In Praise of Place: A Hike Through the Fiery Furnace, Arches National Park

Red rock and blue sky: view from the Fiery Furnace

Red rock and blue sky: view from the Fiery Furnace

We saved a grand adventure for our last full day in Utah on this season’s vacation: a ranger-led hike through the hidden wonderlands of the Fiery Furnace, a region of towering red rock fins and spires, with a few seldom-seen arches thrown in for good measure.

Rather than attempt to tell the story in text punctuated by images, as is my habit, I’ve decided to describe this journey mostly through the images themselves (and their accompanying captions).

By way of preface: this area of Arches National Park has no designated trails and access is limited to those who either obtain a special permit or join up with one of the ranger-led tours. The justification for this is that it’s too easy to become lost among the maze-like passages of the massive fins. A more enlightened view of the Park Service’s reasoning behind the policy takes into account the fragile ecology of this isolated area (cryptobiotic soils, exotic rock pool fauna, etc.), which would be subject to destruction by casual visitors unaware of the consequences of their trampling boots or ill-considered offloading of internally processed fluids, if you get my drift.

In any case, Anne and I had planned ahead this year and reserved our place on one of these scheduled hikes months in advance – having learned by sad experience that just showing up at park headquarters with the idea of joining a tour same day was an exercise in futility. And so we checked in the day-of with the rangers to establish our bona fides, and received the somewhat discouraging talking-to they are duty bound to dole out to each participant. To wit:

“Are you sure you’re up to this physically demanding challenge? Do you know that you’ll be leaping across yawning chasms and duck-walking between canyon walls narrow enough to choke the life out of you?” Words to this effect. And, yes, we’d read the advisory at the point of signing up; we’d take our chances, thanks very much.

And so we drove on through the relatively light early October tourist traffic to the parking area and joined the crowd that had begun to gather at the trailhead. Which seems like a good place to begin our photo story:

At the trailhead: ranger Holly explains why it would be a good idea for those of us who might be having second thoughts about risking our lives to back out now.

At the trailhead: ranger Holly explains why it would be a good idea for those of us who might be having second thoughts about risking our lives to back out now.

Point of decision: the first rest stop, where ranger Holly explained that there would be no further opportunities to back out before finishing the hike. The wife of the English gentleman at right decided she'd take Holly up on her offer to walk her back to her vehicle, and so the rest of us sat and waited.

Point of decision: the first rest stop, where ranger Holly explained that there would be no further opportunities to back out before finishing the hike. The wife of the English gentleman at right decided she’d take Holly up on her offer to walk her back to her vehicle, and so the rest of us sat and waited.

Ceiling Arch: aptly named.

Ceiling Arch: aptly named.

Ranger Holly waxes poetic.

Ranger Holly waxes poetic.

"Can anyone guess what this arch is called?"

“Can anyone guess what this arch is called?”

Why, it's Skull Arch, of course. (None in our group actually guessed correctly.)

Why, it’s Skull Arch, of course. (None in our group actually guessed correctly.)

 

Rest stop #2: verticality

Rest stop #2: verticality

Higher and higher we go: single file.

Higher and higher we go: single file.

Chockstone crossing

Chockstone crossing

In a quiet place: rest stop #3.

In a quiet place: rest stop #3.

Let the duck walking begin.

Let the duck walking begin.

Wanderers among the rocks.

Wanderers among the rocks.

Surprise Arch - perhaps the climax of the hike.

Looking up from beneath Surprise Arch – the climax of the hike.

Fittingly, Surprise Arch comes near the end of the tour, and is a good locality to reflect about the wonders experienced in one's journey through this hidden terrain.

Fittingly, Surprise Arch comes near the end of the tour, and is a good locality to reflect about the wonders experienced in one’s journey through this hidden terrain.

Exit: the parking lot (and civilization in general) awaits.

Exit: the parking lot (and thus civilization in general) awaits.

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7 thoughts on “In Praise of Place: A Hike Through the Fiery Furnace, Arches National Park

    • It would be at that, Asier. Although I believe that access is restricted by park regulations to daytime visits only. Perhaps by special permit.

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