We get to the trail head just in time to hike up to humpback rocks and see sunset. Fingers crossed. It was 7:15pm and sunset was at 8:25-ish. At the trailhead there are several different options for trails. We walked up to the kiosk and saw this posting. There was an alert for bear activity but there were several other people on the trail. So not really worried… As the sign said, the trail to humpback rock was right behind the kiosk.
To ensure hikers are going the right way, they also have these signs. We were only doing the 0.8 one way, but it’s many feet to climb in a short distance.
For anyone worried about the steep climb, there are benches along the way. It’s perfect for someone who needs to pace themselves to reach the top.
The trail is wide and has blue blazes all the way up. They almost felt redundant as the trail is very clear to follow. However, in the dark the blue blazes were helpful. As we climbed the steep trail, I almost stepped on this little guy. I was so glad he was a bright orange color because it caught my eye and he got to live another day.
You’ll come across about 45 wooden stairs that have been placed in the middle of the trail. It helps to gain some elevation rather quickly.
So, let’s talk about the bear. At this point we are still following the blue blazes and people are steadily heading down dogs and all. After the section below, the trail turns left. There was a black bear about 20 feet from the trail. The woman who saw him before us said they saw each other but the bear did not seem to want to interact. We decided it would be best to wait for two girls who were a few minutes behind us and walk up as a group. And that’s exactly what we did. One of the girls had seen a bear before on this same hike and said nothing came of it. Good to hear.
And then you’re almost there! Even though this hike is only 0.8 miles long, it felt eternal. After the bear, every dark shape seemed like it was another bear to me. The tension and adrenaline did not help make the hike any easier on my body either.
Then out of what feels like no where, you turn a corner and see this opening. I completely forgot about the bear and was so happy to see this view.
If you’re dumb brave enough, you can climb up on either side. I climbed up the right side and Nicole captured this shot from the top of the left side. It was a hazy evening, but the view went on for miles. Days with clear skies must have what seems like a endless view. But alas, no pretty sunset. FYI, those rocks are also super sharp and gloves would have been a plus to have on my person.
I have zero pictures of the descent from humpback and with good reason. By 8:25pm it was getting really dark really fast. Knowing that bears are dawn and dusk animals we made lots of noise on our way down. We essentially were running downhill yelling at each other and clapping randomly. We didn’t want to give a bear a chance to sneak up on us. And I’m sure we looked like a pair of crazies. But as Beyonce says, “I’d rather be crazy.” Below is the view from my car as we left the park.
“True Compassion is showing Kindness towards animals, without expecting anything in return”
Bearfence mountain is 1 hour away from the Airbnb. The hike is 1 hour long. Sunrise is at 5:50am… It’s not everyday I get out of bed at 3:00 am. But when I do, it’s not for work. It’s for a hike. That’s what I call commitment.
Staying on the southern-most part Shenandoah allows me to take the 340 north. It runs parallel to the park but without all the twists and turns. That makes the drive so much faster. After turning east onto Route 33, I made a left to head north on Skyline Drive. Notice how dark it still is.
Parked at the lot located at the trailhead I try to get my bearings. Nicole and I are petrified worried about a bear encounter. It is still very dark and we have one lantern between the both of us. Neither one of us have done this hike before. No one else is on the trail or in the lot and my brain starts to wonder if the other hikers know something we don’t.
And then my prayers were answered. A car pulls in to the lot with three hikers climbing out. They seem to know where they’re going as they didn’t really bother approaching the map. Excited to not have to fight the bears alone we happily follow them into the dark.
At first we didn’t really need to look for the trail markers because we followed the trio in. But they were much faster rock scramblers than me and at some point I had to make sure I could see the blue blazes. In the dark they are much harder to find, but not impossible. This picture has the flash on so you can see what it looks like with headlamps or lanterns.
This picture is with no flash. I did notice that as the minutes went by the trail got easier to see. The overcast sky was serving as a faint source of light.
