Arches Backcountry

In March I spent a couple of days exploring the backcountry in Arches National Park. Perhaps “backcountry” isn’t the right term since every area in the park is easily accessible by day-hiking from a road, but I was off-trail in areas where relatively few people go. Chris met me in Price and we headed down on Friday afternoon. It was spring break for some schools, particularly in Colorado judging by all the license plates, and all the dispersed camping spots around Moab were quite full. We entered Arches on Willow Spring Road and poked around Willow Spring and Herdina Park a bit. A cabin at Willow Spring was barely upright and looks like it could completely collapse any day. There were signs of livestock activities there, including a couple of corrals. In Herdina Park we checked out a stone dam that looked like it could have been the handiwork of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and a nearby inscription dated 1938 falls into the timeframe that the CCC was in the area. Next we drove to Dalton Wells Road and found most of the primitive camp spots occupied, but a short distance past a 4WD stretch of road there was a decent empty spot that we snagged. Temperatures were pleasant and we slept in the open on cots.

Willow Spring cabin
Willow Spring cabin

Something (M4?) written in concrete at the Willow Spring cabin
Something (M4?) written in concrete at the Willow Spring cabin

Corral at Willow Spring
Corral at Willow Spring

Flowing wash in Herdina Park
Flowing wash in Herdina Park

Herdina Park dam, maybe built by the CCC?
Herdina Park dam, maybe built by the CCC?

November 1938 inscription
November 1938 inscription

Dutch?
Dutch?

Camp off the Dalton Wells road
Camp off the Dalton Wells road

After packing up camp on Saturday morning we drove to the main entrance at Arches where there was a line of cars waiting to get in. Shortly after entering the park, however, we stopped along the main road and hiked for over 2.5 hours and only saw one other small group hiking. We searched for some rock art I’d seen mentioned in a document I found online, complete with a crude map that really helped me zero in on the sites. We walked along the base of several cliffs, searched all the likely places, and found both rock art sites. Neither the petroglyphs or pictographs were terribly great, but I enjoyed the hunt and seeing some art that few know about.

Waiting in line to get into Arches National Park
Waiting in line to get into Arches National Park

John Wesley Powell inscription from 1869, seems legit! 😉
John Wesley Powell inscription from 1869, seems legit!  ;)

Checking out some cliffs
Checking out some cliffs

A view toward Moab Valley
A view toward Moab Valley

Petroglyphs
Petroglyphs

Animal tracks(?), circles, and zig-zags
Animal tracks(?), circles, and zig-zags

F.E. Garcia, January 18, 1929
F.E. Garcia, January 18, 1929

Deer petroglyphs
Deer petroglyphs

Human figures
Human figures

Atlas uranium mill tailings pile
Atlas uranium mill tailings pile

Water potholes
Water potholes

The Windows Section
The Windows Section

Barely-flowing wash
Barely-flowing wash

Faded pictographs
Faded pictographs

Faded pictographs (DStretch enhanced)
Faded pictographs (DStretch enhanced)

We drove deeper into the park and explored part of Courthouse Wash. There we found some crude pictographs and really crude inscriptions, and searched for an alcove that’s supposed to have some sort of ruin inside but couldn’t locate it. We did find two alcoves that looked promising, but it was hot and I was tired so Chris checked them out but saw nothing inside. We climbed up into an interesting natural tunnel that passes all the way through a sandstone fin and provided some cool shade. After a little more hiking we ended our exploration and hiked back to the Jeep and left the park.

Hiking up Courthouse Wash
Hiking up Courthouse Wash

Checkin’ out more cliffs
Checkin' out more cliffs

White pictographs
White pictographs

Hoar house
Hoar house

Fuck J. Harpole
Fuck J. Harpole

Exploring an overhang
Exploring an overhang

Grinding stone
Grinding stone

Approaching a pair of alcoves
Approaching a pair of alcoves

Chris checking out an alcove
Chris checking out an alcove

Pedestal and a tunnel
Pedestal and a tunnel

In the tunnel
In the tunnel

J.N.E., November 11, 1917
J.N.E., November 11, 1917

Marzo 7, 1916
Marzo 7, 1916

La Sal Mountains Viewpoint
La Sal Mountains Viewpoint

Chris wanted to make a beer run into Moab but traffic leading into town was backed up almost to the Potash Road turnoff so we turned around and made a quick stop at the Archview Resort instead. We returned to Dalton Wells Road and hoped to get our same camp spot but it was taken, so we found another one a little farther down the road. At 4:30 Sunday morning I was very soundly sleeping when Chris woke me up–it was raining! I hurriedly threw all my gear into the Jeep and settled into the driver seat and slept the rest of the morning, and Chris dragged his cot under a small overhang and was able to keep dry.

