It was a spectacular Friday afternoon in early September. All of the local schools were back in session, so there weren't as many tourists in Moab as there had been just a few weeks before.
My husband and I have been to Arches National Park many times before, but we have seldom enjoyed such pleasant weather. The sky behind the vermilion spires and sandstone arches was an unearthly blue and it was easy to see why this part of Utah has been used as a backdrop for so many movies.
We stopped at Park Avenue, a narrow canyon edged by vertical sandstone fins, and decided to leave the beautiful mile-long trail below for another visit. We drove through the magnificent Courthouse Wash and past a panorama of petrified sand dunes, preserved in a Navajo Sandstone layer that stretched out toward the distant blue peaks of the La Sal range.
After passing the Balanced Rock section, we turned right and headed for the Windows. This is my favorite section of the park. We found a spot for the car in the lot and hiked down to the Double Arch first. This short, sandy trail leads to a massive formation with two huge red sandstone arches. An interpretive sign explains that they probably formed when a pothole broke through the top of a cave. I have never seen anything like them anywhere.
Crossing back across the lot, we hiked up toward Turret Arch. The trails in this area are well-maintained. There are even steps to help with steeper climbs. We passed groups of visitors of all ages. They were from all over the world. Although the parking lot was nearly full, the area was not crowded. It was possible, with a little patience, to shoot pictures without a single soul in sight.
Looping back down, we passed the famous North and South Windows, two graceful arches separated by a chunky spire. Back in the car, we made our way down into the valley toward a labyrinth of eroded sandstone layers known as Devil's Garden. We explored the overlook at the Fiery Furnace. It gets its name not from the heat, but from the sandstone's flaming colors at sunset. It's easy to get lost among these fins of sandstone. The best way to explore this part of the park is with a naturalist. Hikes are scheduled twice a day, and tickets are available at the Visitor's Center. We decided to try it on another visit. It was time to head toward home.