Moab – Day 7: Arches National Park, Delicate Arch and The Windows; Horseback Riding in the Canyon

Arches National Park, Take 2

Another early start to the day saw me arriving at the Arches’ visitor center at 6:45am and directed into the parking lot to wait until the park opened at 7. This gave me time to dump some trash and recycling, unfortunately the bathrooms were closed at the visitor center so I was going to have to wait.

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With the barriers moved a line of cars streamed out of the parking lot. I was fifth out of the gate and those of us in front soon left the rest behind (while still obeying the speed limit). Two of the front cars soon pulled off the road into turn-outs or turned towards ‘The Windows’ section, presumably for the sunrise. I continued on to Delicate Arch where I was the third on the trail for the morning. I quickly passed a slightly older couple and a younger Asian couple (the young lady had twisted an ankle) about half way through the hike.

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I pushed myself hard and followed the cairns to the top, rounding the corner of a narrow rock-ledge trail to behold Delicate Arch in the early morning sun. I was the first one there and enjoyed a few moments of having the park’s most famous arch all to myself. The others I had passed soon arrived and the older couple were kind enough to take a picture of me under the arch.

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More and more people began to arrive and I decided it was time to head back down the trail. A few people asked how close they were to the arch as I hiked down, and some asked me what time I started since I was already almost back to the parking lot by 8:30am…when most people were just starting up the trail.

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From Delicate Arch I made the short drive to see Double Arch, Turret Arch and the North and South Windows arches, all of which are massive and awe-inspiring. With the parking lots getting busier and busier I finally headed out of the park at 10:30 and headed back to the camper for a few hours before heading back out for some riding.

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Horseback Riding: Moab Horses/ Hauer Ranch

I had booked a 4pm ride with Moab Horses at Hauer Ranch and left camp at 2:30pm, not quite sure how long it would take me to get to the riding facility. I had chosen this particular place due to the location (near the Fisher People and Castle Valley) and also because they were one of the smaller operations in the area, and I like to support those kinds of places. I also tend to find they offer a more personal approach to guests.

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I took the dogs with me and stopped to let them play in the Colorado River before heading to the ranch. I arrived way too early and sat chatting with the wrangler, James, and the owner, whose name I didn’t get. James was still saddling horses while I signed yet another waiver and paid. I had forgotten my water bottle AND my sun block so I chugged some water from a hose and borrowed some sunscreen from the ranch’s supply (those bottles left behind by many guests ahead of me). I chatted with James, the farrier and the owners while they saddled up or brought horses in for shoeing. We talked about the ranch I used to own and the kind of work I used to do with horses and cattle.

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Four other guests arrived and we were soon ready to go. A quick safety talk was followed by us being assigned our horses. I was given a black and white paint by the name of Cash. The others were on Hondo (a spotted appaloosa), Sassy (a dark dun), Gem (a halflinger) and a red and white paint whose name I also didn’t catch. James’ directions were mostly decent but balance and foot placement in the stirrups was not addressed, and that later became painfully obvious with the nervous novice rider on Sassy.

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With everyone mounted in the round-pen we headed out into the desert. The initial half hour was flat but with stunning views of the red cliffs and Colorado River, and we also saw a bald eagle…a rare sight for so early in the season. I got to talking to the older couple (both pyschotherapists) behind me who were in the Moab area for a week on vacation. They both seemed to be enjoying their horses.

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With the easy part behind us we followed Onion Creek east towards Fisher Towers, crossing and re-crossing the creek. Onion Creek is so named for the wild onions that grow in copious amounts along its banks. Still following Onion Creek we rode beneath the highway. The young lady on Sassy was struggling to control her mount who really had a mind of her own, took her through bushes and off the trail. James did a pretty good job of helping her out and instructing her in what to do.

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I was very much enjoying my horse, Cash, who was fun, spirited and very light on the mouth. He listened well but would have been a handful in less-experienced hands. I also discovered that he was a gaited horse after trotting through a couple of wash crossings.

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We finally left the creek bed and climbed up and up, following trails and other washes until we had the best views yet of Fisher Towers, a group of over 100 towers and each of which is named. James was good about talking about the history of the area, including the filming of many of John Wayne’s movies and City Slickers 2, as well as Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory” video.

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After 2 1/2 hours we turned back across the road and found ourselves back at the ranch, where we were greeted very enthusiastically by the ranch dogs. We all dismounted and handed our horses back over to the ranch. I was a little sad to say goodbye to Cash…he is exactly the kind of horse I would buy if and when I get back into horse ownership.

I headed back into Moab to get gas and then headed for home. I let the dogs out to run and fed them before heading over to the Class A camp to enjoy a couple of drinks with new friends on my last night in Moab.

Moab Horses at Hauer Ranch were courteous and professional and the scenic ride was gorgeous. For $80 for a two hour ride they are right where I think they should be (after having worked in the industry for many years). Moab Horses are located located 21ish miles north of Moab along Highway 128 (the River Road). The ranch can be reached by calling (435) 259-8015 or you can find their website at www.moabhorses.com.