Waiting in line to get into Moab!
Waiting in line to get into Moab!

Another camp off the Dalton Wells road
Another camp off the Dalton Wells road

Chris under an overhang after it rained at night
Chris under an overhang after it rained at night

We spent Sunday poking around Salt Wash and Winter Camp Wash. Our first goal was to find an 1860 inscription that is likely the second-oldest in the park after the 1844 Denis Julien inscription in Devil’s Garden. We found it quite easily, but after returning home I found out that there’s another almost exactly like it somewhere, with the same initials and year but above and below each other rather than side by side.

Salt Wash
Salt Wash

Small waterfall and large pool
Small waterfall and large pool

Dead cow in a wash
Dead cow in a wash

J.E.D. 1860 inscription, along with a faint pecked animal figure
J.E.D. 1860 inscription, along with a faint pecked animal figure

Sanitary can
Sanitary can

Flowing water
Flowing water

After briefly hiking a part of the Delicate Arch trail, we went off-trail and searched for some rock art that was on the crude map we were working from. We didn’t find anything there but I now had a better idea where to look on a future trip.

Wolfe Ranch building
Wolfe Ranch building

Ute petroglyphs
Ute petroglyphs

The Windows Section again from the other side
The Windows Section again from the other side

Park wildlife
Park wildlife

Exploring off the Delicate Arch trail
Exploring off the Delicate Arch trail

Inspecting a big overhang
Inspecting a big overhang

Cave primrose (Primula specuicola)
Cave primrose (Primula specuicola)

Lower Winter Camp Wash choked with brush
Lower Winter Camp Wash choked with brush

Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch

Our last hike before heading home was in Winter Camp Wash. Again I believed the map showed some rock art in the area but we came up empty. It was, however, my favorite hike of the trip. I’d planned a route into the canyon that looked like it should work, but we were surprised to find some steps carved into the canyon wall that allowed easy access. Later a friend, who had volunteered at Arches a while back, told me the steps were carved by the CCC but didn’t know for what purpose. While hiking around the base of Rock Settee, Chris found a drone that had crashed. After some work he was able to remove the memory card and I happened to have a USB-C card reader with me that could plug into his phone, so we sat right there and looked at the photos and videos on the card. We searched the cliffs just below Delicate Arch and there was so much trash there! Water bottles, hats, and camera lens caps (or even whole lenses) seemed to be most common. We climbed back out of Winter Camp Wash and rejoined the Delicate Arch Viewpoint trail where Chris got a lot of sideways stares because he was carrying the drone out. A couple of groups even stopped us to ask about it and we had some interesting conversations. We got back to the Jeep and headed home, and although we got skunked on quite a few of the rock art panels we were looking for, it was gratifying to find several based on the limited information we had. Plus, I had more goals for a future trip to Arches, like, perhaps the next weekend. 😉

Delicate Arch Viewpoint trail
Delicate Arch Viewpoint trail

Dropping into Winter Camp Wash
Dropping into Winter Camp Wash

Narrow, carved ledge leading into Winter Camp Wash
Narrow, carved ledge leading into Winter Camp Wash

Carved steps in Winter Camp Wash
Carved steps in Winter Camp Wash

Tafoni
Tafoni

Delicate Arch above Winter Camp Wash
Delicate Arch above Winter Camp Wash

Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch

Rock Settee
Rock Settee

Chris found a crashed drone!
Chris found a crashed drone!

Drone and battery pack
Drone and battery pack

Exploring cliffs around Winter Camp Wash
Exploring cliffs around Winter Camp Wash

Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch

Camera lens dropped from above
Camera lens dropped from above

Winter Camp Wash slot
Winter Camp Wash slot


Photo Gallery: Arches Backcountry