Exploring & Rafting Arches & Cataract Canyon in Utah
Part 1 – Getting to Utah & A Day in Arches National Park
The Year 2020 will historically be known as the “Covid-19” year, as the global pandemic cancelled all our international travel for the year, as well as most of our domestic events! However, one domestic trip which worked out was a July trip to Utah to explore Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and take a 4-day rafting trip down Cataract Canyon with the Western Rivers Expeditions company, (with whom we also rafted the Grand Canyon in 2014!)
The trip began on Saturday with flights from Orlando to Denver and then to Grand Junction, Colorado – just over the border from Utah. Grand Junction got its name from the confluence of the Grand River (now the Upper Colorado River) and the Gunnison River located within the Grand Valley. In Grand Junction we rented a Jeep Cherokee and drove the ~100 miles in 103-degree heat to Moab, Utah. On the edge of Moab, we pass a Federal Clean-up of Uranium tailings site left from the Government’s Uranium Mining in the past and that is currently 61% completed. In Moab, we checked into a hotel near the center of town on Main Street and made visits to the grocery for water & snacks, liquor store for wine, and ate dinner at a local Brewery. We rested that evening and avoided the 106-degree heatwave that swept the area outdoors! The next morning, we began our exploration of Arches National Park.
Arches National Park
Sunday morning, we were up early for the hotel breakfast and off for the short drive to Arches National Park. Although the National Park is open 24-hours per day, apparently the Park’s gate is only manned from 9am until 7pm and so using our National Park Pass was unnecessary!
We drove first to “The Windows” and hiked up to see both the large “North Window” and then the “South Window”. From there, we moved on to “Turret Arch”, and then “Double Arch” where a bride in her gown was taking wedding pictures. From here, we drove to “Devil’s Garden” at the farthest end of the park and hiked 1.6+ miles to see the spectacular “Landscape Arch”, and then the “Tunnel Arch” & “Pinetree Arch”. Along the way, we encountered our first deer and enjoyed a lunch/snack-stop with the ever-present opportunistic chipmunks. On the hike back to the car, we enjoyed seeing a 5-foot Gopher snake annoyed by the attention he was receiving.
We then drove to the view of the “Fiery Furnace” which is an area that only allows hiking into the canyons with certified guides or permits due to the likelihood of getting lost in the myriad of steep walls, and then to the trailhead of the famous “Delicate Arch”. Here there are available two routes – a shorter “viewing-only” route that gives you a line-of-sight viewing from across a canyon (0.5-mile hike); and a longer “visit-route” that would take 2.5 hours, which we decided not to do in the heat of the day (3-mile hike). We ended up hiking the “upper viewpoint” route which included a steep 300-foot climb and scramble up the rocks. Upon descending, we stopped at the “Delicate Arch” visit-route trailhead to view some petroglyphs from the 15th century, and learn about the preserved “Wolfe Ranch” home – a primitive house of timbers, mud and skins with a small garden, built and lived-in during the 1800’s.
From here, we began to head for the Park’s exit, stopping at “Balanced Rock” for a short hike and sightseeing. On the way out, we noticed that the Visitor Center had opened, and we stopped to pick up some postcards and souvenirs. Then, it was back to Moab for a little local shopping on Main Street and a salad & pizza dinner at Zak’s.