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Moab – Day 6: Arches National Park, Fiery Furnace Hike

Access to the Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park is restricted due to the dangerous nature of the area; the ease of getting lost and the lack of water. Those who wish to access the Fiery Furnace require a permit and are required to watch a short safety video and it is recommended you go with someone familiar with the area, or you can join a guided hike into the area. I chose the latter. Fees are associated with both options.

I met the guide at the Fiery Furnace parking area at 9pm. The ranger’s name was Travis and the group quickly learned that it was his last guided trip into the Furnace and also in Arches National Park…he was moving on to other things.

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The reason I chose a guided trip for the Furnace was for all the great information that the rangers can provide as you visit certain areas.

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We hiked down hill a short way and Travis explained the geographical history of the area; the formation having had two parents to create it, one being the salt valley that resided below us, and the second being the powerful force of water (and a little wind). As we hiked down into the sandy washes we were confronted with some rocky, boulder-strewn trails. It was a minor test for what was to come but a good indicator about who might have problems and it was the last chance people had to turn back. Despite the quirky knee of one group member (not me) and the “experienced years” of another gentleman no one chose to turn back and we continued on.

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With the sandy washes behind us we entered into the towering spires, narrow slots and rocky footing of the Furnace. Sometimes it is good to be small and many of the climbs, canyons, and sliding between two almost-touching rock walls were much easier due to my size. Climbing the boulder field below Jackass Pass in the Wind River Range made this look pretty tame.

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Travis led us into a handful of dead ends to show us a few of the formations that had been carved and formed over the years including a small land bridge (although all land bridges in Arches NP are called arches, no matter how they were formed) and Skull Arch which looks like the eye sockets in a skull.

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There were many tight spots and a lot of rock scrambling, climbing, leaping, tip-toeing, leaning and sliding on your butt in many places but that was what made the hike even more fun. I tended to follow right behind the ranger as I was the youngest person in the group, other than a family with two small girls.

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I did get talking with a very nice couple from Kansas City who had only started hiking within the past 4-5 years. They lived part time in their travel trailer in Tucson, AZ and were pretty determined to get out and do things while they still could…and they did great. In fact everyone did amazing, including the older gentleman who looked to be in his late 70s. I was very impressed.

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The tour took about 3 hours and we were back at the parking area at noon. I enjoyed it very much and highly recommend it. Tours do need to be booked in advance and they usually fill up 2-3 days ahead of time; I booked mine Thursday for Monday which was the next available guided tour.

Moab – Day 5: Canyoneering at Ephedra’s Grotto

Apologies for the delay in getting the blog updated. I have been dealing with a broken right hand from an accident at my current job and I am right-handed. I am at the tail end of healing and should be getting more posts out in the near future.

(As with the zip line tour I booked a half day canyoneering excursion on Friday directly with the tour company. There are a handful of places in Moab that can book multiple adventures (biking, hiking, horseback riding, canyoneering etc) all from the same place, like the Moab Activity Center in the middle of town).

My tour was booked for 8 am and so I was up at 6:30 in order to let the dogs out, eat some fruit and organize my pack. I headed out at 7:15 am, dropped my keys with one of the RVers up the road so she could let the dogs out mid-morning, and headed into town again.

Once at the office for Moab Cliffs and Canyons, the tour company, I again signed my life away with the standard waiver…the one that I almost never read because they all say the same thing (I do read some of them). I met John, our tour guide, a handsome young guy (yes, of course I noticed how attractive he was) who directed me to the packs of gear we needed to take. I transferred the harness and helmet to my pack and topped up my water as we weren’t scheduled to be back until 1pm. The shuttle driver, John and I jumped in the van and headed to the Moab Activities Center to pick up three other ladies who would be joining the tour.

Bev, Sabrina, Sandy and I quickly got acquainted as the shuttle driver, also called John, and our guide chatted together during the short 20 minute drive to the trail head. Our guide also asked if any of us had rappelled before…the others said no, I could actually confirm I had for a change although it was many years ago.

From the trail head we hiked about a mile to the first rappel, walking through recently-flooded washes. One thing that was quickly pointed out to us was the black, crusty-looking soil in many places. It is actually a very sensitive and easily damaged crypto-biotic soil that provides an unusual eco-system which helps the desert thrive by keeping water in the soil and building a nutrient-rich environment. It is also the slowest growing thing in the desert, taking 100 years to grow an inch…in other words DON’T step on it!

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Another group of two, plus their guide, passed us before we reached the first rappel and it was as good a place as any for a pee break. (It should be noted that any solid waste MUST be packed out in this area…it cannot be buried).

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The first obstacle in our path was minor and involved a slight jump/large step across a shallow gully. It seemed fairly easy and I made the crossing with ease…the other ladies made it look a little tougher, but John was spotting at the bottom in order to help those who needed it.

From the gully crossing we hiked a little further along one of the many sandstone fins to a sheer drop into Ephedra’s Grotto. We were quickly warned not to get too close to the edge as it was curved and easily mis-judged…but I sooo wanted to look down and probably got closer to the edge than I possibly should have (10 feet was plenty safe).

