I returned to Arches National Park about two weeks after my last trip, this time without plans to visit any sites I knew about ahead of time. Instead, I planned a route across the Petrified Dunes to a fork of Courthouse Wash, with about 20 spots along the way that I wanted to check out based on seeing patina on the cliffs or alcoves using Google Earth. I left home at 6:30 AM and a couple hours later I had parked at the Petrified Dunes viewpoint and started hiking. It was 27 degrees and sunny and I never felt cold all morning–it actually was a little warmer that I’d prefer later on. Close to the parking area there were a lot of footprints but after hiking only a couple of minutes there were none. I stuck mostly to washes or slickrock or the occasional game trail–there were a lot of deer tracks scattered over the area.
As I neared the rim of the canyon I wasn’t 100% certain I’d be able to get down into it where I’d planned. It looked doable in the satellite imagery, but even if it didn’t work there was another spot that would go but it would take some extra hiking. As I approached the rim I saw a line of deer tracks in the sand and knew I’d be able to get down. I followed a cliff line that snaked downward into the canyon and looked into several alcoves, some shallow and others deeper. One shallow alcove had a metate that had barely been used, and deeper alcove had many rocks inside, one of which I was almost certain was an upside-down metate. I flipped it over and it definitely was. Another of the deeper alcoves looked promising but the only thing I saw inside was a broken piece of metate. Just outside it was a 1918 inscription from Luis Sandoval.
I climbed back out of the canyon and followed the rim to a spot overlooking an old road in the canyon. I’d first noticed the road in Google Earth, then later read a very brief mention about it in a guidebook that called it a “wagon road” but didn’t have any other info. I haven’t been able to locate any remnants of this road either up- or down-canyon from this one spot and it’s difficult to imagine wagons coming from either direction, yet here this small portion of the road is, obviously constructed to handle wheeled vehicles. I ate lunch there and then continued along my route.
After visiting a couple more places and not finding anything there I decided to skip the last three spots and take a shortcut back to the truck. Those spots weren’t as promising as those I’d already visited, and passing them up would save me about 1.5 miles of hiking. They’re all still close enough to the park road that I could see them all in under an hour on a future trip if I decide to. On the way back I spotted a large buck deer. He didn’t seem too concerned about me but still he unhurriedly left the area, disappearing over a hill. I got back to the truck a lot sooner than I expected and then I wished I’d just finished my planned loop.
Photo Gallery: Arches Backcountry VI: Across the Petrified Dunes