Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hiking to Landscape Arch

The day started with rain, but we bet on it clearing as the morning progressed.

It's only about seven miles from our RV Park to Arches NP, so even if the rain continued, it would not result in a significant revision of our plan. But if the rain stopped, our chances of getting a parking place at Devils Garden Trailhead--no small accomplishment--would be greatly increased.

We didn't count the number of cars, trucks, and RVs in the parking area when we arrived. All that was important was that there was space for us (and about 20 more vehicles).

We parked and set off on the trail to Landscape Arch.

A side trail led us to Tunnel Arch. To prevent visitors from trampling vegetation and destroying the crust of the desert, the viewing point at the end of this side trail has a fence around the border of the viewing area.

As we have found on earlier hikes on trails in national parks, the "journey" is as interesting as the destination.

As a matter of fact, I guess that observation would apply to our whole approach to traveling. But back to the trail.

Another side trail led to the Pine Tree Arch. Several hikers took the opportunity to rest under this arch, while others posed for photos before resuming their hike.

Probably no one other than myself looked at the top of the arch and wondered how long it would be before the next chunk of sandstone fell.

Then it was back to the "journey."

It is ironic, I think, to talk about how fragile the desert crust and vegetation is when we're surrounded by rock formations that have been around for millions of years, but that is the contrast that is present throughout the Park.

Continuing on our path, we noticed a sign indicating that on the right was a Primitive Trail to Wall Arch. We didn't think too much about the definition of "primitive" until we caught a glimpse of hikers walking up one of the sandstone fins. (Click on the photo to enlarge those little dots--they're hikers.) Printed information on this segment of the route stated: "Avid hikers should really enjoy the hike from now on as it crosses slickrock and winds to new wonders."

We tipped our hats to these "avid hikers" and continued on.

One of the highlights of the Park's arches is Landscape Arch. It is hard to believe that a piece of rock like this can exist. In its thinnest section the arch is only 11 feet thick, yet it supports a span of rock approximately 300 feet long. This arch could collapse at any time.

On September 1, 1991, a 73-foot slab of rock fell out from underneath the thinnest section of the span, reducing the thickness of the span from 16 feet to 11 feet.
On June 5, 1995, a 47-foot mass of rock fell from the front of the thinnest section of the arch, followed by another 30-foot rock fall on June 21, 1995. The short loop trail that went directly underneath the arch has been closed because of government liability should more rock fall.

As if to reinforce the fact that there are over 2000 arches in the National Park, the branch of this section of a tree seems to be pointing to one of these unnamed arches near Landscape Arch.

It was a beautiful day for a hike after all.

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