Day 9: Arches National Park
Saturday, July 11th, 2009
The night before, just after sunset, we drove in the dark all the way from Monument Valley to the town of Moab, where we had booked a room for two nights to reserve this entire day to visiting the Arches National Park, an amazing opportunity to discover a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms and textures unlike any other in the world.
The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins and giant balanced rocks. As if this red rock wonderland wasn't breathtaking and inspiring enough, we were blessed with a stormy day that provided a spectacular background and an ever changing show of lights and shadows over the extra-terrestrial landscape.
Above is a view of the hairpin turns which quickly bring the visitor 400 ft above the visitor center located at the entrance of the park.
After just a couple of miles, the first major attractions within Arches National Park is Park Avenue. At the bottom of the canyon there is a one-mile trail which runs at the feet of some of the park's gigantic, and well-known monoliths, such as, the gorgeous Queen Nefertiti.
While we were leaving the Park Avenue parking area, the wind increased and, from southwest, dark stormy clouds rolled-in quickly. We immediately stopped at the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint, trying to capture the amazing show kindly offered by mother nature.
A few minutes later the sky had cleared out, and so we drove all the way to The Windows. This is the most iconic location of the entire park. Portions of this area were used as locations in the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The name "Arches" was suggested by the superintendent of the Park Service's southwestern national monuments, following a visit to the Windows section in 1925.
With the storm out of the way, and the time of the day approaching noon, the temperature that day quickly reached 100 degrees Fahreneit, making even the shortest hike an unbearable experience. After the brief hike to the windows I was completely exhausted and took refugee inside the car, with the air conditioning blasting.
While we were waiting for the better light of the late afternoon, we drove north, all the way to the Fiery Furnace with no intention to get out of the car for longer than the time needed to take a couple of pictures.
While we were driving back from the Fiery Furnace, all of a sudden, the bright sunny blue sky turned dark again, with strong wind gusts beating the bushes on the dry mesa. That's when a crack in the thick clouds opened and formed a glimpse of a rainbow right in front of us. I pulled over and quickly got a couple of shots, while getting drenched by the quick moving storm.
While the storm was moving out quickly, the rays of the sun drenched the Balanced Rock complex in a beautiful light, perfect for taking a few shots of this stunning location. The total height of Balanced Rock is about 128 feet (39 m), with the balancing rock rising 55 feet (16.75 m) above the base. The big rock on top is the size of three school buses. Until recently, Balanced Rock had a companion - a similar, but much smaller balanced rock, which fell during the winter of 1975/1976.
While the sun was setting over the park, we started driving back, stopping again at many of the parking areas to capture the different light at each location.