Arches National Park, Utah & the Best Luck 🌄
June 9th, 2017
Headed off for a day at
Arches National Park, Utah
My dad and I knew we still had a day before we could enter the White Rim Trail of Canyonlands National Park with our permit, so we decided to go spend the day exploring as much of Arches National Park as we could. We got up pretty early — around 5:30 — to get a head start on our day, then left for Arches National Park through the Willow Springs Road.
While Arches National Park is only 5 miles away from Moab using the quickest route, taking the Willow Springs Road to get into Arches would add a considerable number of miles to our day, and take more time, too, since the road is an off-road one. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of how crowded the park might be on a Friday, but since Willow Springs Road isn’t a paved one, I hoped that perhaps the first arch we would visit — the Eye of the Whale Arch — wouldn’t be packed with people.
There were a few spots on the road that were a bit tricky to navigate, but the terrain was one that I couldn’t take my eyes off of to read or write or take a little nap. My eyes were constantly glued outside the window.
At one point during the trail, dirt suddenly gave way to a spread of smooth, grey rock. We parked in the middle of driving past this terrain of rock to take pictures, and also set up our handy portable bathroom. It still blows my mind how I can say I’ve been to a bathroom with this view —
— as a backdrop. 😆 It almost seems unreal.
After an hour or so, we finally arrived at our first destination in Arches National Park: the Eye of the Whale Arch! Once I got out of the car, I knew this was going to be a breathtaking destination. I hadn’t seen another car for the hour we’ve been driving on the trail, and if it stayed that way, I would be able to relax and explore the arch in solitude.
Walking up to the arch, I didn’t quite see how it looked like the eye of a whale. We hung out around the front of the arch for a while, until my dad and I gathered that perhaps it would look more like the eye of a whale if we went behind it — and so we did.
The back of the arch was absolutely stunning, and I could finally see how the arch resembled the eye of a whale. The entire length of the rock above and below the arch was the face, and the rock extending to the left of the eye was the body of the whale. 🐋
The entire rock structure and arch, as a whole, was quite breathtaking to look at and take pictures of — especially when there was no one else there to photobomb the scenery.
The land behind the Eye of the Whale Arch seemed so untouched by people and so silent. At first, the land seemed just as devoid of life as the land in front of the arch was, but after walking slowly and quietly on top of smooth, sandstone rocks, I found an abundance of footprints from a selection of different organisms, which I realized I hadn’t seen outside nearer to the foot-trails and 4×4 roads I had been traveling on this entire trip.
The footprints were just a glimpse of animal life within the park, and not the sight of the actual animals themselves, but just seeing the footprints made me feel like I hadn’t been paying enough attention to the land.
Or maybe… I’ve been moving around too much. Making too much noise.
I halted in my tracks and stayed still, not quite knowing what I was looking for. The land behind the arch had a dip filled with sand and shrubs and life, so I knew there had to be something alive and moving and thriving hanging around here. I just needed to take the time to notice these things, and be patient.
It’s always been difficult for me to slow down and just wait in my daily life — there will always something for me to do, to practice, to learn, to keep my mind busy with. Yet being here, in the isolated back of an arch so far away from the main roads of Arches National Park — to suddenly stop and feel how the sun bakes it’s way past my clothes to touch my skin, how the sweat lines my forehead where the circle of my hat presses against it, the momentary relief of the ever-softest breeze coming into this silent, secret part of this world that I have all to myself… it doesn’t feel hard to do at all. Stopping, waiting patiently, does not seem like a waste of time.
It seems like a necessity.
Finally, after standing still for a few minutes, the smallest movement appeared in the corner of my eye: a desert insect holding onto a dry twig o. I slowly crouched down and zoomed in on the insect with my camera, hoping that it wouldn’t jump or fly away due to my sudden acknowledgment of its presence…
— and then I took the picture. I had never felt so triumphant taking a picture of an insect before, and I felt inclined to just sit and be still for some more time in this area. I walked back up near the arch to lay on the area of rock where there was shade, and decided on a spot right below a miniature cave within the wall of sandstone that made up the face of the whale. Ants were crawling in and out of the hole, and without thinking about what other organism might call the miniature cave its home, I laid down and took advantage of the cool breeze wafting across the wall of rock to relax.
