It was about twenty feet above the trail, up some steep but climbable rock slabs. I had passed beneath this arch on every hike that I had made to Delicate Arch and never bothered to climb up to it. I suspected that there was a unique view of Delicate Arch from there. My hunch seemed to be confirmed because there was a woman up there setting up her camera on a tripod. Now my curiosity was piqued and I had to climb up to check it out for myself.

When I reached the arch there was indeed a nice view through it, framing Delicate Arch. In fact it turns out that the arch is called Frame Arch. The lady had her camera set up but she stepped aside to let me take a picture with my phone. I snapped a couple of quick shots and then stepped back to let her go next. She stood in front of the camera and set the timer. Then just as the camera went off, she jumped in the air and kicked up her heels. I guess my boring shot of Delicate Arch through the rock wouldn't compare to her picture of herself in midair with Delicate Arch as a background. I climbed back down to the trail a little sheepishly after that. I told myself that I was too old for that shit.

Sandy on the trail to Delicate Arch

When Sandy and I got back to the car we called it a day. We had done three hikes and seen eleven named arches and lots of spectacular scenery. We declared our arch bagging day to be a success. We drove back to town and had dinner at Pasta Jays, my favorite restaurant in Moab. Afterwards we did some shopping. We ended up at Red Dirt Shirts where we each bought a hoodie. Sandy got one with a southwestern indian design on the front while I got one with Delicate Arch on the back. I figured that I would wear it the next time that I had lunch with Ivan. I probably should have gotten the one that just said "Older Than Dirt" on it instead. It would certainly have been appropriate. By the time we left, we were tired of the Mike Rowe videos that they had playing continuously on multiple television screens scattered all around the store. It was the same way when we went to their store on Kauai during our trip there last year and when we have been to their store in Sedona, Arizona.

The intrepid hikers at Delicate Arch

We also stopped at a store with some jewelry that Sandy really liked. She did show amzing restraint though and didn't buy anything. When we were all done shopping we went back to the hotel and settled in for the night to watch Monday Night Football. We saw the Ravens beat the Texans 23 - 16.

I did go out during the game to check out Back of Beyond Books. It's a really cool, locally-owned bookstore that was right across the street from our hotel. I try to stop in and buy something whenever I am in Moab to help support them. Plus I like to buy books and they have a good selection of local history and hiking guidebooks. I didn't get much this time, just a bumper sticker that says "Heyduke Lives". (If you don't understand that, Google "The Monkey Wrench Gang". No, on second thought, just get the book and read it!) In this case though, it was just an excuse for me to get out and sneak back to the jewelry store and buy the pendant that Sandy liked.

View through Frame Arch (with both feet on the ground)

I was lucky. The guy was just getting ready to leave when I got there. He was closing for the season. He said that normally his last day would have been the Sunday after Thanksgiving but he had been lazy and hadn't finished packing. He decided that as long as he was around he would stay open one extra day. I caught him five minutes before he closed. I guess Sandy was destined to get that pendant. I'll probably give it to her for Valentine's Day. You can't say that I don't think ahead.

That was our trip. The next day we drove home. A few days later Sandy went back to Wisconsin for an early Christmas visit. When she got back, we had a visit from my sons Tim and Mickey for Christmas. I'll cover that in a future post. It snowed on Christmas so the hiking season for 2017 was over.

I hope that spring comes early in 2018. I'm still anxious to go hiking.