There is no doubt that Arches National Park in eastern Utah near the town of Moab is one of the most beautiful parks in the United States. With so many fascinating geological features, there are literally incredible sights around every corner as you drive through the park. There is one road that will take you through the heart of the park with a couple of side roads that lead to specific attractions and you can certainly see a lot that the park has to offer by simply driving through the park and pulling over at certain viewing areas. To really enjoy everything that the park has to offer, though, we’d highly recommend that you get out and hike a few of the trails.
Devils Garden Trail – This trail is one of the most popular trails within the park because of the diversity of the trail as well as the number of arches that can be seen on the trail. The first part of the trail is considered easy and also provides views of three arches, including the Landscape Arch, which was one of our favorites. After reaching the Landscape Arch, the trail becomes more difficult as you head toward Double O Arch and then the second half of the loop is extremely difficult where you need to rock scramble and there are steep slopes. For obvious reasons, many people only go as far as Landscape Arch, which was what we did as well.
Delicate Arch Trail – There are viewing areas that you can go to by car to see the famous Delicate Arch (which is seen on the state’s license plate), but to see it up close, you should take the popular Delicate Arch Trail. The trail is listed as moderate and, with the exposure to the sun, steep rock faces, and some narrow ledges towards the end, it is definitely not an easy trail. The views are definitely worth the effort as you gain a little over 600 feet in elevation with panoramic views in all directions. The highlight, of course, is Delicate Arch where people take turns having their pictures taken in front of the arch.
Sand Dune and Broken Arch Trail – This is a relatively short trail that can be found near the Devils Garden Campground. The trail first goes by the Sand Dune Arch, which gets its name from the sand that surrounds it. It then turns into a loop that will take you by Broken Arch and Tapestry Arch. If you want to keep it really short, you can visit the Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch and then return without doing the full loop.
Regardless of which trails you choose, you will truly appreciate the size and beauty of the many arches if you take the time to hike amongst them. Seeing how nature has carved the rocks through wind and rain erosion is certainly a wonderful experience whether you hike the trails or not. Arches National Park is certainly one of our favorite national parks and if you are a photographer, the variety of images that you can capture are truly endless.
When you go hiking in the mountains of Colorado, you expect the hikes to be fairly strenuous. Unless you’re going on a relatively short hike, there is most likely going to be a significant change in elevation. After all, you’re in the mountains and if you’re going to go hiking, it isn’t going to be flat. With that said, some hikes are harder than others. We’ve hiked to top of Pikes Peak, which is a 12 mile (19 kilometer) hike one-way to the summit and an elevation gain of over 8,000 feet (or 2,500 meters) as well as hiked on trails with ledges that were only as wide as our feet. We’re definitely not rock climbers, but from time to time you have to do some boulder scrambling in order to reach some of the more remote locations when hiking.
The hike that we took during one of our trips to Breckenridge, Colorado, was one of those hikes. The interesting thing about hiking when you have to scale some rocks or go on the edge of some steep cliffs is that it is usually more unnerving going down than it is going up. When you’re going up the mountain, your focus is on the trail ahead of you and the reaching the top of whatever you’re scaling. When you’re heading down, you tend to see how steep things really are and that makes it a little bit more scary.
We almost turned around a couple of times during the hike, but the payoff at the end was worth the effort. As is often the case when you hike in Colorado, the views at the peak or the end of a trail are absolutely spectacular. This particular hike brought us to a gorgeous pond where we sat and ate a brief lunch while we watched the mountain goats relax on the boulders above us. It was just the two of us and nature, and it was one of the most tranquil and relaxing experiences that we’ve had hiking. Perhaps it was due to the lack of oxygen and exhaustion, but the beauty around us was almost euphoric.
Unfortunately all hikes must end and eventually you have to work your way back down and back to reality and to civilization. On our way back down, when we reached the spot where we had climbed up several boulders along a very steep cliff, we scooted ourselves down as opposed to walking, not wanting to tumble down into the ravine. Hearts pounding, once we were down from the boulders, it was back to a normal hike and we were able to once again enjoy that beauty that surrounded us. There truly isn’t anything like hiking in the mountains and totally immersing oneself in nature.
