The Golden Arches

Above:  After exploring Arches National Park for most of the day, I headed south back through Moab and late in the afternoon I pulled into one of my favorite campsites in America, Looking Glass Rock, located on BLM land just south of La Sal Junction.


I woke to another beautiful, sunny morning in southern Utah and spent a couple hours at the Devil’s Garden campground at Arches National Park, then I packed up and headed out of the campground around 10 a.m.  It was already 83 degrees with an expected high that afternoon of around 100.  I would’ve stayed at Arches for several days if I could’ve, but my reservation at the campground was for only one night and it’s packed every night, and typically for months on end, so I decided to make the most of my brief stay at the park. 

This being Arches, of course, I had to make the obligatory hike to Delicate Arch, the most iconic (iconist?) arch in the entire park.  I hadn’t hiked to Delicate in about 20 years and I was glad to see that it hadn’t changed much – except for the large crowds, of course. 

I mentioned a naturalist named Edward Abbey in my previous entry.  Abbey worked as a seasonal park ranger at Arches back in the 1950s, which he eloquently described in a classic book called "Desert Solitaire."  I read "Desert Solitaire" several decades ago during college and it deeply affected me, and heavily influenced some of my decisions back then during my ranger days.  It's a terrific book and I highly recommend it.  Abbey was a great writer but he didn't, let's say, like people very much, especially anyone who visited this desert wonderland called Arches, which he sort of considered to be his own.  I hate to admit it, but I'm kind of the same way when it comes to southern Utah, especially given the memories I have of what it used to be like before this area was discovered.  That sort of perspective, I suppose, can make a person a bit crotchety, a sentiment that I definitely share with Abbey -- though we're decades apart.  While I love this area, I can't help but reflect on what it used to be like back in the 1980s when Arches (and southern Utah for that matter) was almost unknown and rarely visited.  Of course, I'm sure Abbey had a very different perspective, having worked here many decades earlier.  Back when I first "discovered" southern Utah in the early 1980s and thought it a vast and empty wonderland, he probably thought that I was part of the problem.  So I suppose it's all relative.  Heck, I bet the folks who are visiting this area for the first time now will, in 30 years, scoff at all the new visitors who've overrun their playground.

It takes about 30 minutes to hike the slickrock trail to Delicate Arch, and I spent about 40 minutes there trying to savor the desert splendor and tune out the large crowd and the goofy folks making stupid poses under the arch.  Man, I do sound like Edward Abbey, don’t I? Actually I had a good time at Delicate Arch and managed to take a panorama picture. Despite the crowd at Delicate, it was nice to be back, though I couldn’t help but compare it to the first time I visited.  That was in the summer of 1984 and I was here all alone – well, me and my BLM ranger buddy, Mike.  Mike had dropped his plastic camera lens cap on the slickrock and we both helplessly watched it slowly roll all the way down to the bottom of the wash, and as far as I know, it’s still down there somewhere.

I left Delicate in the early afternoon and headed back to the truck, then drove over to the Windows Section, with its impressive collection of red arches all carved from the same geologic layer of Entrada sandstone.  When you see an arch in southern Utah, think Entrada.  I took a panorama picture of my favorite arch in the park, Double Arch, similar to the picture I took of it many years ago, which I hung in my apartment in Doha, Qatar for many years to remind me of home.  The thermometer was nearly 100 degrees, though, so I got in the truck and left the park.  Despite the crowds, it was wonderful to be back at Arches.

Arches National Park


Looking Glass Rock... 14 Years Later

I left Arches around 3 p.m. and drove back through Moab, where I got some gas and a 44-ounce cup of Pepsi and ice (mostly ice), then got back on U.S. 191 and headed south, bound for Looking Glass Rock.  Back in 1984, when I worked as a BLM ranger in Colorado, I took a trip to Utah one weekend and stumbled across a beautiful, remote arch about 20 miles south of Moab that had an old weathered BLM sign nearby which said, “Looking Glass Rock.” 

The rock/arch was accessed by a dirt road and was located about a mile west of Highway 191, but despite its proximity to the highway, it was totally remote.  I could camp at Looking Glass Rock for days back then and not see another person.  And I visited Looking Glass Rock several times since then and never saw another soul there.  However, during my last visit, back in 2002, I was a disappointed to see that recent campers had driven their vehicles over the vegetation, so I spent a few hours one morning placing dozens of sandstone rocks around the area, hoping it would prevent folks from driving across the plants.  Yes, once a ranger, always a ranger.

As I headed down U.S. 191 bound for Looking Glass Rock, having not seen it in 14 years, several thoughts crossed my mind:  1).  Was it still the same? (I hoped yes), 2). Would anyone be camping there? (I hoped no), and 3). Were my rocks still there or had the vehicles totally trampled the vegetation?  

A mile south of La Sal Junction as I approached the turnoff from Highway 191, I was dismayed to see that the formerly obscure dirt road that leads to Looking Glass Rock now had a prominent road sign that said, in big letters, “Looking Glass Rock Road.”  “Oh, this isn’t good,” I thought to myself as I turned onto the dirt road.  This kind of advertising for those favorite-but-undiscovered places is definitely not good.  I drove a mile down the dirt road until I reached Looking Glass Rock and did a little Happy Dance (well, mentally at least) when I saw that no one else was there.  “I’ve got the whole rock to myself,” I thought to myself, just like the old days!

To celebrate, I grilled up – yes, you guessed it – some bratwurst for dinner that evening, then walked around the massive rock and enjoyed watching the sunset, with desert thunderstorms off in the distance.  Another camper pulled in around 9 p.m., which put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm, but it was nice to be back here, nonetheless.

Oh, and the rocks that I had so carefully spread back in 2002 to protect the vegetation?  The BLM rangers in this area apparently followed my lead, thankfully, and put in some massive rocks to block vehicle access across the plants.  So while you can still camp here, all the plants are still looking beautiful, instead of being trampled by beefy 4x4s.  And for that I was glad.  Yes, Ranger Del strikes again!

Looking Glass Rock




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