The Road to Druid Arch
The Needles District of Canyonlands NP is our go-to place when we are looking for a desert experience. It is beautiful, close to home, and not as crowded as Moab, which has become a Mecca for bicyclists year-round. While the campground in the park often fills up during peak season, the close-by Needles Outpost usually has spots available and the view of the Needles from there is breathtaking.
Over the years, Suzy and I have hiked just about every trail in the park multiple times with one notable exception, Druid Arch. We had tried hiking it years ago but it was late in our trip, we were tired from other hikes, and the heat and distance kept us from reaching the prize.
To be fair, it isn’t easy. The distance is 11 miles round trip. The route to the arch takes you in and out of canyons, down sandy washes, up steep banks, over slickrock pour-overs and, just before reaching the arch, up a steep slope of loose sand and rocks. Add to that the facts that you have to haul all the water you need and the temperature can swing up to 40f throughout the day. So, a nice temperature of 60f degrees in the morning can turn into a 90f to 100f degree day by late afternoon with your water supply fading fast.
This past spring we decided to try again and this time we came prepared. We had plenty of rest, a good supply of water, and most importantly, we knew what we were in for… mostly. Even with all of our preparation and determination there were a few times when we considered turning back. For Suzy, who has a little issue with heights, there were a couple of slickrock sections, an awkward climb up a ladder, and the final assent up that loose sandy section that almost made her retreat. For me it was the sand. Walking for mile after mile in loose sand just sucks up all of my energy.
Still, we pushed on. Up, down, over, around.
When we came across the ladder we knew we were close. When we got to the sandy slope we knew we were closer. But, we couldn’t see it. We were looking all over for the arch. We didn’t know what it looked like so we didn’t know what to look for. Here we are, over five miles from nowhere, and we can’t see it. It had to be right in front of us.
We were just about to give in when Suzy saw a person above us and to the right. They were standing on a slickrock outcropping looking up. We followed their gaze and there it was, the top of the arch. Just 50 more feet and we were looking right up at it.
I can’t really say that we were in awe. We were in exhaustion. But the arch is quite amazing and unlike any we had seen before. We lingered under it for a while, ate lunch, watched other hikers come and go. And then, after an hour or more, we got that feeling. Time to go. Just five and a half miles back to the car.