Shortly after we arrived at Arches National Park in Utah, Vicki whisked us off for a view of the sunset and a hike. We had made a little bit of pizza at her house, so we were running a little bit late for sunset. The plan to go see Delicate Arch lit up by the sunset was scrapped when we realized that the arch was already covered in shadows.
“Hey,” Vicki said to us as we were driving through the park, “Do you guys want to do a hike?”
“Of course!” was our answer.
And thus, we descended into the (insert drum roll here) Fiery Furnace. The Fiery Furnance is an isolate backcountry area of the park. Many of the spectacular rock formations at Arches can be seen by driving your car to a trailhead and walking for 5 minutes. Not the case in the Fiery Furnace. You have got to know exactly what you are doing to enter this labrynth of rocks. If not, imagine yourself looping around in circles through the rocks, with no distinct landmarks, no trail, and in an area where GPS are woefully inaccurate. To top it off, if you were unprepared you’d be awfully thirsty, since there is absolutely no water in the entire area (I mean, come on, the entire park is a desert).
Despite the dangers of the area, I didn’t have too much to worry about. Vicki, the friend I was visiting, just so happens to be a park ranger at Arches! So (for free!) she was able to take us on a guided walk through the area. Let me preface this, I really hate guided tours. On the trip, we have religiously avoided guided tours of all types. Forced to go on a guided tour in Wind Cave Park, we found ourselves complaining about it afterwards. Both of us were astounded by the absurdity of the other people on the tour- there was a guy who pretended to be really smart and thought they could use GPS to map the cave- 500 feet underground. Umm, hello, the GPS needs to “see” the satellite to work1 But, on this guided tour, there were no others, just the three of us.
Vicki led us expertly through the crevasses, rock scrambles, and small caves. Along the way we found ourselves learning too. Vicki would stop. “See! Right there. Do you see how that soil is kinda crusty with brown things?”
“Yes,” I would observe and nod.
“The soil is alive!!! That’s all microscopic critters that live there and enrich the soil and hold in moisture, it’s what allows the plants to grow in this desert!” Vicki was quite excited about the crust.
We walked onward, at the bottom of a small canyon (technically a fin of rock), with the dark walls extending 20 feet upward on each side. And then, all of a sudden… Bam! We walked a foot more and came upon an arch, it just appeared out of nowhere. Aptly named, Surprise Arch was the prettiest arch that we saw in the park. After walking for aboiut 45 minutes, we got there just as the sun was setting. The arch was covered in a earthy red glow. Absolutely gorgeous.
When the view had been sufficiently admired we continued our trek through the Furnace, stopping to look at lizards, bats, and unique rock formations. As we walked, Vicki explained the geology of the area. She explained how the fins that stick up from the ground are made. And then she explained how erosion had created the unique arches we saw throughout the park. Holy Cow! I sure learned a ton on our hike. And got to see things that we otherwise would have missed completely. It definitely made me change my mind about guided tours; now I want to do them because you tend to learn more, but I still don’t want to deal with the other people on them…..