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Devils Garden in Arches NP

Landscape Arch is one of the longest arches in the world.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park is home to almost a dozen arches including Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Landscape Arch, Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, Double O Arch, Dark Angel, and Private Arch. You can pick and choose which arches you want to visit and which sections of trail to take.

Trip Report: April 13, 2012


Devils Garden to Double O Arch at EveryTrail

Devils Garden in Arches National Park
Devils Garden in Arches National Park

Unfinished

Arches is a landscape of change. The vertical slabs of rock all around you are called fins, and they were once a solid layer of sandstone. Over time:

  1. Stresses within the rock made the later crack.
  2. Water entered the cracks and made them bigger.
  3. Water continued to erode the rocks.
  4. Fins and arches remain.

Trail Information

Trails are marked with small piles of rocks called cairns. To avoid becoming lost, sight the next cairn before continuing.

The first 0.8 mile (1.3 km) of the main trail, which is graveled and well graded, winds among the tall fins to a spectacular view of Landscape Arch. The trail beyond becomes more challenging. It has sloping surfaces, goes across or on top of sandstone fins and in close proximity even when dry. Hiking the primitive loop requires that you walk on steep, sloping sandstone surfaces.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

Devils Garden Trail

Longest of the maintained trails in the park, Devils Garden Trail goes to eight impressive arches, with several more visible from the trail. Your time, interest, and hiking ability are important factors as you choose a trail route in Devils Garden.

To Landscape Arch (green):

This trail is easy and well-graded. A loop goes under the arch for a closer look at one of the longest natural stone spans in the world. Short side trips to Tunnel and Pine Tree Arch are options.

To Double O Arch (blue):

The trail between Landscape Arch and Double O Arch is more difficult, winding along the narrow tops of exposed sandstone fins, then up and down short, steep crevices where steps have been cut into the rock. This section is not recommended for hikers with extreme acrophobia (fear of heights) or when lightning storms are near.

Primitive Loop Trail (red):

This rugged portion of Devils Garden includes frequent scrambling and rocky surface hiking on a less-developed trail, difficult to follow in places. It loops around from Double O Arch to Landscape Arch by way of Fin Canyon, adding a mile (1.6 km) to the return. Not recommended when rock is wet or snowy.

Trail Data

Length:

Devils Garden Trail: 1.7 miles (11.5 km), entire trail to all points of interest, returning on Primitive Loop Trail (red trail).

To Landscape Arch (green trail): 0.8 mile (1.3 km) one way.

To Double O Arch (blue trail): 2 miles (3.2 km) one way.

Elevation Changes:

Considerable up and down throughout trail length; less in beginning.

Starting and Ending Point:

Devils Garden parking area.

Best Time of Day:

Anytime. Mornings are cooler and offer better light for photographing.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park
Devils Garden in Arches National Park

It's Alive

Along the trails, you may notice patches of black crust on the soil (through early stages of development are nearly invisible). Known as "cryptobiotic crust," it is a mixture of cyanobacteria, mosses, lichen, fungi and algae.

This remarkable plant community holds the desert sands together, absorbs moisture, produces nutrients, and provides seedbeds for other plants to grow.

This crust is so fragile that one footprint can wipe out years of growth.

Please don't walk on it. Stay on trails!

A Changing Landscape: Naturally

The Devils Garden Trail leads you between sheer walls of sandstone fins, which, we hope, will make you wonder about how they were made. Simply put, vertical cracks in a thick layer of sandstone are being eroded and widened by water ? scoured by runoff from rainfall or snow melt, or pried and exfoliated by ice expansion.

We are fortunate to be here at this precise time in earth history, because these unusual stone formations probably will last a few thousand years, not long as geologic time goes. The events that set the stage for arches, fins, and other intriguing rock shapes have taken place over millions of years. Beginning about three hundred million years ago a series of oceans cave and went in this area. As the seas evaporated, they left salt beds that were five thousand feet thick in some places. Over subsequent millions of years, deep accumulations of sands, silts, and clays were blown and washed down upon the salt deposits. As it was squeezed around by uneven weight and pressure, the salt was pushed up into what geologists call and anticline. Later tectonic events pushed some of the overlying horizontal rock layers upward, cracking them vertically. The cracks allowed rainwater to reach the salt beds, and the salt dissolved and seeped away.

As the salt receded, the overlying rock sank with it. Arches’ Salt Valley is a example of the resulting landform. At the edges of the valley the cracked rock was pulled apart slightly. Rain and snow could even more readily soak into the vertical cracks, dissolve the cementing minerals, and loosen the grains of sand to be carried away by running water. (The erosional power of water is demonstrated during summer thunderstorms when the normally dry stream channels surge with raging water, so loaded with sediment that water and rock are the same color.) As the cracks widen, tall fins are left standing.

