Chilling Out in the Fiery Furnace

It sounded just right — 3 nights of camping at Arches National Park with daytime temperatures forecast at around 60F, nights dropping to the upper 30s. Charlie & I planned to hook up with two long-time climbing/hiking friends for some fun hikes in my favorite National Park.

While the weather didn’t cooperate quite as much as we’d hoped (highs barely made it to 50F, lows in the teens & low 20s), we more than made up for the chilly temps by obtaining a spur-of-the-moment permit to explore the Fiery Furnace region. Although we had read that we’d have to schedule a visit well in advance and only go on a Ranger-led outing, Charlie’s impressive resume of hiking experience in Death Valley (he’s climbed EVERY named point — well over 100 peaks) and a little name-dropping (BTW, we’re the authors of the guidebook for Great Sand Dunes National Park) earned us a permit to go explore on our own. After carefully viewing the “training video” and promising not to step on cryptobiotic soil, or otherwise harass, harm, or disrespect the environment, we were off and scrambling!

Twin arches “stare” back at the camera.

Our descent to find a major drainage to explore was likely a route that few had chosen before, but soon we found ourselves following in the sandy footprints of others. We admired the dramatic sculptures made by water and blowing sand, and spotted twin arches whose names we still don’t know. We even spotted a Playboy bunny. Really.

Rabbit head?

Narrow corridors of rock sometimes challenged us, but creative maneuvering of our packs let us pass through. We were like kids exploring uncharted territory, finding creative routes to avoid the delicate plants and fragile soils, squeezing through tunnels, balancing along rocky shelves, and skirting pockets of water.

We’ll be watching the weather forecasts for another opportunity to enjoy this magical place again soon.

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