I had thought the sky was utterly still until I took the time to observe for what might have been only five minutes, or twenty minutes, or an hour — the idea of time had slipped from my mind at this point. By then two sparrows had popped into the sky, and were dancing above me. Sometimes they slipped away from my sight, behind the wall of rock that loomed behind me, but they would always appear back in the sky, each time passing in the patch of sky right above me.
I would randomly glance down below me to look at the dip where sand and bushes accumulated, where I had taken my picture of the insect, just to see if there might be anything of interest wandering in area. It took several random glances until I saw a flash of brown, so quick that it just might have been an effect of my eyes scanning the land too fast, but then I looked again, and saw a hare.
A hare! It was my first time seeing one during this camping trip. I slowly sat up and watched in fascination as the hare jumped out into the open for a while, just to jump across the dip and run across a smooth stretch of sandstone before returning back to the same shelter of dried bushes from afar. I waited for a bit to see if the hare would come back out, but I didn’t want to be too greedy — in simply staying silent and being still, I had seen an animal I would have missed if I just came to the arch, took some pictures, and left.
Everything was going wonderfully well by just me sitting silently and waiting. I saw no reason for me to suddenly leave this place, so I laid back down and indulged myself in woolgathering. The sparrows continued to pop in and out of my sight, and I did see the hare pop out again, but eventually the combination of the heat and breeze and shade made me sleepy. My eyes were already tired from days of looking into harsh sunlight, and my eyelids and eyebags were starting to feel tender to the touch. I let myself close my eyes for a bit, just for a little rest —
In a split second I jolted up and snapped open my eyes, startled by the noise that exploded to the left of me and the lingering wind left behind by it.
What was that?
Then something clicked together in my mind: the cave above me. The sparrows. The wind left behind by the noise.
A sparrow just divebombed at me.
It was at that point that I realized the reason why the sparrows always appeared above me was because I was laying below the entrance to their territory or home or some type of resting spot — the cave. The white stuff outside the cave must be their poop, and they wanted me away from it, thus the sudden divebomb.
What a revelation! 💡
Even now, as I’m writing this, that moment remains my favorite part of that day. It goes to show how taking your time to observe the nature around you can give you amazing experiences that you would miss if you didn’t stay and simply wait.
I was a little bit in shock afterwards that a sparrow had divebombed me while I was dozing off. The explosive zipping noise of the sparrows wings still echoed in my ears, and the way the sparrow brought a trail of wind along with its flight still seemed to rustle my clothes. I was so lucky to be able to experience something like that.
At this point, there was no way I would be able to relax again, so my dad and I decided to leave the Eye of the Whale Arch and look at the maps within our car to see where we would go next. We had no idea how horrendous the main road of the park would be like compared to what we had experienced at Eye of the Whale.
The Willow Springs Road is a connector road to the main road of Arches National Park, which is a paved road. We continued down Willow Springs to get to the paved road, and once you get on the road, you have a clear view of the famous Balanced Rock within the park.
And oh. My. Goodness. It was packed.
There’s a mini parking lot outside of the short trail to reach Balanced Rock, and the road through the parking lot was so crowded that there was actually a traffic jam within the parking lot. People were walking around all over the place and I suddenly felt like my eyes were going to burn out from seeing so many people at once after being so accustomed to seeing no one for hours.
It was at that point that my dad and I knew we were not going to be able to get through the main attractions of Arches National Park without going insane. We needed to go to a place like the Eye of the Whale Arch. The place might take a long drive to get to, but if it guarantees solitude and no photo-bombers, we would gladly take the long drive.
We drove south from Balanced Rock on the concrete road to get down to the Visitor Center and ask about the road conditions near Tower Arch, where we found out that the reason why the attractions we saw were so busy was because the entire northern end of the park was closed. Along the way to the Visitor Center, my dad and I stopped at a few viewpoints to get some majestic pictures of the majestic scenery, and I happened to get two — yes, two! — without people in it!
The entire Arches National Park is truly a stunningly beautiful place, but I just couldn’t spend the rest of my day surrounded by so many cars and people after what I had experienced at the Eye of the Whale Arch. My dad and I made our way around the entire western outskirt of the park and entered the park again on the upper northwestern side to drive on the 4X4 trail to Tower Arch. The entrance to Tower Arch was eerily silent — and oh, it was so windy. There was a pit toilet near where we parked for the start of the trail, and the metal door kept banging insanely with the gusts of wind that kept coming in. It was already such a different feel than the rest of Arches National Park, and that alone made me super excited to get to Tower Arch.
