Fiery Furnace – Must Do Hike at Arches NP


(OMG – another unpublished post just sitting in my draft folder. Well – better now then never I say)

Read about Arches – and you’ll read about Fiery Furnace – a 3 hour adventure hike into the fins, canyons, and crevases that are the Fiery Furnace. You can take the ranger lead version (which we did) by either signing up 90 days in advance – and paying your $15 – or you can take a chance on the ranger led version having space when you arrive. There are also numerous privately led hikes into the Fiery Furnance – smaller groups of folks led by qualified guides for lots more $$.

I knew when we’d be at Arches – and I knew we wanted to do this hike – so I opted for the Ranger led version – and signed up the requiste 90 days ahead. So worth it!

I’d orginally thought it would be Sophie – my husband – and myself. So I got 3 tickets. But my husband got scared by the description – they certainly don’t make this hike sound like a walk in the park – and he opted out. The good news – the description didn’t scare 9 year old Sophie one bit – and my friend Kit decided to join in! So the 3 of us rose early, ate a quick breakfast and headed out. One ranger – and 30 hikers made up our group. The composition was interesting – easily a majority of the hikers were from across the seas – Holland, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand – and of course France. Ok – we speak french, so it’s easy for us to spot folks from France – but even so – I’m thinking that if I did a visitor head count – I’d find that folks from France out-number visitors for all other countries – including the US! And I’m begining to feel like the token Canadians. I can count the Canadians I’ve met on one hand – minus 3 fingers!

But as usual – I digress.

We start the hike with a ranger check list – Welcome to the Park, Protect and Preserve, Bring and Drink Lots and Lots of Water, No leaving trash, No grafetti. We are at altitude – say something if you feel dizzy, see stars, get grumpy!

The first sign of dehydration is often grumpiness – some people have been dehydrated their whole lives…

Ranger Sue does a quick shoe check – yup, we all read the warnings and we are wearing proper shoes for the hike – and off we go.

A weather note – we are seriously lucky today. It’s cooled down a bit after last nights rain – it’s a decidedly moderate 90 – and there’s a bit of cloud cover. Should be great in the fins.

Sophie bounces to the front of the line – along with all the other younger folks on the hike. She’s the youngest – but not the smallest – so she feels like she fits right in – and she and the other kids set the pace behind the ranger.

The old folks – and that would be me – at 68 I’m the oldest on this hike – bring up the rear guard. The good news – there are 3 gentlemen in the group that take turns helping Kit and I navigate the steeper, deeper, narrower, more challenging portions. We scramble up stone faces, slide on our butts down rock slides stopping ourselves against carefully positioned stones – do a duck walk across a carvass – and wiggle our way thru some seriously narrow slits. It’s a hoot! I’m loving this! The beauty is simply astounding, when I take a moment to enjoy it! Fortunately, Ranger Sue is very aware of the old folks struggling in the back – and sends the kids off to explore a crawl thru arch while we get a chance to catch up with the crowd.

Once inside the fins, there are no obvious trail markers – although Ranger Sue clearly knows where she is going. And we pass at least 2 ‘private’ tours – headed in other directions thru the narrow canyons, winding stone faces, and arches that make up the Fiery Furnace.

Along the way – Ranger Sue takes time to talk a bit about the geology of the land – but mostly we are concerned with not falling, not slipping, not hurting ourselves!

When we arrive at a ‘room’ that Ranger Sue calls “Hidden Arch”, we take a breather, learn about the juniper, which apparently ‘self prunes’ to keep the healthy portions alive – and do a very cute exercise.

Ranger Sue says that there are 4 reasons folks come to Arches – To make Memories, To have an Adventure, from an Eco perspective, and for the Beauty. She asks us to divide up into those 4 groups – and probably not surprisingly – I’m in the Adventure group with all the younger folks! In thinking about it – it’s not really ‘Adventure’ that got me here – it’s the challenge. Can I still do this – and more importantly – for how much longer.

Challenge aside – this has been a wonderful 3 hours – I’ve decided that I’m still young enough to handle at least this much scrambling, wiggling, and rock climbing – and still have a smile on my face.

We get back to what passes as civilization in Arches – a pit toilet, a parking lot, and a sign showing information about the trail – and say thank you to Ranger Sue.

On to our next challenge – signing off for now – The Soup Lady

Arches National Park – August 2016


Several LONG years ago I made a bucket list of all the things that I’d like to do before I die – or become so old and out of shape that I could no longer do stuff. One of my top items was visit all the US National Parks. In a motor Home. Camping. Taking my time to see them if not thoughly, at least as well as I could.

I know – so many problems with this as a bucket list item. First – time! These trips can’t be short – in and out – visits. By definition, if you have a motor home – you are a snail. And lots of the parks make it hard to drive around them in a house on wheels.

