A few months ago, we were stuck inside on a snowy day. SAD was hitting us hard so we were trying to come up with spring break ideas to make us feel more hopeful about life. The winter blues had us hard though, because even as we tried to dream everything seemed impossible, too far away, or not warm enough to get us excited. Morale wasn’t great. Noel’s cousin-in-law works for Marriott and can sometimes get us discounted rooms. On a whim, I looked up the Marriott the week of spring break fully expecting everything to be priced for the busy season. Shockingly, there were several nights available at the employee discount and so we pounced. We’ve been to Moab many times, but the desert runs through both Noel and I’s blood and we never tire of the area. (Fun fact, my great-great-great grandfather was a school teacher and homesteader in Moab. Then three generations of my family lived there including my grandfather until he moved when he was a teenager.)
Our spring break started out with a lazy morning. We slept in (granted we have a low bar for sleeping in, most of us were up at 7) and made breakfast tacos. The night before I discovered we had egg yolks in the fridge leftover from something I made, so naturally we had to make creme brulee too. After that, we pulled ourselves together and finished packing and loading the car. Once we’ve gathered everything we hit the road. As is tradition, we ran into snow in the mountains which is always super fun, but that’s spring break for you. The first thing we did after checking into our hotel was hit up the pool. (Remember, Noel and I ran 21 miles the day before and the hot tub was calling our name.) We could see the highway from the pool and the traffic was bad. We waited until it died down before heading into town to get some things from the grocery store. The grocery store was a bit apocalyptic. (Probably due to the entire Front Range migrating to southern Utah for Spring Break.) Things were kind of picked over, but were still able to find something to call dinner.
We had brought church clothes with the intention of attending a sacrament meeting in Moab, but when we’d been at the pool the day before a fellow hot-tubber who found out we weren’t newbies to the area asked if we’d ever been to the Fiery Furnace because he was thinking about going. We told him it was great and that we were hoping to get permits to go again. He then told us he’d asked about permits at the Arches Visitor’s Center and when he’d asked they were already gone through Monday. (They only allow 75 people in each day and you have to pay a small fee for the permits.) We were worried if we didn’t get to the Visitor’s Center early we wouldn’t get a permit, so we skipped church and headed straight to the Visitor’s Center. We arrived 15 minutes before it opened and there was already a line. Luckily, there were a lot of people hoping to get tickets for that day so they still had permits available for Tuesday when we got to the front of the line. I felt kind of guilty choosing a cool hiking experience over church, but we did still do our “Come Follow Me” lesson later as a family. Also, it kind of reminded me of my great-grandfather. He was a geologist and liked to wander in the Moab wilderness after church on Sundays which drove my great-grandmother crazy as she didn’t think it was a very sabbath appropriate activity. My dad said he “liked to follow Jesus into the desert for his communion.” Though, I’m sure it was a much quieter experience with more opportunities for solitude back then.
After securing our permits and watching the required instructional video, we headed to the Devil’s Garden area. We checked out all the arches on the regular trail (Tunnel, Pinecone, and Landscape) and decided to continue on the Primitive Trail to Double O Arch. For some reason, Noel and I both thought we had been to Double O, but it soon became clear to us we were thinking of Double Arch. The Primitive Trail took us straight up the fin of a rock formation. Which was a little scary with the kiddos, especially because it began to rain. They call it slickrock for a reason. We were already up the fin though, so we checked out Navajo and Partition Arch with were both cool. (I never tire of arches.)
We decided to keep going towards Double O Arch thinking the hardest part was behind us.
As we continued on we quickly realized that wasn’t true. We came to another rock fin we needed to walk across. This one was not difficult to climb, in fact it was quite flat, but it had steep drop-offs on both sides. It took some mustering of courage for the acrophobics in our family. It’s hard to tell in the pictures that this was precarious, but it was.
Just as we got down from the fin and began our scramble down to Double O Arch, it began to hail. Yep, hail. We ignored how cool the arch was at first and just sought shelter in it. Luckily, the hail passed quickly.
We decided we would continue the loop on the Primitive Path hoping the rest of the trail would be less scary than what we’d already seen. As we hiked, we kept running into people who told us what was ahead was worse and we should turn around. We thought maybe people were being dramatic, but then a couple told us their teenage son had barely made it down what was basically a 20 foot slide without any hand holds and they’d decided it was better for them to turn around and back track even though they were almost at the end of the loop. So, we turned back.
The whole thing seemed a little less terrifying the second time and we made it safely back to our car.
We headed back to the hotel where we made jambalaya in the microwave and headed to the pool again.