By the time we got to the higher rock scrambling portion the lantern was put away. We continued following the blue blazes.
When you get to the top of the rock scramble you are going up and over the rock formations.
The trail continues back down into the trees but we sat at this clearing. It was perfect. I could see almost 360 degree views and if there was any sun to be seen that day I was in the spot to see it.
The sun lit up the sky, but there were no pretty colors dancing on the horizon. Another bust for sun activity today.
After drinking my coffee it was time to head down. The trail looked so different in the light of day. And the markers were so much easier to spot.
Follow the blue blazes back to the junction and head down to Skyline Drive.
The picture below is the entrance of the trail. I took this picture once the sun had risen and I was standing by my car. When starting the hike, you cross Skyline Drive (carefully) and make your way up the hike following the blue blazes.
After finishing the hike I was truly grateful to have been able to follow the three hikers in. I believe there’s strength in numbers. And it gave me the courage to go into bear country in the dark. I would have still done it had they not showed up. But the company was a relief.
I didn’t see any bears and I didn’t see a picturesque sunrise. Sometimes it’s not about the big “ta-da” moment at the end of the hike. Bearfence was 100% about the rock scrambling in the dark. The adrenaline pumping through my body. Hearing sounds in the dark and praying it wasn’t a bear. As I write about these things in the safety of my suburban lifestyle I have to laugh. My parents would tell me I’m crazy for going out there, but being outdoors is what makes me happy. Even if it causes fear.
“If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
Recently I have been thinking a great deal about the national parks. How to see them all and not break the bank. So I started looking at which ones were driving distance and found Shenandoah to be the closest to New York. Google Maps shows it can be between 5.5-7.5 hours away to the northern-most portion of the park.
So we packed up the car and headed south. We arrived just shy of 7:30pm and entered the park at the Thornton Gap entrance. I showed the ranger my America The Beautiful pass and ID; officially crossing another park off my list.
We drove 5 minutes to Tunnel Parking Overlook. This neat tunnel is right next to an overlook. There were barely any other park-goers and I’m sure it was because of the weather.
As you can see below, the day was overcast and the views were hazy. That’s Booger (Nicole’s dog) on the ledge trying to see through the haze
We weren’t at the overlook very long because we still wanted to make it to the top of Little Stony Man for sunset. We drove another 15 minutes south on Skyline Drive to Little Stony Man Parking.
The trail is pet friendly, just make sure they stay on the leash and are physically able to do the trail or be carried. And here’s a friendly reminder to leave no trace behind…
Start walking the trail from the parking lot. You’ll soon come across the trail markers for the Appalachian Trail. The small concrete pillars will point you in the correct direction depending on what you’re there to hike that day. For now, make a left and follow the white trail markers.
At about 0.3 miles you will reach a trail junction. There is an overlook there or you can continue climbing. Doing both is also a great idea if you have the time. Here’s what the clearing to the first overlook is like. I’m pretty sure you can typically see mountains, but on that day it was clouds.
From these viewpoints you can see the Blue Ridge. On most days anyways. On days like the one we went on, you can really watch the clouds rolling in. We caught a quick glimpse of the mountains before they were covered in clouds again.
We decided to head back down seeing how we weren’t going to get any good views of sunset. Not to mention it was getting dark and starting to drizzle. I’d made the amateur move of leaving my raincoat in the car.
When you get to the junction heading down, you are 0.25 miles away from Little Stony Man Summit if you went up to the right. We decided to skip it and head down to the left. If you’re doing sunset hikes don’t forget to bring headlamps or lanterns for the walk down. It wasn’t totally dark as we headed down. In certain sections however, like the one Nicole is going to enter, the trees make it darker.
I like the ease of this hike. I’m sure this counts as a high reward low effort hike when the sunsets are visible. The trail is easy to follow and the overlook has flat areas where you can lay down a blanket. The best part is that you can share it with your four legged friends.
