Natural Arches Trail (VOF) - Trip Notes for 09/08/2017

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This page last updated on 09/09/2017

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DirectionsIf you arrive from the east, from the intersection of Route 169 and 167 near Lake Mead, drive west on the Valley of Fire Highway for two miles to the park’s east entrance. Then drive another 1.7 miles to the trailhead for the Natural Arches Trail. If you want to start from The Cabins, drive 2.1 to the entrance road. To reach the park from the west from Las Vegas, take Interstate 15 north for about 35 miles to exit 75 (signs for Valley of Fire State Park and Lake Mead National Recreation Area). At the end of the off-ramp, go southeast on Valley of Fire Highway. After 14.5 miles you reach the park’s west entrance. Drive another 4.8 miles and turn left, following a sign for The Cabins, or approximately 5.5 miles to the Natural Arches Trailhead (see Fig. 2a).

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Trail Description:  The parking lot is on the north side of the main park road just west of a large wash between the road to "the cabins" and Elephant Rock. Park in the gravel lot, look for the tiny trailhead marker near the road, and head down into the wash. The total distance for this (in-out) hike is 4.80 miles. The elevation at the trailhead is 1,592 feet. The total net gain in elevation is 229 feet. This trail is not marked anywhere along the way, but it is easy to follow as it just follows the main wash the entire way. Walking on the canyon's soft pink/white sand floor requires a bit more effort, but the lack of significant vertical rise makes up for that. The wide wash narrows considerably after about a mile, and there are three small rock scrambles to navigate.
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With each turn of the canyon the shapes and colors of the rock continue to amaze. Keep an eye open for arches, as there are several along the route. The largest arch (Fig. 03 right), for which the trail was named, succumbed to erosion and collapsed several years ago. Unfortunately, the picture in (Fig. 04 right) is a view of all that remains. In spite of this, the main features of this trail remain: extreme solitude and incredible desert beauty. The hiker can turn back anywhere on the route, but there is a huge balancing rock at 2.4 miles that offers shade and a natural turning point.

09/08/2017 Trip Notes: Today Bob Croke, Jim Herring and I drove to the Valley of Fire State Park to hike the Natural Arches Trail. Though our initial plan was to start this hike from The Cabins (see Fig. 02), one of the park's rangers convinced us to use the hikes primary trailhead. At the Natural Arches trailhead (refer to Fig. 02) there are two large culverts that run under the park's main road (Fig. 05). As we started this hike the sky was very grey and filled with threatening rain clouds. From here we began the "trudge" up the very sandy wash. In the beginning the wide sandy wash was filled with a variety of plants, shrubs and trees as seen in (Fig. 06). The further we hiked, the less was the vegetation and the deeper was the sand (Fig. 07). Though hiking in the still quite soft sand, a recent rain had caused the sand to be somewhat packed. As time went on, the sky began to become less threatening and even had some areas of blue sky (Fig. 08). Occasionally we would encounter plants in the middle of the wash (Figs. 09 & 10). (notes con't below)

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Trip Notes Continued:  On batch of these plants we filled with dozens Tarantula Hawks (Figs. 11 & 12). Click here to learn more ... Tarantula Hawk Wasp (Pepsis species). The soft sands of the wash caused us to take many stops along the way (Figs. 13 - 15). In some places we encountered areas where we sunk more than six inches into the sand. Even though we never did locate the location where the original arch collapsed several years before, we did observe nearly a half dozen smaller arches along the way (Figs. 16 & 17). Near where we thought the remains of the fallen arch, we found what others have described as a large balancing rock (Fig. 18). All the way up the wash we get encountering what we guessed were foot prints of bighorn sheep that kept   crossing the wash. On the return hike back we finally saw three sheep run across the wash about a hundred yards in front of us. Using our telephoto lenses, we were able to get off a half dozen shots (Figs. 19 & 20). After a very grueling six mile hike, we considered this was the highlight of the hike. (Fig. 21) is a picture of a bee that was also sipping on the flowers where we saw the Tarantula Hawks.

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