An Introduction To America's Wild Southwest
My first taste of the wild west began at Arches National Park in Utah. This trip will forever hold a special place in my heart. I had never experienced such foreign and bizarre landscapes before. Arches National Park and much of Utah looks as if it might be a better fit for Mars. The red rocks, peculiar formations, and hoodoos captivated me. I couldn't ask for a better introduction to what is now one of my favorite regions in the United States - the American Southwest.
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Arches National Park - A Great Road Trip Destination
Arches National Park was our first National Park destination during our 4-state tour of the American Southwest. We flew into Denver, and after spending a night in Boulder, Colorado made our way to Utah. Coming down and out of the Rocky Mountains only to find myself in the middle of Utah's otherworldly landscape is one of my fondest memories. It felt wild and strange. I still get goosebumps thinking about it today.
Utah is home to some of our Nation's greatest treasures. It is a goldmine when it comes to National Parks. Here you will find Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef. Not to mention many other great parks such as Dead Horse Point, Cedar Breaks, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Goblin Valley, Kodachrome Basin, Coral Pink Sand Dunes and the Dixie National Forest. You could easily spend weeks or even a lifetime exploring Utah's protected areas.
Our road trip took a little over a week and covered four states. If you are looking to plan a tour of your own, you will find that there is an abundance of truly, terrific destinations nearby. After Arches, we made our way to Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and the Grand Canyon before looping around through New Mexico and Colorado.
Looking for even more amazing destinations? I have two more posts to help you plan the perfect Southwestern road trip! Check out Valley of Fire State Park - A Las Vegas Day Trip Must and Sightseeing: Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs to learn more.
A Bit About Arches National Park
Arches National Park is located in Moab, Utah. It is home to the famous and iconic rock formation, Delicate Arch. In addition to Delicate Arch, you can find an additional 2,000+ stone arches within the park. If arches made of brilliant red rocks weren't enough, there are also many rock towers and pinnacles, also known as hoodoos (my new favorite word). Arches has 15 hiking trails ranging from easy to difficult. Many of the viewpoints along the park's main road are handicap accessible and easy to navigate.
If you do not care for large crowds, you might want to avoid visiting the park during its busy season (March - October). You may find the parking lots full at the more popular sites. We went towards the end of October. It was a little chilly, but we loved that we were able to enjoy the park without much for distractions.
Park Avenue Viewpoint
Driving through Arches National Park provides incredible opportunities for sightseeing. You could easily spend half a day touring the park and stopping to enjoy each viewpoint. Our first stop was at the Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers area. At the Park Avenue Viewpoint, you can feel just how massive these formations are. They cast the most dramatic shadows, and the contrast between light and dark is quite stunning. We didn't venture beyond the viewpoint, but you could easily hop on the 1-mile trail down into the canyon ending with a view of the Courthouse Towers.
See it while you can! While Balanced Rock might not be going anywhere too soon, the truth is that it will eventually lose its "balance" and fall 128 feet to the ground. Trust me, the reality of this really sinks in once you are standing underneath this 3,600-ton rock. It is a giant! Not to mention that there used to be two balanced rocks at this site... "Chip-Off-the-Old-Block" came crashing down in the mid-1970's! Balanced Rock is a testament to the beauty and fragility of mother earth. Take the time to appreciate the present as you gaze up at this fantastic formation.
Sunset at Delicate Arch
We had planned our entire day around the fact that we wanted to watch the sunset from Delicate Arch. I am so glad we did! It is hard to summarize our experience hiking to the Delicate Arch. That afternoon's hike was my first time hiking in a southwestern landscape. This was also my first time visiting a National Park as an adult. I remember being amazed by how wild and free it felt once we got out there. There isn't really a trail in the typical sense. You won't find much of a path most of the way, you can only connect the dots, hiking from cairn to cairn. There are no guard rails, no nets, nothing. It feels like the wild west! It felt dangerous. I correct myself; it is dangerous. Please remember this, especially if you are traveling with children.
The trail to this world-famous Arch starts at the Wolfe Ranch. Keep in mind that this lot will fill during the busy summer months. The ranch was neat, and we stopped for a while to check out the historic cabin. However, we were on a mission and needed to hike the 1.5 miles to Delicate Arch in time for the sunset.
Delicate Arch is situated on the edge of a basin-like rock bowl. I remember grabbing an outstretched hand as I climbed up over the edge of this bowl to catch my first look at the magnificent Arch on the opposite side. Oh, how my heart sang! We made our way towards the Arch in search of a nice place to view the sunset. We had to walk sideways on the slanted rocky surface. We settled down and tried to soak it all in.
The slant of the rock wall is so great that if you drop your water bottle or the lens cap to your camera, you can consider it gone. Everything quickly tumbles down to the bottom of the basin. For this reason, all of the children running around made me very nervous. Once we got our bearings, we lined up for a picture under the Arch. It is so eerie standing under Delicate Arch mostly because of what is beneath you - not much. If you have a fear of heights, you will have to take your time or maybe get a picture with the Arch in the background only.
Of course, the sunset was amazing! Delicate Arch is positively wonderful! We headed back towards the car as the last light left the park. Delicate Arch had the highest amount of tourists, especially considering the time we went. However, the grandeur of the Arch and surrounding landscape made the crowds seem insignificant in comparison.
A Love For Our National Park Service
As we looked back on our day, we felt an intense amount of awe and gratitude. My love for our National Parks was born during that hike to Delicate Arch. This day was also the beginning of my love affair with the state of Utah and the entire Southwest. It breaks my heart to hear people say that there is nothing out there, that it is just a bunch of rocks. I feel it is so much more and I will jump at any opportunity to visit the diverse and beautifully bizarre landscapes of this region. The Southwest takes my breath away every time, even if it is just a bunch of silly rocks.
Inspiration - Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park is an excellent choice when visiting the American Southwest. It is accessible and wild, offering something for most people. When I was thinking of what to do for my inspirational piece I wanted to keep it simple and untamed. So, I created a loose watercolor of Delicate Arch. Afterwards, a beetle stopped by to check it out and his coloring went so well I decided to let him stay.
Cheers! To our greatest treasures, our National Parks!
Freelance Graphic Designer
This trip took place during the fall of 2012. When planning your own adventures, please be sure to check for any current travel alerts or changes in destination conditions first. Keep in mind that businesses mentioned may no longer exist or offer the same products recommended in this post.