The next morning, we woke up early and drove to the Needles District of Canyonlands. Our hike for the day was Druid Arch. It was an 11 mile round-trip hike with gorgeous views pretty much the entire way. The kids enjoyed climbing things and were getting along really well.
The majority of the hike takes you through a wash and isn’t that technical, but the last 1/4-1/3 mile of the hike gets more difficult.
We at least anticipated that (unlike the day before) and made it safely through the first several “obstacles” without much difficulty.
We were feeling so confident that when we arrived at this incline of sandstone (once again, the picture doesn’t quite capture it) no one thought twice and headed right up it with confidence. That is, until close to the top where the kids couldn’t find handholds and started to panic. They began to turn away from the rock and try to grab me. I had to talk everyone down and remind them that the safest thing they could do is press their bodies into the rock and take deep breaths. It took a lot of coaxing, but we managed to get everyone up and over this.
After that, it was just a couple of more scrambles and we were met with a view of Druid Arch itself. You can see the side of the arch for quite awhile, but it just looks like a fin and it isn’t until the final ascent that you see the arch itself.
You can kind of get an idea of the scale of the arch from the pic with the people walking around, but Druid Arch is HUGE. The pictures also make it look like you can walk right up to the arch, but there’s actually a deep chasm between us and the arch. We enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch and then began our hike back.
I think this picture does a slightly better job of showing the grade of that area we struggled to get up. It was easier to go down and also quite comical as everyone slid down on their butts.
It wasn’t until the very end of the hike that the kids started to show signs of being worn down. Still, we made it back to the car in mostly good spirits. We slept soundly that night.
We slept in the next morning and arrived at breakfast later than we had the previous two days which meant there was a lot more people. Now, there was this sign at the breakfast buffet that we thought was kind of comical, but as we’re eating I hear someone shout “The toaster is on fire!” We all turn and indeed, flames were erupting from it. I guess the sign was warranted. After finishing breakfast (and not starting any fires), we headed to Arches to use our Fiery Furnace permits.
Arches’ website describes the Furnace as “a natural labyrinth of narrow passages between towering sandstone walls.” Basically, it’s like a giant maze-like-playground.
We explored side canyons and did some climbing, always making sure to return to the main “trail” which is marked by tiny little arrows that direct your way back to the parking lot.
Noel had read about an arch that was hidden down one of the side canyons near the end of the hike. The arch is called surprise arch and is aptly named. We went down a narrow slot at Noel’s insistence. I really thought it was going to just be an uninteresting dead end as we shuffled across a narrow ledge. It wasn’t until we were right under the arch that you could see it. I was definitely surprised and glad for Noel’s persistence.
We lazed away the rest of the day – eating at the Quesadilla Mobilla, hitting up the pool again, and refusing to acknowledge we were leaving the next day.
We decided before we headed home, we’d knock out one more hike – the iconic Delicate Arch. It’s popular, so we knew we wanted to get there early. The hike is 3 miles round-trip and since it wasn’t the heat of summer, we knocked it out fairly quickly. We passed some families with kids younger than ours and offered what encouragement we could and reminisced about how far our kids have come with hiking.
We snapped a family pic and just enjoyed a bit more sandstone before Cooper announced that he needed to go to the bathroom. On most of the hikes we do, the kids can wander off into the trees and take care of business, but Delicate Arch doesn’t really offer that opportunity with too many people and nowhere to hide. So, we booked it back to the parking lot and then began our journey home.
We stopped at a rest stop just after Vail pass (the highest point of our journey) and after days in the desert we were surprised at the sight of snow. It’s been a very snowy winter.
The next day, I subbed three classes and trained two clients so we basically lived at the Rec Center. The next day, our neighbor came to hang out for a few hours because she didn’t have daycare. We started another round of crystals.
Then on Saturday, we had the Primary Olympics. (Primary is our church’s version of children’s Sunday school.) I helped plan and put on the activity and I think the kids had a blast.
Ellen doing the slalom.
Noel was a trooper and helped too.
After that, we went to Ikea to eat meatballs and buy pillows (and everything else that found its way into our cart).
We bought Cooper a new dresser. (His was a side-of-the-road-rescue with sticky drawers.) Cooper helped Noel put it together. It seems putting together furniture and building with legos isn’t that much different.
He was very proud of his accomplishment. The next day was Sunday. We went to church, ate lunch, and then drove Noel to the train station so he could go to the airport for a work trip to Chicago for five days. Right after I publish this, we’ll go pick him up, but I’ll write about all that next month.