Sunday Ė Windows, Courthouse Wash, Delicate Arch & Devilís Garden

Courthouse Wash, Arches National ParkAndra refused to wake with me in the predawn hours and go explore the Park by sunrise, so I left without her. She didnít miss much of interest since it was raining steadily from 6 to 9 AM. I drove out to the Windows, intending to watch the sunrise, but instead watched only rain stream down the windshield. I got out and hiked up the trail towards North Window, briefly, then decided it was no fun just walking along looking at my boots splash in the mud and trying to keep water from dripping under my hood. Thus, I returned to the car and read the Park brochure being handed out to every paid visitor. One article discussed the "Fee Demonstration Program" begun in 1996 whereby all fees collected by a Park stay in that Park. Some of the evils of backlogged-maintenance were examined, with the comforting conclusion that, " The maintenance backlog in parks is a high priority of the current administration.", implying that is was somehow not a priority of the last administration, under whose watch parks began keeping all the money they earned rather than turning it over to the General Treasury (Arches NP Visitor Guide, 1(7):3). I read this sentence and just intuitively knew it was untrue; a half-truth; a half-lie; mostly a lie. I researched this question and found that, Courthouse Wash, Arches National Parknot surprisingly, though they talk the talk, they do not walk the walk: Arches National Parkís budget was cut in 2004, according to such bastions of liberal journalism as the Salt Lake City Deseret News, and National Geographic. Salaries went up, inflation went up and needs for maintenance went up, but the budget was cutÖ.and they claim this illustrates a "high priority" of the current administration? Some money was added back to park budgets by the Congress later in the year, an action which the administration is only too happy to take credit for when the audience is right. Perhaps this was an isolated incident? Nope. Seventy-five percent of all National Parks had budget cuts in 2004 relative to 2003 in the Presidentís budget. So you decide if saying that the maintenance backlog is a high priority while reducing the funds available to address this priority is a lie or not. Iíve made my decision. On that note, is it any coincidence that the Utah park/monument with the largest 2004 budget cut was the only monument in Utah created by Bill Clinton (Grand Staircase-Escalante)? Iím just asking. 

By 8:30, I was at Courthouse Wash. The drizzle was tolerable, so I shouldered my day pack and trudged off through the muck of the draw next to a fairly-good flow of water running towards the Colorado River. Giant piles of hewn tamarisk lay everywhere in the wash, the result of very hard work by crews last summer. Having spent a few days at this very task, I can attest to its back-breaking nature. I followed a faint trail that paralleled the wash, crossing the water a few times, and gradually hiking deeper and deeper into a high-walled canyon. Cottonwood and willows lined the path, along with tall rushes bent over to the ground by presumably-recent flood Courthouse Wash, Arches National Parkwater in the wash. I followed the water up the first side canyon I came to, picking my way through, at times, dense vegetation and picking my feet quickly out of the occasional quicksand patch. After 30 minutes up this canyon, the sun came out faintly, enough to throw a shadow down from the canyon wall and light up the opposing wall in a brilliant orange fire. I continued on, following the curves of the rock until I encountered a 40-foot dropoff that was unclimable with my present equipment. I set down my pack and sat on a large boulder in the middle of a round clearing of sand at the drop-off base. A trickle of water streamed down the rock from above, feeding the verdant patches of poison ivy and maidenhair ferns growing from the rock wall. After snacking on a granola bar, I headed back down canyon. Reaching Courthouse Wash again, I headed downstream past a huge U-curve in the canyon to the next side canyon, which I also took. I followed a faint trail up this canyon but eventually lost it, reduced to plodding along in the streambed itself, getting very wet in the process, though having a pleasant close-encounter with a small owl that I nearly walked right into. The significant water flow in the bottom of this draw foretold of the increased length of the canyon, and I never reached that end. I had promised my return to the motel by 11, so I turned around at 10:45 in an endeavor to not be more than an hour late.

