May, one year ago, we bought our America the Beautiful pass, which means that our pass expires June 1. We figured we’d use it on one final occasion to explore Arches on our way to Albuquerque to visit family for Memorial Day. However, given our unpredictable work situation this year, we did not reserve one of the campsites in Arches, as they typically fill up in January (or earlier) for this week. So, we planned to take our chances finding a campsite at one of the many BLM campgrounds, which are all first-come-first-serve in the Moab region, having read that, in particular, campgrounds along Highway 128 near I-70 don’t often fill to capacity.
Highway 128 meets I-70 about 40 miles east of Green River, UT, and follows the Colorado River into Moab. There are close to 10 campgrounds managed by BLM scattered along the river, so we decided we would start looking for a site at the furthest campground from Moab, Dewey Bridge. The Dewey Bridge Campground was situated directly on the Colorado River bank. It was the type of picturesque campground you might see featured in outdoor magazines, below the steep, red, rocky bluffs. Unfortunately, at 7pm on the Friday before Memorial Day, it was full of Memorial Day campers.
We drove toward Moab, hoping to find that the next campground we found would have some empty sites. No such luck. The contingency plan we envisioned when we set out was to find a safe place to park our car for the night if all the sites were full. Driving into a few other nearby campgrounds confirmed that our contingency was needed, and we headed toward Fisher Towers campground, a small campground (5 sites) where there is also a trailhead. As expected, the sites were full, but the trailhead had some parking spots where we felt comfortable staying the night in our vehicle. In fact, we met some other site-less folks there with the same plan.
This was our first time intentionally sleeping in the car with Sprout, who seemed a bit baffled by our rolling out our sleeping bags in the trunk of our wagon. The car was somewhat stuffier than a tent would be, and our sleep was definitely disturbed by the close quarters with our restless, dreaming Sprout, but the unobstructed panorama was unmatched as the sun glowed on the red rocks during its final descent.
We rolled out of our spot shortly after 7am and headed toward Moab. It was a short, scenic drive long enough to feed Sprout her breakfast. The river’s bluffs in the May morning were a sight to behold, even if we were still a bit tired. We were at the Arches visitor center by 8 am. No lines to get in, but the visitors center was crowded. Jacqui had trouble changing in the car without onlookers. We filled up our water, got Sprout’s passport stamped, and were back in the car shortly.
We drove through the park admiring the scenery, but also trying to beat the crowds at the Delicate Arch trail. Despite arriving around 9 am, the trailhead parking was completely full. Eventually we lucked out and caught someone leaving. Park rangers eventually showed up to help regulate overflow.
The trail was dusty and rocky at the bottom, but after about 0.5 miles the trail climbs steeply on solid rock. Most of the 500-foot elevation gain was on this section. At the top of the rock, the surface of the trail alternates between sandy and rocky, and was mostly flat. We were happy to let Sprout walk herself until the very last section where there were some steep drops. Sprout’s jaw dropped as the trail wound around the cliff and opened up to close up views of Delicate Arch. She immediately smiled and pointed in amazement at the 45 foot tall arch that stretched across the landscape. It is amazing to see her appreciate the awe-inspiring beauty of the natural world.
The natural amphitheater around Delicate Arch was filled with day hikers, including a group of hipsters who apparently hiked up only to play some spirited Hackey-Sack. We found a fantastic, shaded rock seat from which we could appreciate the arch while enjoying our morning snack. Sprout was eager to hike on our way back down. She particularly enjoyed finding a pint size hole in the rock, which she affectionately and a bit narcissistically referred to as “my cave.” She was disappointed to leave. The sandy regions, where the sand from the eroded the sandstone rocks around us collected into beach-like paths, were another favorite of hers.
Much to Sprout’s dismay, Aaron carried her down the smooth, steep sandstone trail as we were worried that Sprout might roll down the steep rock if she slipped. However, this disappointment was mitigated by her joy of jumping off each of the many rocks marked the edge of the trail on the final stretch.
As we left the park shortly before noon, the line to enter the park extended far past the park road along Highway 191. We were grateful to have arrived early and felt satisfied for having seen highlights from yet another National Park. We look forward, as always, to returning in the future to explore the parts of the park we had to forgo on this round.