Once we were in the car, we continued driving on Skyline Drive and found this interesting sign. I had read on google that there can be anywhere between 200-1,000 bears in the park at any given time. Not wanting to hurt a bear or potentially hurt ourselves, I slowed down my driving.
And then this sign asked me to slow down even more.
And with good reason. Remember the clouds from the overlook? Well now we had a very dense fog that reduced visibility even more. I feel like this picture doesn’t even begin to show how dense the fog got in certain areas.
I spent the rest of the night on Skyline Drive trying to see through the fog and avoiding potential bears/deers on the road. I recalled route 33 ran through the park. That was going to be my escape to a straighter highway and hopefully faster way to the Airbnb. The road curves a great deal in the park and that adds more travel time then I expected. Before making a right off the Skyline we saw a pair out for a stroll. Being the optimist I can be sometimes I thought to myself, “Tomorrow is another day and another chance to see some pretty scenery.” Good night guys!
Is it absolute insanity to try and do Arches in a day? Yes. Did I attempt it anyways? Yup! I love a good challenge. This one required a dubious amount of research to execute flawlessly. And guess what happened? It still wasn’t as we planned, but it was a perfect day at Arches nonetheless.
I’ll break down the different points of interest we visited in the park. I’ll even include Wilson’s arch as an honorable mention at the end because of its proximity to the park.
Getting into the Park
We set our alarms super early and were on the road by 6:15am. We watched yet another lovely sunrise from the car.
Arches is a very large park and Arches Scenic Dr runs through a good chunk of it. As we drove on the road meandering through the park we caught this scene. I can NOT make this up. This is what the sky looked like!
We spotted the Three Gossips on the left and the Courthouse Towers on the right the further we drove into the park.
We drove to double arch super early as our first stop. Double arch is 0.5 miles RT from the trailhead and is home to the highest arch in the entire park. Honestly, we thought we were driving to delicate arch and didn’t realize it until we got to the sign at the trailhead. Not wanting to double back we carried forward with exploring these arches. From the car it looked very dark.
As the sun continued to rise it started filling the shadows with light. We were there just over an hour and the arches looked so different in that time lapse.
It was nearly impossible for me to capture both arches in a shot while standing beneath them. And with good reason as they are very large arches. The closest I got was with the fisheye lense I put on my iPhone.
When you’re sitting inside the arch the view towards the trailhead is nice too. You can see the parking lot so clearly, but they feel a world away standing in that space.
Delicate Arch, Petroglyphs and Wilson’s Cabin
We were so fortunate that someone was pulling out of a parking spot when we got to the end of the oblong shaped lot. Every single spot was filled, including the approximately 20 RV spots (filled with mostly non-RV-type vehicles). That’s why our first stop was supposed to be Delicate Arch. But everything worked out and we were pleasantly surprised to get a spot right away. Others may not be so lucky, so plan to arrive early!
This hike climbs 500 ft and is 3 miles long. But it is exposed. So exposed. Did I mention exposed? I went into sweaty workout-mode immediately with the help of the sun. There are very few places to rest in the shade and I could see people loosing steam on the way up. Make sure you are carrying enough water when you attempt this hike, especially in the summer months!
There’s a window on the way to delicate arch that’s easy to miss. I was curious to see what was on the other side and discovered this awesome view. Unfortunately, after taking some pictures here a line had formed. That was definitely a sign of things to come.
So you get the arch and now what? Want a picture with it? Of course! I did not hike in all of that sun up that super long rock to not capture a moment with the final destination! Well, this photo opportunity also had a line that had formed. I wasn’t happy about it. After all I’m a New Yorker and we do things on the move, never stopping/waiting. I was happy to see it wasn’t a very long line and it moved rather quickly for me.
One of our co-travelers didn’t have that same luck and was skipped twice! So Tony decided that while CJ struggled with the line and the skipping, he would take a much deserved nap in the shade.
Having had enough of the super touristy vibes it was time to head down. Going down is way easier and it gives you a completely different perspective of the landscape.