We’ve been hiking in the mountains for years and have been fortunate to see our share of wildlife. Even better, we haven’t seen any bears or mountain lions, but we’ve come across fresh tracks and have been pretty certain that they’ve seen us. They say that if you hike in the mountains of Colorado, on about one out of ten hikes, a mountain lion has seen you, even though you don’t see them. With that in mind, we thought we’d share some tips to help you see wildlife when you hike, but always put safety first. Seasoned hikers will likely notice that most of these tips are in complete contrast to the tips for avoiding bears when hiking. If you’re hiking in bear country, always talk to the rangers and find out where there have been recent sightings and where the bears are most likely to be active. Never intentionally put yourself in harm’s way.
1. Be extremely observant – This is probably the most obvious, but if you’re not constantly scanning the area around, you’re likely walking by animals without even knowing it. It is always best if you see the animals before they see you, especially if there is even a remote chance that the animal could harm you, which is almost always the case. Almost any animal when startled or threatened has the potential to attack, so seeing them first allows you to control the situation.
2. Don’t make a lot of noise, talking in quieter voices – You don’t have to be completely silent, in fact we’d recommend that you make some noise and talk, just a normal pitch. If you’re making some noise, you’re less likely to startle an animal that perhaps you didn’t see, but still be quiet enough not to spook an animal that is farther away. There was one time when we were hiking near Beaver Creek, Colorado, when we ended up startling a young doe, even though we were talking and not being overly quiet. The deer literally ran into us as she made here escape, scaring us as much as we scared her.
3. Hike in smaller groups, usually three or less – Pretty much for the same reason as number two, the larger the group, the more noise that you make. Also, the more people in the group, the more motion that you make, the more reflective surfaces to catch the sun, the more noticeable that you are. Remember, the animals are watching for you as much as you might be searching for them. Just as you are more likely to notice a herd of deer versus as single deer, so is it true of them seeing you.
4. Watch for anything that moves – Being observant and scanning the horizon isn’t always enough, you need to pay attention to any motion that see. Sure, more often than not, it will be caused by the wind, but the animals are camouflaged, making them hard to see. What at first seems like the rustling of a leaf, might just turn out to be the wiggling of an ear. And if you see one animal, be extra careful, there are probably several more just out of sight.
5. Hike more remote, less frequented, trails – It doesn’t do any good to do everything possible to see wildlife if there are a hundred hikers in front of you doing the exact opposite. Getting away from roads, towns, and most importantly other hikers, will definitely increase your chances of seeing wildlife. Be smart, though, carry bear spray, phone, flashlight, compass, and extra food if you’re heading into remote areas. We always stay on well-marked trails and don’t go venturing off into the woods. The national forest system in Colorado is huge and you could easily get yourself lost for days if decide to go trailblazing.
6. Hike near dawn or dusk – Animals are always most active around these times, so be extra alert when hiking at these times of day. Light can be an issue as the shadows are longer and it isn’t as easy to see off into the distance. Take your time when hiking during these times so that you don’t startle an animal that you didn’t see as well as to give yourself time to truly see what is all around you.
7. Carry binoculars or camera with a telephoto lens – Obviously it makes it easier to see animals in the distance if you can zoom in and focus closer on them. It is also the safest way to observe animals without putting yourself at risk. We’re not professional photographers, but we did invest in a telephoto lens a few years ago and it was one of the best investments that we’ve made.
8. Spend time in locations that are likely to draw animals – Sources of water and food are the most likely places to find animals, so spending time near those locations, especially at dusk or dawn, will increase your chances of seeing them. Animals also use the trails to get through the forest as much as hikers do, simply because it is easier for them to walk on the trails, so staying on the trails will increase your chances of seeing them. Sometimes the most likely place to see animals isn’t where you might expect it. One of our funniest stories about seeing animals in the wild was when we were in Estes Park, Colorado, many years ago. We had gone hiking at dusk and waited by an open field with a stream running through it and, after much waiting, a herd of elk finally appeared. It was autumn, so the temperatures quickly dropped and we were frozen by the time we got back to the car, but we were happy to have seen the elk. We drove back to our hotel and lo and behold there were hundreds of elk walking around the property nibbling on the fresh grass. It hadn’t crossed our minds that they would be drawn to the green grass of the hotel versus foraging for food in the wild.
Hopefully you will have as much luck as we’ve had seeing wildlife by using these tips. We can’t say it enough, though, be smart about it and don’t do anything too risky. Always respect wildlife, some animals may look cute, but they are wild animals and therefore can be unpredictable.