In some instances, weak zones in fins are either dissolved by naturally occurring acids in rainwater or wedged apart by freezing and thawing water, and openings develop. These openings evolve into the varied and splendid arches that capture our admiration.

Landscape Arch, one of the world’s longest stone spans, stretches 306 feet (93 meters) thick at its center. It was almost five feet thicker until September 1991 when a few small pieces of the arch began to fall. Within seconds a 60-foot-long (18-meter-long) slab of rock dropped from the underside of the arch’s thinnest section. Some of the large boulders on the slope beneath the arch are remnants of this event.

As we peer through arch openings, we are reminded of the dynamic nature of our earth. Some of the sand beneath our feet could be majestic arches of long ago. In time, today’s familiar arches, buttes, and spires will rejoin the shifting sands and perhaps one day become ingredients for another awe-inspiring landscape.

A Changing Landscape: Not-So-Naturally

“Each and every one of us plays a part in the changes that ceaselessly work to maintain the balance of the Earth? Our individual contributions are tiny but the sum of all human activities is large.”

Your actions will help determine whether Nature of people’s activity will be the primary cause of change here in Devils Garden, Park managers face the challenging task of preserving the parks from pressures of rapidly increasing numbers of visitors. They must also address the effects out-of-park developments have upon park resources. Your support and understanding of management policies are critical to their success, and your ideas for management strategies to deal with these impacts are always welcome!

From our April 2012 trip:

Participants: Zac, Bryce, Jeremy, Tara, Savannah.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

Zac and Bryce climbed up a dry fall on the side of the trail. Good practice for escaping potholes when canyoneering.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

Zac volunteered (against his will) to carry Savannah because my neck was hurting me.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

We got to Landscape Arch in about half an hour. We stopped and took several panoramas and an HDR or two (on Zac's camera, not ours) then kept going. We should have detoured to Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch, but we didn't know about them.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

Landscape Arch

September 1, 1991 - Hikers thought they heard cracks of thunder from distant clouds. Visitors resting under Landscape Arch noticed loud cracking and popping noises overhead. They fled as small rocks tumbled from the slender 306-foot-long span. Moments later, a 60-foot-long rock clab peeled away from the arch’s right side. When the dust settled, 180 tons of fresh rock debris lay scattered on the ground. What caused this cataclysmic event? Water had been slowly shaping the arch for countless centuries, dissolving cement between sand grains, seeping into tiny cracks, freezing and expanding. What had finally upset the delicate balance?

Unseasonably heavy rains the preceding ten days may have filled pore spaces within the sandstone. The added weight may have finally overwhelmed the rock slab in its timeless struggle with gravity.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park
Devils Garden in Arches National Park
Devils Garden in Arches National Park
Devils Garden in Arches National Park
Devils Garden in Arches National Park

We weren't really sure how far we wanted to hike what with Tara being pregnant and all, but Double O Arch sounded cool, so headed that way.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

The sign says it's a primitive trail with difficult hiking...

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

But we think that must mean for people in wheelchairs because the trail was anything but primitive.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

OK, so maybe it did involve climbing some rock fins, but nothing that required the use of hands.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

The trail gives you the option of detouring to Partition Arch and Navajo Arch, but we saved those for another trip.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park
Devils Garden in Arches National Park

One of the coolest things about the hike to Double O Arch was the view into Devils Garden. You're way up high on a rock fin, and you can see the whole valley. It's an awesome view.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

If this was primitive, there wouldn't be nice steps cut into the rock.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park
Devils Garden in Arches National Park
Devils Garden in Arches National Park

The next fin takes you to a view of Black Arch.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park
Devils Garden in Arches National Park
Devils Garden in Arches National Park

Black Arch is the little black spot in the left third of the picture below.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

Here's a closeup of Black Arch.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

This is where Savannah reached the end of her endurance.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

A rock cairn.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

Pretty yellow flower.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

Cactus.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

There were tons of sweet dead trees.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

The sand and wind weather the tree stumps until they get really gnarly.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park
Devils Garden in Arches National Park

We got to Double O Arch after about an hour and twenty minutes. Obviously it could be done a lot quicker, but we were enjoying the view along the way.

Double O Arch is an interesting double arch. There is a large hole at the bottom and an even larger hole at the top. The bottom arch is kind of hard to see in the picture below because there are some trees in the way.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

Group shot (Bryce, Zac, Savannah, Tara, Jeremy) in the lower arch of Double O Arch.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

Here's a picture of Double O Arch stitched from 6 or 8 pictures. No tripod so not bad.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

Tara relaxing in the arch.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

Here's probably the best shot showing both arches.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

I found a way to climb up inside the second arch.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

A view from on top of Double O Arch. The guy in the white shirt was from Alaska. He tried to climb up too but couldn't make it.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

Bryce and Zac on top of Double O Arch.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park

Pictures from the return hike:

Devils Garden in Arches National Park
Devils Garden in Arches National Park