An earlier night last night (9:30pm) had me in bed in much better time to be okay with a 5:30am wake-up call, although I still groaned as the alarm on my cell phone went off.
I let the dogs out, made a sandwich, loaded the cooler and was out of camp by 6am and heading for Arches National Park.
From Arches National Park brochure: The story of Arches begins roughly 65 million years ago. At that time, the area was a dry seabed spreading from horizon to horizon. If you stood in Devils Garden then, the striking red rock features we see today would have been buried thousands of feet below you, raw material as yet uncarved. Then the landscape slowly began to change.
First, geologic forces wrinkled and folded the buried sandstone, as if it were a giant rug and someone gathered two edges towards each other, making lumps across the middle called Anticlines. As the sandstone warped, fractures tore through it, establishing the patterns for rock sculptures of the future.
Next, the entire region began to rise, climbing from sea level to thousands of feet in elevation. What goes up must come down, and the forces of erosion carved layer after layer of rock away. Once exposed, deeply buried sandstone layers rebounded and expanded, like a sponge expands after it’s squeezed (though not quite so quickly). This created even more fractures, each one a pathway for water to seep into the rock and further break it down.
Today, water shapes this environment more than any other force. Rain erodes the rock and carries sediment down washes and canyons to the Colorado River. In winter, snowmelt pools in fractures and other cavities, then freezes and expands, breaking off chunks of sandstone. Small recesses develop and grow bigger with each storm. Little by little, this process turns fractured rock layers into fins, and fins into arches. Arches also emerge when potholes near cliff edges grow deeper and deeper until they wear through the cliff wall below them.
Over time, the same forces that created these arches will continue to widen them until they collapse.
(Usually open 24 hours a day road construction has limited the park to only being open 7am-7pm except on weekends. This is what made me decide to come on a Saturday and be early).
With most traffic turning off towards Delicate Arch first thing I was mostly alone on the road as I headed further north to the Devil’s Garden Trailhead where I let the dogs run briefly. I loaded my day pack with water, donned my hiking puffy jacket and headed up the trail towards Landscape Arch. It was quiet out and I only ran into a couple of people when I finally reached the base of Landscape Arch. It was a short 0.8 mile hike on a graded gravel trail to one of the most famous arches in the park, and the world.
In 1991, with a group of tourists sitting beneath the long, narrow span, a 60ft section fell from the lower side of the arch creating an even narrower bridge across a massive space. With the possibility of the arch collapsing the trail beneath the arch is now closed and I could only view it from a short distance away.
Landscape Arch was not my final goal and I headed out on a more primitive trail to hike the 1.3 miles to Double O Arch. “Primitive Trail” seemed grossly inaccurate to me since I am used to following “normal” hiking trails but I guess it means “not graveled or paved”. The trail cut across sand washes and climbed massive slick rock fins all the while following cairns that marked the way…or at least most of the time.
The trail is the lower section of smooth rock between the two fins. You can see where it has been worn smooth beneath decades of hiking boots:
There were definitely times, after scaling a rocky fin or outcropping, the cairns disappeared and I was left to wander around or make an educated guess about the right direction. Thankfully I have enough trail experience to know what to look for in most instances and I eventually came across Partition and Navajo Arches, Black Arch in the distance, and eventually Double O Arch. I had the whole trail and all the arches to myself which was awesome, until I turned around to head back to the truck…then I was passing a lot of hikers and photographers.
Yes, the trail goes up and over and it sorta has a ladder:
90% of the parks visitors probably never see some of these lesser-known arches and being a hiker and willing to get out an explore definitely helps to find some of the more remote and less-visited locations. National Parks are often crowded but an early start and a willingness to get away from the road and the graded trails helps to provide a better experience, at least for me.
With the crowds coming in every increasingly bigger waves it was time to depart the Landscape Arch trail. I made a couple of brief detours to see Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch, grab a photo or two, and leave. I was ready to be done and had been hiking or climbing for the best part of 2 hours…I wanted a cold drink despite having two liters of water with me that I hadn’t touched.
I had planned on taking a dirt road out of the park and checking on a couple of other sites (Tower Arch and Marching Men) but I missed the turn off and just decided to head out the way I came in at the main entrance. Of course the line to get into the park was now pretty long and I was ready to leave the masses behind.
Balance Rock (trail closed):
I headed back to the camper to eat lunch and get some work done, and relax before I headed back into town for some epic zip lining with Ravens Rim 4WD and Zip Lining Excursions at 4:30pm.
Raven’s Rim Zipline
I had booked a 4:30 excursion with Raven’s Rim for Saturday afternoon and arrived at the office half an hour ahead of schedule as requested. Backpacks and water were recommended, cameras were a necessity.
Our guides, Ron and Nate, quickly introduced themselves as they got our gear ready and lined up on the pavement outside. The whole group was ten people which is their maximum group size; me, a couple of ladies who were trying to zip line in all 50 states, and two families, one with a 13 year old girl. We were all handed our waiver and signed our lives away as we put pen to paper.