At the base of the delicate arch trail (at the entrance basically) there’s Ute Rock Art. The sign says it was carved between AD 1650-1850. You can walk right up to it, but DO NOT touch the art. Aside from preserving the art not touching it will also help you avoid a potential $250,000 fine and five year imprisonment. I’m glad they’re taking the preservation of these sights seriously!
After we completed the hike to delicate arch and viewed the Ute art, we visited the Wolfe Ranch. The first settler in this area, John Wesley Wolfe, built it in 1906. He’d been there since the late 1800s. It’s a one-room wooden cabin that housed Wolfe and his daughter’s family until the year 1910.
On the Garden Trail there are several options for arch viewing. We decided we would see the landscape arch because I read somewhere that it may not be around for much longer. The trail to the Landscape arch is 2.0 miles long and also very exposed. At the trailhead there are facilities and water fountains. There is no excuse, bring water!
Due to a rock slab falling in 1991, you can no longer hike right up to the arch. This is for safety reasons and the trail gets you to this point. Being closer would have been nice, but not worrying about a slab landing on me is really nice too.
Nicole and I were having a hard time capturing a photo with no one else in it. So the guys found this perfectly nap-able rock and got to it. Isn’t that a nice place for a nap?
When you’re walking back to your car, pay attention to the vista. Only in the southwest can you walk in the desert and still see snow 🙂
This formation is sandstone on top of mudstone. It had a counterpart that has fallen and it’s only a matter of time before the larger rock falls too. It’s interesting to see something so strong and heavy simultaneously be weak. What’s awesome trail-wise is that you park your car and walk right up to the base of this one. There isn’t any strenuous hiking and when you’ve had your fill you can run back to your car and pump the A.C.
As we got in the car and prepared to leave Arches we came across this view. I totally ran in traffic to capture this. I’m joking! I did it safely of course. Don’t tell my mom…
So Wilson’s arch is located just outside Arches National Park. It took us about 30 minutes to get there and there’s a large paved pull off for you to park. There aren’t any facilities here and when we arrived only two other cars were parked. Please be careful crossing the street here when coming from Arches. It’s not like the road inside the park with lower speed limits and tourist. This road has 16 wheelers and high speeds. This “trail” is about 1/2 mile long but steep. Watch your footing heading up and enjoy the view!
All things considered, Arches was beautiful. The arches are definitely something to see in person. To stand under and admire their grandness. I would love to come back and hike through the Furnace one day and share it with you. Want to know anything else about this day at the park? I’d be more than happy to share. Ask below in the comments section!
“An arch consists of two weaknesses which, leaning one against the other, make a strength.”
We woke up super early and were on our way to Capitol Reef! We stayed in Loa and were only 25 minutes away from the park. State Route 24 is a beautiful road to drive on and we were going to use it to traverse the park that day. Gifted with many beautiful sunrises that trip, I was grateful to be traveling with people who understand the importance of seizing the day. I would hate to miss morning views like the one we got that morning.
Once we were in the park we drove on Scenic Drive for 3.5 miles and turned onto Grand Wash road. This dirt road took us to the trailhead 1.2 miles away. There are flash flood warnings and a gate that was open when we arrived. I did a great deal of research for all the areas that had potential flash floods and had discovered this video. So please make sure you check for storms (especially upstream from the wash). That family was lucky to get out but I could see being seriously stuck if the water was any higher.
Once we got out of the car I noticed there were facilities at the trailhead. It’s a pit toilet, but for us small bladder owners, that’s all you really need lol.
The moon stayed out long enough to capture this picture. You can see the sun touching the peak turning it yellow just north of where we stood. Soon enough it would light up the whole park.
We walked on the trail and simply followed the signs. It is very easy to follow.
Some of the rock formations you see on the trail are like that of another world. I would go as far as saying it could even trigger someone’s trypophobia.
