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Hiking Happenings February 2006

Off the Tracks in Arches
by Rory Tyler

Winter in Arches National Park is replete with peace and quiet, even at hotspots like Delicate Arch and The Windows. So imagine how far from everything and everyone you’ll be if you get off the beaten track. Despite the numerous signs reading “This Is Not A Trail,” it isn’t illegal or impolite to explore in the park…if you are careful and conscientious about the way you walk. Take trails where they exist. Off-trail, stay in sandy washes when you can. Detour from rock to rock to avoid crunching the cryptos, hopping over the ismuths and peninsulas of organic crust to avoid crushing it. If things get really tricky, step on deadwood and bunch grass to avoid leaving your tracks in this delicate biological resource.

Entrada sandstone near Tapestry Arch
Entrada Sandstone near Tapestry Arch

I know all this may sound extravagant to some, but it can take a hundred years or more for disturbed soil crusts to heal completely, especially if you tromp on the delicate pink, white, black, green, and yellow lichens that festoon the oldest, rarest crypto beds. To make your task a little easier, the areas I mention in this article are notable for their high percentage of slickrock, which is another reason these walks are virtually trackless.
The Courthouse Rim, which overlooks Courthouse Wash, one of the Park’s main drainages, is the least challenging of the three areas I’ll mention. Your chances of getting rimmed-out or lost are minimal. Up here you will find one spectacular vista after another as you stroll along the precipitous and convoluted rimrock that stitches its way along the canyon’s marge. To get there, take Highway 191 six miles north of town to the Bar M Chuckwagon turn-off. Then, backtrack a mile on the dirt road. When you come to the “Road Ends” sign, turn left and park it if you have a passenger car, then start walking. You’ll need 4WD to needlessly drive the extra mile to the Park boundary.

The Lower East Side of Arches covers an area from Delicate Arch to Devil’s Garden and consists of a shield of Entrada caprock known as the Moab Member or Moab Tongue. (Stop snickering!) It is a deeply cracked, trackless, untrailed wild land a mile wide and ten miles long that slopes off into rarely visited parts of the Park, like Clover Canyon, Lost Springs Canyon, and the Yellowcat drainages. This region is huge and remote, but not particularly daunting if you’re careful. Looking for some of that wide-open-spaces feeling? Here you go.

The Broken Arch trailhead in Devil’s Garden Campground is the most direct way to access The Lower East Side. Take the upper entrance of this loop trail about 200 yards until you get to a side trail to Tapestry Arch. At Tapestry Arch turn right and follow the drainage a quarter mile down to the caprock. Pay careful attention to where you contact this feature. There are other ways back to the road, but they can be difficult. For example, if you turn left at Tapestry Arch you can negotiate that canyon, too, but I wouldn’t recommend it for novices.
If wild and crazy is more to your liking, consider Herdina Park. It’s like the Fiery Furnace on Prozac. You’ve got tons of cliffs, crags, cracks, side canyons, and sculpted boulders - just not so dense, intense, and edgy. Herdina is one of the least visited and most mystifying, convoluted places in the Park.

To get there, turn left on the dirt road at Balanced Rock. About a mile out, you can take the Tower Arch 4WD road (if you have four-wheel ability) to Herdina Park, but you’ll beat the heck out yourself, your passengers, and your car. Better to go straight, past the rocks on your left about two miles out, until you come to a long sandstone ridge sloping up to the right. It’s an easy mile along this ridge to Herdina Park. From the point of the ridge, stay east, along the right margin of the sandstone for another half mile to get to Eye of the Whale Arch. The next set of sandstone slopes, north of Eye of the Whale, will lead you up into the heart of Herdina, which is where you really want to be. There is some serious route finding and discovery to be had inside Herdina Park.

At the point of the aforementioned ridge, just above the pure Entrada stonescapes of Herdina Park, is one of the most puzzling things I know of in the canyonlands - a collection of large river cobbles stacked and scattered among the big, dead junipers. None is so large that a strong person couldn’t have laboriously carried it there from the Colorado River. Could they have been placed by prehistoric Indians as part of a right of passage, contest, homage, or ceremony? Maybe. But there is also a scar from an oil-exploration seismic line leading to this knoll. Did someone from our day and age take a load of pretty stones in the bucket of a bulldozer way out here then dump them? If so, why? If you know anything at all about this peculiar anomaly, please call me. Thanks.

Rory Tyler is available for cowboy poetry/campfire song gatherings which include lore, science, history and lies of the Moab area. (Suitable for all age groups). Rates are negotiable. Give Rory a call at 435-260-8496.

Cryptobiotic soil garden
Cryptobiotic soil garden

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