After being reminded, multiple times, to use the bathroom before we left (two and half hours without access to one, or even a bush) we headed outside to the line of harnesses and helmets where we received a quick safety talk and a check to make sure we all had long pants, close-toed shoes and our hair tied back (even under a cap) and then instruction on how to put on our harnesses correctly. Ron and Nate checked our rigging and added the handles and line to the front of the harnesses which made them awkward and heavy. Helmets were next and then we all loaded into some beefed-up, six-person side-by-side vehicles and headed up a slightly crazy and steep trail (cake walk for the side-by-sides though).
One of the ladies behind me was a little freaked out by the speed and the angles, and the steep terrain and narrow trail and I could hear a constant barrage of “Oh my God” and “Woaaahh!” Everyone was friendly though.
After a 20 minute ride over some pretty tough terrain including slick rock, rock scrambles and ramp climbs we made it to the top and our first zip line. It was here we received our first instructions on how to zip and land safely…DON’T put your feet down and try to brake yourself at the end, or you MAY break yourself (a former patron had broken an ankle in that manner).
The first zip was short and sweet and I used the handles on the rigging to get going but felt no need for them as soon as I was airborne and let go. The feeling was amazing, like flying, but very short sadly. It was their shortest and shallowest line and the 13 year old, Elliot, didn’t make it to the end and had to be retrieved. Weight and head winds make a difference in how fast you go and if you make it to the end or have to be “rescued”.
We hiked a short way on slick rock (the term for the kind of rock referring to what it was like for horses with metal shoes, not because the rock was slick) and took our turns on a longer, steeper zip line. My speed was faster and I could feel my stomach getting left behind as we dropped and sped towards the end. Again it was too short.
After the two shorter zips we crossed a suspension bridge, a place that apparently many cameras, cell phones and water bottles go to commit suicide. Many have been retrieved from the bottom of the rock crack over the years, and then sold on Ebay according to our guides! I was the last to cross and of course one the guys ahead of us wanted to make things difficult for his family and was making the bridge bounce. The movement didn’t bother me, especially as we were hooked on to a safety cable, but I was trying to take pictures and didn’t want to lose my phone to an Ebay auction (it has only recently been replaced in the past two weeks).
We still had four more zip lines to do; a mid length one, two 1/4 mile lines and short one.
The mid-length was the longest we had done so far and I asked one of the girls to film me. Sadly she was on Team iPhone and couldn’t figure out how to make the video on my phone work. Her male companion (brother/cousin or something) was on Team Samsung and offered to video me on the next zip…the 1/4 mile line.
Ron, the guide who had gone down first, had called up to Nate and mentioned that anyone under 150# might have a tough time making it all the way due to the shallow grade of the line and a stiff head-wind. I started looking around for a 40lb rock to shove in my pack. Pat, the guy who had offered to video went down a head of me and was followed by the last one in their party of four, then it was my turn. I barely made it to the end and had to be pulled in the last few feet. Elliot, who had gotten stuck on the shortest zip due to her tiny size went tandem with her mom on this line.
Here is the video of the epic zip line. “Look Ma, no hands.”
The next zip line was another short one so to make it more fun an challenging the guides strongly “suggested” we run backwards off the edge without holding on. I was up for it and ran off the rock, while filming, and didn’t hold on (except to the camera). It was definitely an eerie feeling running backwards off the rock but I had faith in my harness.
Elliot going off backwards…she was the first to go:
Everyone else went off backwards although some ran and held on, some walked and held on, a few did what I did; running and NOT holding on. I definitely look as though I am enjoying myself here:
The next and final zip was also a 1/4 mile long and a little steeper than the other. With a tail wind and a slightly steeper grade even Elliot was able to go down by herself. I held back, taking pictures of a massive storm that was almost overhead. A couple of rainbows formed in front of the La Sal Mountains just as a few rain drops started to fall. With the rain came the sound of thunder but no visible lightning…and I was standing out in the open, on a massive sandstone hump/rock just about to be attached to a zip line aka GIANT lightning rod. It was a little hairy for a few seconds as I headed down. I got one more piece of filming in before I reached the bottom…the view I had as I zipped down the line:
With our zip lining done we walked a short distance into a wash where a cooler of ice water was waiting for us. I hadn’t consumed much of my water so I left it for the others. The guides went to retrieve the side-by-sides and then we loaded up and headed down the same hairy-scary trail we came up. With a little more familiarity between our group and the guides Ron made the trip down at a slightly faster pace than he had coming up, including a couple of intimidating drop-offs, which he backed up over and did again.
We had been watching the rain and thunder clouds gradually edging closer and the downpour finally hit us just as we reached the bottom. We all hurried inside to escape the deluge.
We divested ourselves of our helmets and harnesses, thanked the guides and tipped them, and said goodbye to the others in the group. I forgot my jacket (are you seeing a pattern here?) but thankfully Nate knocked on my window and returned it to me before I left the parking lot.
Raven’s Rim provided an excellent and unusual zip lining experiences as they are one of the few that doesn’t use or have access to trees. The guides were professional, safety oriented and fun to go out with, being both personable and professional. The experience is well worth the time and money and I highly recommend them.
Their office can be found at 998 N. Main Street, Moab, Utah or you can call them at (435) 260-0973 to book a zip line and ATV excursion. They can also be found online at www.ravensrim.com