A few weekends ago we caught up with my parents on their journey to visit all five of Utah’s National Parks. Originally we planned to meet them in Escalante, between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, but ended up changing our plans and met them in Moab instead. They had reserved a site at Dead Horse Point State Park, and we were able to use the tent pad behind their trailer. It was convenient and nice to be where they were.
Since Zach and I visited Moab a month before, we didn’t have much of an agenda for this trip. We were there to hang out and tag along with my parents and their friends. However, I did have one trail I hoped to hike, a trail that has been on my Moab bucket list for the last three years: Devils Garden. The longest hike in Arches National Park at 7 miles, Devils Garden is located at the far northern end of the park and visits SEVEN arches with an overlook for an eighth. The trail was closed the last time we visited the park in 2017, and on our more recent trips to Moab we’ve stayed out of the National Parks entirely to hike with Truman.
We arrived at Dead Horse Point on Friday afternoon, and my dad told me he was game for Devils Garden. We decided to get up early on Saturday morning and drive into the park. My dad’s pal, Mark, decided to tag along with us too, making us a party of four.
We arrived at the trailhead before 9am and had no problem finding a parking spot. I never expected solitude on this trail, but I knew it would only get more crowded as the day wore on. Most people only complete the first 0.8 miles to Landscape Arch, some of those people make detours to Pine Tree and Tunnel Arch too. Fewer people go beyond Landscape Arch, and even fewer complete the loop via the Primitive Trail. I wanted to do the whole thing. I may not have adequately prepared my dad or Mark for how much scrambling we’d be doing, but they ended up being great sports.
The trail to the first three arches is a nice gravel path. We took the spur trails to both Tunnel and Pine Tree Arches first. Tunnel Arch was a sweet rounded arch with a smaller unnamed arch to the left. A short distance away, Pine Tree Arch looked like a giant cut-out, particularly with the morning sun shining brightly behind it.
We returned the way we’d come to link with the main trail and continue toward Landscape Arch. When Zach and I saw Landscape Arch previously, we were visiting late in the afternoon in November, and the arch was mostly shaded. It was nice to see it fresh and bathed in a soft morning glow. Even though I had been here before, the arch is truly awe-inspiring. It’s so different from the other arches in the park. On the rise just before you walk down to the arch, it blends in with its sandstone brethren, and it’s only on closer inspection that the arch comes to the forefront.
We timed it well and had the arch to ourselves. Then it was time to break from the maintained trail and start the scramble up and over slickrock fins on our way to Double O Arch.
Shortly after we climbed up onto several fins, we took the spur trails to Partition and Navajo Arches. Partition Arch was a little crowded. There was a group of four, another group of three, and a few couples wandering around. Since the sun was shining overhead, we had a great view through the window of the arch. A little difficult to make out in my photograph, there is a small window immediately to the right of the arch. There were several people walking through the arch to get a view of the other side, but we refrained and admired it from behind.
In stark contrast to Partition Arch, Navajo Arch was quiet when we arrived. It’s a thick arch with a wide base, almost cave-like. It was shrouded by pinyon pine and juniper at the entrance, but once we passed underneath it was spacious and reverent. It was the only place of true solitude on this hike, and ultimately, my favorite.
We left Navajo Arch to reconnect with the main path. Soon the trail left its gravely surface and returned to slickrock, forcing us to pay closer attention to cairns marking the way. We continued, climbing slightly higher on thin fins to encounter stunning views of our surroundings. No longer was our sight limited to the sandstone walls around us. Now we could see rows of fins, one on top of the other stretching into the distance, then the La Sal Mtns. still powdered with snow sparkling in the sun, and still more views of Salt Valley below us to the west and even past the highway to the straight sandstone cliffs of Dead Horse Mesa.
Before Double O Arch, there was one final detour: a brief sidestep to an overlook of Black Arch located in the fin maze below us. Then we continued on, finding ourselves as what seemed like a dead end, before realizing that we needed to cut sharply to the left to find our seventh arch.
Frankly, Double O Arch was a little less spectacular than I’d imagined. I assumed I would recognize it because I was certain I had seen photos of it in the past, but I didn’t. Juniper and pinyon pine kept much of the lower arch hidden from a distance. We had to get much closer to see both Os. After the fact, when I Googled the arch, I realized that the photographs I’ve seen so often emphasize the top O from a completely different angle. It ends up resembling Turret Arch.
When we reached Double O, we were all fairly tired. Since it’s the most popular destination beyond Landscape Arch, there were lots of people milling about. None of us were interested in sticking around long. In retrospect, I wish I had walked around a bit more and taken some different photographs.
I knew the Primitive Trail would be more difficult than the way we’d come, but my dad and I were both of the opinion that it was better to do a loop than an out and back. So we set out into the very fins we had observed from above.
The final spur trail for our eighth arch of the day – Private Arch – came not terribly long after we had set out. I hemmed and hawed. I thought maybe we were all sufficiently worn out and shouldn’t make an extra detour, but the group outvoted me. I’m so grateful.
Sandwiched between two other fins and hidden at the bottom, Private Arch is appropriately named. I loved the slender lines of the fin coupled with a graceful arch peeking out at the bottom. It became another favorite arch of mine. We rested in the shade, admiring the arch, while we had a snack and water. There weren’t many people around making it quite peaceful.
We left Private Arch somewhat rejuvenated and ready to complete the hike. The rest of the Primitive Trail ventured in and out of a wash, up and over several fins (which we were happy to scramble down rather than up), through a narrow passage between two fins, and finally, out of the maze of fins and into an open expanse which looped us back to the main trail.
We were all exhausted by the time we reached the main trail and regretted the lack of cold beers at the truck for a post-hike cool down. The trail was flooded with tourists by this point – just before 1pm – and the sun had intensified its gaze. It was a great time to leave the hoards behind for lunch in town.
At the end of the day, as we prepped a campfire, Zach looked up and noticed the moon rising above the horizon. Set next to the La Sal Mountains from our perch at Dead Horse Point, the full moon mesmerized our entire group. We walked to the edge of the campground and admired its rise as it took over the sky.