On a slow day, 4,000 people visit Arches National Park. The traffic is often backed up onto Highway 191. And jockeying for parking spots are a bit too reminiscent of what I left behind on The Front Range trailheads.
But here’s the thing.
According to NPS statistics, the average visit is only about two hours. And only 1% of the visitors visit the backcountry.
Meaning with some map reading and plotting out a route, a hiker can find their version of Desert Solitaire for a little bit.
Arches few people see, canyons with no footprints, and even overnight trips. Joan and I have been hiking at this gem of the National Park System that is only thirty minutes from our home.
Yes, we have to get there early to avoid a line at the entrance station and find a parking spot or enter through adjacent BLM land, but once we are in the Arches backcountry, we see no one.
We have wildness even when Highway 191 is spotted in the distance, or a line of cars is left behind at popular trailheads where we started.
We see Navajo sandstone, potholes full of the recent rains, and cottonwoods starting to turn yellow rather than people queuing up at Delicate Arch.
I am thankful that the National Parks give people access to places such as Delicate Arch or Balanced Rock. Americans and people from abroad need a way to appreciate the natural world. The mission of the national parks is beyond creating a sense of the wild for most people. The famous places are enough of the natural world for most. And should be celebrated by the majority and enjoyed.
But it does not mean that is how I wish to experience the national parks.
So off the beaten path we go.
And with over 2000 arches in the park, a perfect chance to see places not featured in the visitor center brochures.
On a recent trip, we walked past the site of the old entrance station, the site of the original ranger cabin, and where Ed Abbey wrote the famous book that, at times, he rued he wrote.
His sardonic take on Arches in the 1980s is worth watching. I can only imagine how he’d feel now with Instagram, selfie sticks, and short, bald, bloggers documenting his former stomping grounds?
But I do know he’d appreciate some of the solitude and wildness we found in Arches. Even on a weekend in October.
A little off the beaten path is all it takes. And finding a way of our own.