“For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels.” Edward Abbey
In 1956 and 1957 Edward Abbey was the park ranger for Arches, at a time before it had achieved National Park status and when the unpaved roads were more traveled by tumbleweeds and lizards than visitors. Now, the park is visited by 1.5 million people each year.
Even with this incredible number of visitors, Arches retains its sense of awe and wonder. Of all the parks I visited, I saw more people here who were simply standing, observing, and marveling. You know you are somewhere special when a child’s expression of awe at the 290-foot expanse of Landscape Arch is mirrored on the face of the adults beside them.
Exploring Arches is much easier than trying to navigate Escalante, as almost every hike starts and ends at the single paved road. The road can get crowded, and one of the biggest benefits of visiting on the fringes of the peak season is fewer people throughout the small park.
If you are someone who likes to camp, the Arches campground is one of the best I have ever stayed in. Situated right at the end of the road, the campsites are nestled below red slickrock formations or look out over the distant mesas and La Sal mountains. The spectacular nature of the reservation-only campground means that the spots are all claimed early… if you know you want to stay, plan well in advance and expect to try to reserve your spot the first day reservations open.
If park service campgrounds aren’t your style or you’re on a last minute mission, check out the many camping areas scattered across BLM lands just outside of the park.
Pro tip: I highly recommend an early start, especially later in the year. In past visits I started every hike shortly before dawn to take advantage of the cool morning temperatures and enjoy a few moments of solitude. This also allowed me to maximize the best light. Landscape arch is unbelievable in the morning, right as the golden light of dawn filters over the mesa. Delicate Arch, however, is best in the evening, but don’t expect to have the place to yourself; photographers and hikers usually line the entire natural bowl surrounding part of the Arch.
When exploring the Southwest, Arches is on the top of my list every time.