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As John set up the ropes and carabiners for our first descent the other ladies and I talked and took pictures, we also put on our harnesses and helmets. The other group ahead of us were in the process of descending.

With ropes and safety equipment set up in the anchors John checked our harnesses, borrowed my rappelling equipment from my harness and showed us how to hook up, detach and control our speed. The reminder was good to have, and seeing that I had actually rappelled before the ladies were quick to offer me up as sacrifice and go down first. I would have volunteered.

John tossed a safety line to me which I hooked up before getting close to the edge then proceeded to join him at the anchor. He hooked up my rope and the safety line and I was good to go. The scariest part of rappelling is backing over the initial edge, right up until the harness feels secure.

While I hadn’t rappelled a very long time ago it all seemed very familiar and the correct form and actions came back quickly. My only mistake was in trying to fight gravity and guide/walk myself away from the natural direction I was supposed to go. I reached the first level after about 100 ft and got my feet wet in a foot of water…thank you rains from yesterday!!! I was regretting not wearing my hiking pants and wool hiking socks, but you live and learn. I crossed the pool and backed down over the next cliff into the dark abyss for another 40 feet. I managed to avoid the water at the bottom, unhooked the safety rope and sent it back up then unhooked my rappelling carabiner and stepped into the canyon to watch the others.

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Sandy was the next to come down and I watched from the bottom. It was fun to watch others rappel and I yelled encouragement and tried to help improve her passage down with a little guidance regarding legs being out in front and not underneath (a hard habit to break as you want to reach for footing). She arrived at the bottom and I helped her unhook. Bev and Sandy made it down slowly but safely, both of them with the same trouble in keeping their feet in front of them and bracing against the rock. John was the last to come down, for obvious reasons, and it takes the guide a while as they have to reconfigure ropes to make sure they get both ropes down and don’t leave anything behind. Somehow John managed to keep his feet dry…it was either magic or some kind of aerial acrobatic rappelling we weren’t privy to!

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A short hike out of the slot canyon took us 100 yards to the second and final rappel. This one was located at Morning Glory Bridge at the end of Negro Bill Canyon. Sandy went first on this one as I asked her to video me coming down (the bane of being a lone traveler and adventurer). I went second.

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The initial drop-off you have to back over was a lot more pronounced on this rappel than the first and thus a little more nerve-wracking. I don’t find it scary but there is still a slight adrenaline rush as you lean over the edge, backwards. The first 20 feet or so is flat, vertical rock and thus a little easier to step down than the convoluted walls of the descent into Ephedra’s Grotto. However, after 20 ft the wall disappears inwards and I was left hanging in mid air as I dropped down, keeping a good and mostly even speed (although a little stilted with the safety rope) and avoiding spinning for the most part (speed makes the difference on how much you spin when descending without a wall). I looked down at Sandy and waved at the camera, and at the same time noticed the audience I had in the form of several hikers who had made the trek to see Morning Glory Bridge (land bridges and arches are formed by different acts of nature, hence the difference despite often looking the same).

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I made it almost to the bottom but John hadn’t quite been keeping up with me on the safety rope and I stopped two feet from having my feet on the ground. Slack was quickly given and I unhooked the safety rope, untangled the lines (happens when you spin), sent the safety rope back up and unhooked the rappelling rope. Bev and Sabrina followed, both coming slowly and turning into that dreaded spin that comes with canyon winds and a slower descent.

Yay, video of my descent from Morning Glory Bridge:

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At the bottom of Morning Glory Bridge was a pool and a very unique spring looking as though it was flowing from the very cracks of the rock…it was very cool and very unusual.

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John got his ropes in order and descended quickly. He packed the ropes up and said we could remove our harnesses and helmets which we did with haste and then packed them away. We then had a mile and half hike to a different trail-head where the van was waiting for us. Sandy, John and I had a good conversation about Moab’s best eateries, the history of Negro Bill Canyon, and what he does in the off-season (guides mountaineering trips in Washington). The canyon itself was gorgeous and had the run-off from multiple natural springs flowing through it (we had to get our feet wet again at one crossing, even John) which seemed to make it a natural hike for those with dogs and we saw plenty on the trail.

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Back at the van we made the short drive back to the office, dropping off the other three ladies at the MAC on the way. I tipped John and grabbed a bite to eat at a local quesadilla food bus he recommended before heading home for the afternoon.

Moab Cliffs and Canyons was another very professional tour company for canyoneering and rock climbing trips. (The family of four from the zip lining had done a rock climbing trip with them the day before and also raved about them). John was exceedingly safety-conscious/oriented but was also friendly, fun and courteous. He really made the trip a lot of fun and the small group was nice.

Moab Cliffs and Canyons is located at 253 N. Main Street, Moab, Utah or you can call them at (435) 259-3317. You can also visit them online at www.cliffsandcanyons.com. They offer multiple options from the easy half-day trip to Ephedra’s Grotto, which involved minimal water, to three-quarter and full day trip, to multi-day, multi-canyon over-night excursions. Rock-climbing and hiking trips are also available and if they are anything like my canyoneering experience they can be recommended.