Hike of the Week — Mesa Arch

Things to Do, What's New — By julietrevelyan on January 9, 2011 at 2:12 am

Come get your winter sunrise photos here. Or at least a winter photo. Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park is a truly lovely hike. Winter sunrise might be a bit much to ask, considering how dark and cold and potentially snowy it might be. Or it could be perfect. Either way, this is a short hike, usually pretty easy to do in the winter, and it has really awesome views no matter when you go. (Although sunrise really does provide he best lighting.) Found in the Island in the Sky section, it’s accessible and open year round.

[photo courtesy of deansouglass/Flickr]

How to do this hike:

1. From the Island in the Sky visitor center, continue south on Grand View Point Road, the main road into the Park. The Mesa Arch trailhead will be on your left about six miles down. Park here. If you do this trail during the more popular months, be prepared for massive crowds; this is the most hiked trail in Canyonlands.

[photo courtesy of gregw66/Flickr]

2. Pick up a trail guide for added depth. There are sign markers by many of the native flora along the way.

3. Once on the trail, it will split into a Y shape, since it’s a little loop hike. Take either route to the arch, as both are fine. Ditto for the way back.

4. Mesa Arch seems to dangle right over the edge of the mesa. It’s smaller than most people expect, and not particularly spectacular in and of itself, except for the view it frames. Then you’ll understand why so many people trek out here and take those oh-so-iconic photos.

[photo courtesy of rickpawl/Flickr]

Tips on doing this hike:

1. The trail is a half mile long and sports about 100 feet in elevation gain, so you easily should be able to combine Mesa Arch with several small hikes in one day.

2. Sunrise is considered a photographic classic for this arch. Winter sunrises can be just as spectacular as summer; just beware possible ice or deep snow depending on the particular year. For the best shots, you likely want to be close to the arch, like about 5-10 feet away, especially if you want to capture the red glow of the rising sun’s light on the underbelly of the arch itself. (Unless you’re a great photographer like the guy who took the one below.) Also, the La Sal Mountains are framed perfectly through the arch.

[photo courtesy of snowpeak/Flickr]

3. If you’re trying to make sunrise and thus driving the road in the dark, watch out for deer right on the road.

4. Also on the driving in the dark thing: it’s dark before sunrise. Bring headlamps or flashlights to safely navigate the trail to the arch.

5. Mesa Arch is right at the edge of a cliff, so keep an eye on active little ones. And watch your own step.

[photo courtesy of deansouglass/Flickr]

Random facts about this hike:

1. Mesa Arch is called a “pothole arch.” It was created by millennia of water collecting behind the arch into one of those necessary desert pools called potholes. Over time, the arch was formed as the soft sandstone slowly eroded away.

2. The arch is formed from Navajo sandstone, which is the youngest layer in Canyonlands.

Tags: Canyonlands, hike, Hike of the Week, winter hike, winter hiking

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