As we made our way we could see the sun forming shadows and illuminating rock faces. We were still wearing sweaters at this point because it hadn’t warmed up yet.
At this junction we joined the frying pan trail. It’s a sharp left and up. There’s a portion of this hike that gains 600 ft. very quickly and in a short distance.
Naturally the slick rock (with some human assistance) forms “stairs” to help you climb the trail.
And during that steep climb stopping for pictures is a great excuse to catch your breath. It was also nice to take a moment to notice the sun spreading it’s yellow light as it touches the rock formations ahead.
And then as though someone had flipped a switch the sun was on! There is less than a 20 minute time difference between the picture above and below. Awesome stuff and we hadn’t even gotten to the arch yet.
There was a moment where I couldn’t see where the arch could possibly be. And then this trusty little sign let us know we were heading the right way.
When we turned the corner, there it was! The arch! Still had a ways to go, but so excited to see the destination in sight.
Did you know the arch is named for the infamous outlaw Butch Cassidy? I wonder if there is any unfound loot in the thousands of hidden corners of the canyon. For the history buffs who want clarification between fact and fiction: I found a great article in the LA Times.
There comes a moment where the trail becomes harder to follow on the slick rock and these small cairns start appearing.
They appear in rows to guide us hikers.
And sometimes a bit more scarcely. But they guided us just the same. Thank you to whomever left these here for the thousands of people who hike this trail.
Finally, we were at the arch. What a beautiful sight! Of course being my very adventurous self I walked right up to the arch. It’s not as scary as I thought it would be but it’s enough to get my adrenaline going. I still can’t believe I was there even now as I look at that picture. You know what’s even crazier to think about? There was no one else. Not a single soul but us. We had the entire place to ourselves.
And since it was my best friend Nicole’s birthday we had a photoshoot up there. We weren’t being rushed by other hikers so we took our time and got all the angles. I love scrapbooking and like when I can make sure I have the perfect pictures for my books!
Just past the arch there’s a great vantage point overlooking the entrance to the Grand Wash. Great place to see the different layers of the Earth.
Even above from where I was sitting there was all this area to explore.
The views went on for what felt like forever.
On the way down we were told by other hikers that they could see the rose gold balloons from their cars driving into the Grand Wash. Watching Nicole head down with the balloons attached to her has to be one of the funniest things that happened that trip. 😂
We retraced our steps and headed back down to our car. When we drove out of the wash we were treated to some contrasting rock colors and super blue sky. It didn’t look this alive when we drove in that morning prior to the sun illuminating the canyon. And just like that we were done with the arch and onto the next adventure…
Having an affinity to any and everything old and indigenous I could not leave the park without visiting thepetroglyphs. I walked up to the boardwalk fixture they have just below the rock face and immediately spotted the markings. I have so many thoughts that whirl around my head when seeing this in person, even now my brain tries to put them into coherent words to share with you all.
When I travel I make connections with the spaces around me. Physical connections by touching a staircase handrail, visual connections by watching a beautiful sunset over the ocean, audio connections by hearing the birds, etc. The types of connections can be one or multi-sensory and impact me in different ways. I carry these connections I make with the world home with me. I think it’s the reason why I prioritize travel in my life. It makes me feel connected to the world as a whole. But at the petroglyphs it was more of a spiritual connection. The inhabitants of this area may not be our direct ancestors. But we are all human and come from the humans that have existed hundreds or thousands of years before us. It’s beautiful to stand in a space that they too stood in however long ago…
The etchings that have survived over time are at the base of the rock face. Try spotting them in the picture below. I’ll post a close up if you have a hard time spotting them from this distance.
Such a special place.
Here is the close up of the petroglyphs. I’m glad I was able to see them in person all these years after their creation. Hopefully you can see them one day too.
If you have already visited these or other petroglyphs, or if you’d like to one day, I would love to start a dialogue to share thoughts about what they mean to you. Leave a comment below!
“We’re all ghosts. We all carry, inside us, people who came before us.”