Delicate Arch, Arches National ParkBack at the motel, I changed socks (soaked from the quicksand and walking in the creekbed) and we were off again. Andra concocted fabulously-delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (that magical combination) during the drive. We drove to the Delicate Arch trailhead, which starts in the Salt Creek Valley next to the old Wolfe Ranch cabin. 

The hike up over bare sandstone was pleasant, and the close-up communion with the arch of fame was well-enjoyed. Unlike other arches that are obviously the result of blocks falling from Delicate Arch, Arches National Parkthe middle of a rock wall, Delicate Arch seems more like the rock grew up out of the ground, since virtually no sign of the original fin can be seen around it. Fragile, seemingly on the verge of toppling, the name Delicate Arch (though not original) seemed appropriate. The trail was heavy with hikers, but the arch itself was relatively quiet, with only a few people sitting around admiring it. The wind was strong and cold on the exposed eastern face, so that may explain why most folks didnít tarry long. We watched it from the shelter of a boulder for about 20 minutes before heading down. On the way down, I had to laugh at the two girls carrying their purses with them up the trail. You never know, there might be Fin Canyon, Arches National Parka Coke machine up there. Back near the trailhead, we walked around the squat, square cabin that once comprised the Wolfe Ranch headquarters, and discussed the pros and cons of living in such a way. No neighbors to harass you, no people to bother you. On the other hand, no running water, hot days, bug-filled nights and not much for entertainment.

For our last afternoon in the park, we elected to hike some of the trail loop that runs through Devilís Garden. For this hike we were gifted the best weather of the entire trip. The air was crisp and cool, the sky was deep blue and there was virtually no wind to cover the delicious silence of the desert. The trail began at an oval circle drive near the only official campground in the park. A flat, graded trail led right away into a sandstone crevice and up a gentle slope towards the first of several arches along the trail. Landscape Arch has the largest span of any in the park. It is also one of the thinnest, and seems by far the most precarious of all that we saw. Amazingly, someone from Ft Collins caught a picture of part of the underside of the arch collapsing in 1991. The NPS displays this photo near the arch. The trail continued from this point, but because of the heavy foot traffic, we decided to backtrack about 30 yards to the split that led up the "primitive trail" which eventually connected back to the fancy trail to form a loop. Though the afternoon was waning, we considered making the full 6-mile loop. Only a few other people were on this trail, and we were able to enjoy our own thoughts without interruption. The path led into Fin Canyon, a short, wide canyon with giant parallel walls of sandstone leading in from both sides. The trail left the upland, and ran in the wash for a few hundred yards before it returned to the upland area. Somewhere in the wash we, and apparently many dozens of other hikers, missed a critical turn, and ended up on a dead-end trail that rose steeply and with great difficulty up a steep slope towards the canyon rim, only to end about thirty feet shy of the top with no hope of continuance. The only redeeming part of this unexpected side-trip was the great view of the canyon, though I believe the same view can be seen from the official trail which runs along the ridge that separates this canyon from the next. Since we had barely enough time to complete the loop before dark, this detour made completion in daylight impossible, and we decided to simply return the way we had come rather than risk any more possible detours. On the way back, we saw the turnoff we had missed, as someone had built a large rock arrow in the wash to point in the right place. We had left the wash, following a multitude of footprints and falsely assuming it to be the trail, only about 10 feet before this arrow. I try to not get too hung up on things like that, however, since the trail is a pretty arbitrary thing anyway. In this country, there are really not too many obstacles to going anywhere you like, except of course that cryptogamic soil, hate to walk on that. 

The sun sank quickly as we marched back in the cooling evening air, and I thrilled at the unparalleled sight of evening sun peeking under a heavy cloudbank to rain red light on the golden sandstone spires and fins. There is quite possibly no more spectacular natural color display than evening in the desert.  Long after sunset, we hopped in the car and drove off for Moab, where we ate a disappointing but filling meal at a Mexican restaurant on Main St across from the motel. 

Arches National Park

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