Arches Natinal Park Ride

Turn right to exit the Arches National Park Visitor Center and begin a 2-mile climb, via switchbacks. At the top of the switchbacks, enjoy the panorama of the La Sal Mountains, which are to the southeast. From here, you may be challenged to keep your eyes on the road, because Arches is a smorgasbord of eye candy. Various counts estimate that there are from 1,500 to 2,000 arches within the compact 116-squaremile park. (Arches are sandstone formations that have been hollowed out through the erosive action of wind and water.) In addition to arches, there are numerous other rock formations, along with varied, tantalizing landscapes. Most of the prominent formations have names that incite the imagination. At mile 2.7 (from the park entrance), you enter the eerie landscape of “petrified dunes” — red-hued sandstone, buckled and shifted over an unstable bed of salt after exposure to wind, water, freezing, and thawing. The road is primarily downhill here.

At mile 3.7, you are surrounded by five outstanding rock formations, including The Organ, Courthouse Towers, and, a little farther up, the Tower of Babel on the right; Three Gossips and Sheep Rock are on the left. Continue descending to the crossing of Courthouse Wash, then begin to climb. Petrified dunes are on the right; rock pinnacles and The Great Wall are on the left. Balanced Rock is on the right at mile 9.0. Turn right at mile 9.2 (from the park entrance) to head toward The Windows (there are no street signs within the park). The road continues for 2.5 miles before emptying into the parking area for The Windows. Presuming that you are not planning to dismount, continue through the parking lot, around the loop, and return to the road for the return trip. Although you may not see any “Windows,” you will see Ham Rock on the right on the way in, and the Parade of Elephants on the right on the way out. The Garden of Eden and Double Arch are on the right on the way out.

At the main road, turn right and continue toward the interior of the park. You have now covered 14.3 miles. The road descends, getting steeper at mile 15.5. Turn right at mile 17.6 to head toward Delicate Arch. This is Arches’ most photographed arch. If you do not dismount and walk the trail at the end of the 2.2-mile road, however, you will not see the arch. On the way to the Delicate Arch parking area, you will pass by Wolfe Ranch, where the Wolfe family lived from 1888 to 1910, attending to their cattle. Just beyond the ranch, on the way to Delicate Arch, is a floodwater crossing.

Return to the main road and turn right to continue into the park. You have now covered 22.3 miles. The road climbs; the arches and rock formations disappear for a while as you pass through a desert scrub landscape. Off to the right is the Fiery Furnace, an intricate maze of deep slots and narrow canyons. Spires appear on the right at mile 25.0; the road crests at mile 26.3. Skyline Arch is on the right at mile 27.2. One-half mile later, you enter Devils Garden, a truly extraterrestrial landscape.

If you want to see the staggering collection of arches in this area, you must get off the bicycle and hike. Otherwise, continue through the parking area, around the loop, and return to the main road.

The return trip allows a different perspective on the memorable sights seen on the outbound trip. You will not ride any of the spurs on the return. The return ride begins with a 4-mile descent, from miles 29.9 to 33.9, followed by a 1.6-mile climb. The road is level for 0.8 mile, then there is a 0.7-mile climb to Balanced Rock.

From here, descend for 4.3 miles to Courthouse Wash, followed by a 2.7-mile climb to Courthouse Towers on the left, Three Gossips on the right, and the other majestic rock formations aforementioned. Viewing these magnificent structures again is a reminder that some of Arches’ most breathtaking scenery is within just 3 miles of the entrance. Just beyond this area, begin to descend, on switchbacks, to the visitor center. Your inspired legs probably will not even feel as if they have just ridden 46.4 miles (especially if you remembered to bring enough fluids).