Thursday, May 21, 2020

Landscape and Partition Arches

Landscape Arch
3 miles round trip, 550 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy to Landscape Arch, Moderate to Partition Arch
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Arches National Park entrace fee required

A delicate ribbon of sandstone soaring above the Utah desert, Landscape Arch is the longest of 2000 such features in Arches National Park and an extraordinary act of defiance to the laws of gravity. Until recent discoveries in the karst landscapes of southern China, Landscape Arch was the longest measured arch in the world. The arch is so thin as to defy belief; in fact, the current slenderness of Landscape Arch only resulted after a partial collapse of the arch in 1991. Weathering is constant and arches are temporary on the Colorado Plateau, so don't put off your visit to Arches National Park for too long if you want to see this natural wonder.

This hike first visits Landscape Arch via an easy trail, then continues to Partition Arch with its lovely views of the rock needles of Devils Garden via a more difficult rock scramble. The views from Partition Arch are excellent, but hikers who want to avoid the rock scramble can skip Partition Arch while still visiting Landscape Arch and taking in one of the park's two most famed natural features. The mileage for this hike includes a detour to see Tunnel and Pine Tree Arches near the start of the hike. The hike to Landscape Arch alone, without visiting the three other arches, is 1.6 miles round trip. The hike is short but this desert is hot, especially in the summer, so it's extremely important to pack enough water.

I visited Landscape Arch during a trip to Arches National Park with my mom. From Moab, you can reach the trailhead by heading north on US Route 191; after crossing the Colorado River, make the turnoff on the right for Arches National Park and follow the main park road until it ends at the parking roundabout at Devils Garden.

The sandstone fins of the Devils Garden rose above the trailhead. From the parking lot, the path led into a narrow passageway between two fins, emerging on the other side into a shrubby desert landscape dotted with fins and needles of Entrada Sandstone.

Devils Garden
The wide trail- gravel in spots, partially paved in others- came to a junction in just 0.2 miles, where the main trail split to the left and the detour to Tunnel and Pine Tree Arch headed right. Curious to check out all the arches, we took the right fork, which descended a bit and then almost immediately came to another fork. Here, Pine Tree Arch was to the left and Tunnel was to the right. We visited Tunnel Arch first: this was a large arch carved into a thick fin of sandstone, impressive in size but lacking the beauty of Delicate or Landscape Arches.

Tunnel Arch

We next headed over to Pine Tree Arch. This is a thick arch at the head of a small ravine, in an earlier stage of weathering than the more sculpted Landscape or Delicate Arches. The edges of Pine Tree Arch are rough, with evidence of blocks that have collapsed, and a pine tree grows at the base of the arch, giving the arch its name.

Pine Tree Arch
We backtracked to the main trail, with a slight incline on the return. As we continued on towards Landscape Arch, the trail cut through a few more passageways in the fins and then entered a brushy grassland. Crossing this undulating landscape, we had views of the fins and needles ahead in the densest parts of the Devils Garden.

Devils Garden
The first views of Landscape Arch soon appeared off to the left: as the arch is at a lower elevation than the fin behind it, it can be hard to spot from this oblique angle. Soon the nicer gravel trail ended, intersecting with the Devil's Garden primitive loop and switching to a sandy, more challenging tread.

First view of Landscape Arch
We took the left fork for the viewpoint below Landscape Arch and followed the trail to the base of the arch. From this viewpoint under the arch, we could see sky below the arch, finally allowing us to appreciate the arch's incredible length. The stone of the arch is so incredibly thin but somehow still stands as it spans nearly 300 feet. For much of the time since this arch's discovery, it has been the longest known arch in the world; however, a spate of discoveries in the karst regions of southern China's Guangxi Province in the past decade have dethroned Landscape Arch. Today, Xianren Bridge holds the world record and is a hundred feet longer than Landscape Arch; however, none of the more newly discovered natural arches have a look as delicate as Landscape Arch.

If you wish to see this arch in your lifetime, it's a good idea to visit sooner rather than later: all arches are temporary. Nearby Wall Arch in the Devil's Garden collapsed just a few years ago and Landscape Arch itself suffered a partial collapse in 1991, shedding a large chunk to gain its current thin form.

Landscape Arch
The trail up to Landscape Arch is flat and easy but changes significantly as it continues towards Partition Arch. Past Landscape Arch, the well maintained trail fades to a primitive trail, which entered a ravine and then began climbing up the spine of a sandstone fin. This segment required a bit of rock scrambling and the slickrock was a bit steep in places.

Scrambling up into the rocky wonderland of Devils Garden
As I climbed up the slickrock, great views opened up behind me of the Devils Garden and the La Sal Mountains in the distance. Atop the fin, I looked back and spotted both Landscape Arch, which I had just left, and Partition Arch, a hole in a higher sandstone ridge.

Devils Garden
Landscape and Partition Arches
At the top of the fin, the Devils Garden Trail flattened out and cut through another passageway between fins to intersect with the spur to Partition and Navajo Arches. I took the left fork here to head toward these side arches; shortly afterward, I came to another fork, where I again took the left fork and headed towards Partition Arch. This trail went down a slot between two sandstone walls and ended at Partition Arch. This was a smaller arch- just a hole in a sandstone wall- but it had an excellent view out over Devils Garden and beyond to the canyonlands defining the Colorado Plateau.

Partition Arch
Partition Arch
We turned around at Partition Arch as we had Delicate Arch on the schedule later in the afternoon. However, hikers who have more time can visit Navajo Arch by adding an additional half mile round trip to the hike or continue along the Devils Garden Trail to Double O Arch and Dark Angel, a prominent rock tower. The further stretches of the Devils Garden Trail are primitive and involve scrambling, so make sure you're prepared before heading deeper into this maze of fins and needles.

The easy hike to Landscape Arch is a highlight of Arches National Park along with Delicate Arch; the pleasant trip through Devils Garden to see this uniquely thin sandstone arch and three other arches is recommended for all visitors to this park.

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