Oh, and the best part is? There was only one car in the parking lot, and we hadn’t seen any driving in. Things were looking pretty good for us.
There are actually two ways you can get to Tower Arch: you can drive longer and get to the other side of Tower Arch for a shorter hike, or you can drive less, park in the parking lot where the pit toilet is, and hike about a mile to get to the arch. My dad and I chose the second option, and looking back on it now, I am so glad we did. The hike to Tower Arch was brutal and hot and consisted of so much climbing, all of which made it an amazing hike.
Right away, the trail started with a steep uphill climb. We relied heavily on cairns this time to navigate the trail, because there actually was a lot of change in terrain: dirt, rock, and sand were the three we encountered the most throughout the trail. My favorite cairn was one that other hikers built to look like an arch, which was very fitting for the trail and the park. 😊👍
We also saw the Marching Men rock formation during the middle of our hike, as well as many others that didn’t have a name on the Arches NP map, but were beautiful nonetheless.
And finally, after a brutal uphill hike on sand and several hundred steps later, we got our first glimpse of Tower Arch.
And then we got closer to it… and climbed some more rocks and hiked some more and BAM!
WE WERE AT TOWER ARCH (after a very very tiring and brutal hiiiikkeee!)!!!! 🎉😆🎉
This time, I had brought my backpack with me (which, by then, the back of was thoroughly soaked by sweat) and I had also brought salami and cheese to eat. The combination of salami and cheese tasted so wonderfully delicious after that hike, and I proceeded to lie down on cool rock to rest, once again marveling at how lucky we were to get another arch within Arches National Park all to ourselves on a Friday during the summer. I don’t think I’ve gotten over how lucky we were that day yet.
We did see an adorable squirrel lounge in the shade down in the dip of the arch while we munched on our snacks and relaxed, and I did take out my book to read for a bit, but my time at Tower Arch was mainly spent staring off into the distance and using the time to think about anything that came to mind.
Staring up at Tower Arch and the scenery outside of the window of the arch, I got stuck on thinking about how utterly amazed the first person to see this arch must have been. Even though Tower Arch is an arch marked on maps, and one that others have visited many times before, this was my first time seeing the arch — I hadn’t seen any pictures of Tower Arch before coming here, and it did feel like I was discovering it for myself as I walked around the inside of the arch with the walls of sandstone looming over me (or, more fitting for the name of the arch, towering over me 😊).
The hike back was just as brutal as the first time we did it, but it took less time. I was dead tired by the end of the hike, and I almost fell asleep in the car. The rest of the day is an unrecorded blur. I have to say, though, today was the luckiest day out of the entire trip so far. Two arches in a famous national park all to ourselves — that’s amazing.
During our stay at the Eye of the Whale Arch, we actually heard people while we were out at the back of the arch, but they left quickly and never ventured to the back of the arch. When we hiked back out, several jeeps came in on a jeep tour and started to hike out to the arch just as we were driving away. At Tower Arch, at the start of our hike, we crossed paths with a group of other hikers who must have been the owner of the other sole car we saw at the parking lot. While we were at the arch, we saw a group of hikers in the distance, but never ended up crossing paths with them.
Considering that what I saw at Balanced Rock could have been my experience at Arches National Park, I was very, very lucky being able to experience peace and quiet at two arches within the park.😊🌄
Thanks for reading about my experience with the best luck and Arches National Park, and I will see you next time when I venture into the Canyonlands backcountry with our permit for the White Rim Trail! 🤗🤗🤗
One moment she was staring at the ceiling of her bedroom, trying to fall asleep, and the next, she was staring at a world that seemed too beautiful and magnificent to be real.
She knew very well that this could be a dream, another figment of her imagination.
Yet she didn’t try to pinch herself, bring herself back to reality, or confirm whether this really was a dream.
Instead, she was content to continue staring at the splendid scene displayed in front of her,
until the edges of her vision turned back
until she comprehended that she was staring at the ceiling of her bedroom again
and until she could register that sunlight was shining through the curtains
and illuminating her room in morning light.
This post is the fifth post in the
Road Trip of Summer 2017 travel series
on Whisked Away By Words!
If you want to read more about my adventures road tripping and camping throughout
California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona,
head on over to the Travel Archive to view a list of all the posts in this series.