2nd – while many of the parks are located quite close together – they aren’t that close. So it not only takes time to see one park – it takes time to get from one park to the next.

And there were problems I hadn’t counted on. The first time we made an attempt to do this – we failed pretty badly. Which really is the subject of a blog all on its own. But this time – we did a lot better.

First – we allocated 3 weeks to just 5 parks. Already – this is a good move. 21 days, 5 parks – 4 days per park. Discount the travelling time – still 3 days per park. Should work, right. Well – here I am on day 7 – having done 3 parks – and I can tell you – you need more time. You need time to STOP. Don’t underestimate the need to stop. I’m wiped out – and as gross as this sounds – I’m really glad I’m in a non-primative campground with water, electricity, shade – and time to just write and think.

2nd – and this is huge – we not only rented a motor home – we rented a car! Yes it means that we are driving 2 vehicles between the parks – but that’s why they have books on tape, right. The advantages are huge. You want to go out for dinner – take the car. You want to drive the rim roads – narrow and winding as they always are in a National Park – leave the motor home safely parked at the visitors center – take the car! Huge advantage.

3rd – we knew that organization was key. You can’t do this and leave stuff here one minute and there the next. You will never, ever find it. Things need to have assigned places – and that’s where they will live for 3 weeks. Trust me – misplace your glasses – and you’ll be sorry for days!

So – on to Arches.

Important things to note – it’s August, it’s hot. And it rains. Don’t let them fool you – 100 degrees is hot. Hot, Hot, Hot. And you are going to need to drink water before you need to drink water. That’s the real challenge with walking Arches. You don’t feel thirsty – so you think – later. Then when you do feel thirsty – it’s a bit late.

As one guide quipped – the first sign of dehydration is grumpiness – Some people have been dehydrated most of their lives…

Another note – in August, in Arches – it’s crowded. Really mobbed. So avoid the major hikes, the major views, the major ‘highlights’. They are no fun shared with 500 of your best friends. The memorable moments here have been the ones we’ve done in our small group.

Best unknown hike – Brokern Arch and Tapesty Arch. Easy walks from the Devils Garden Campground – lots of parking – and no people! And no rules. You can climb up under the arch, take photos without limits – and probably not see another person. The begining of the hike is easy – if you don’t mind deep sand. You follow cairns (rock piles) from bend to bend until suddenly the arch appears out of nowhere. There are options for the return – you can retrace your steps – or you can opt for the more difficult and longer hike back thru the arch. We didn’t realize that the 2nd part would be longer and harder – but it was well worth doing – we scrambled thru fins of tall rock walls, climbed up stone steps, and generally were alone with the lizards. Such fun.

Best known hike – Fiery Furnace. You have to either sign up for the ranger led version months earlier – or pay a fortune to be guided thru the ‘Furnace’ by a commercial (but much more private) guide. It’s not a hike for the casual hiker – but it is fun! We learned to duck walk – one foot on either side of a carvass – to use both hands and feet to naviagate narrow passes – and had the option of doing a crawl thru. It was a hoot. And glorious beyond belief. If you have the time, have no fear of heights, and are in good shape – take a chance – take this hike. Oh – one more caution – you’ll need to be relatively thin. There are two narrow sections that just won’t work for wider folks – and you absolutely need good hiking shoes with grippy soles. And a hat, water, and suntan lotion.

Best ranger talk – We went to 2 of the ranger talks – and the best one was a total surprise. Called the Voices of Arches – it was a history of the 4 guys that did the most to protect and perserve Arches as a National Park that could be visited by thousands of folks in a single day. Well presented, and so interesting. Loved it.

Where to stay? We spent 3 nights in the National Park Campground right in the Park – 45 minutes driving distance from the Visitor Center. It was a relatively primitive campsite – no electricity or water hook-up, but it did have lovely flush toilets a short walk away, a picnic table, and magnificant views. One evening – the only clear one we’ve had so far – my 9 year old grand daughter and I just sat outside and admired the sky. The Milky Way arched over our heads, we could easily spot the jet liners criss-crossing out section of the world on their way to somewhere else – and we even saw several falling stars. This evening was well worth the price of admission. The red rocks were behind us, around us – and so close that you could reach out and touch them from the picnic table. That’s breakfast deluxe in my world. Sophie climbed and explored, and watched the lizard family next door go about their business of raising the kids. Rabbit sightings and Mule deer sighting were other highlights. Well worth the lack of showers, although the lack of AC was a challenge. It’s hot hot hot until the sun goes down, and it doesn’t really cool off till after midnight. And then of course it gets cold. But still – it was awesome.

So – one down – so many more to go!

Signing off to visit another National Park – The Soup Lady