One of the most scenic parks in the US, outdoor enthusiasts are like little kids in a candy store when visiting Arches National Park in southern Utah.
From sunrise to sunset, the entire park presents hiking trails that play with the shadows and sun in such ways that photographers and hikers can easily fall under a spell of the parks beauty without taking proper precautions.
I re-learned a few lessons when hiking around Utah, in particular in Arches National Park. Having hiked many miles across many parks in the US, I thought I had a pretty good system in place in terms of safety and security, but Arches National Park put me to the test and reminded me that no matter how simple or safe a hike may seem, you should never take the outdoors for granted.
Perhaps after years of exploring the outdoors, I had become a bit lackadaisical when it came to short hikes and exploring the outdoors? Whatever the case, I’m happy Arches National Park re-taught these lessons.
Lesson #1: Always bring Water
How often have you stepped out on the trail from your campsite, or a parking lot, without water? Probably too often. Just because a trail is less than a mile long or will take less than an hour, is no excuse. Accidents happen, weather happens and even if you’re ok yourself, you may come across someone else out on the trail that needs your help, or your water.
I was hiking the Park Avenue trail in Arches National Park and had recently had a decent meal. I was full of energy, hydrated and ready to roll. So, I decided I did not need any water. Bad decision.
This is a beautiful trail and I couldn’t help but stop frequently, to take photos of the landscapes and wildlife that was scurrying around. This turned an hour long hike into a 2+ hour long hike. The sun was high in the sky, blazing down at nearly 100F. It was dry and hot. My mouth was parched.
By the time I reached the end of the trail I was thirsty, and it had been mostly downhill. I was facing an uphill climb back to the trailhead. By the time I made it back to have some water, my head was throbbing from the heat and one of my calf muscles was starting to cramp up. It was a friendly reminder to me that it doesn’t take much to wear down your body and a quick hike can become just as dangerous as a multi-day trek. The entire round trip didn’t take more than an hour!
Lesson #2: Darkness Settles in Quickly in the Desert
As someone who enjoys photography, I often find myself hiking around during pre-sunrise or post-sunset times. That means darkness or very low-light conditions. It also means hiking with a headlamp quite often.
Taking photos of the arches and red rocks at sunset along The Windows trail in Arches National Park, I had no intention of staying past the golden hour of light. I was hungry and wanted to head into Moab for dinner.
But I underestimated how quickly the sun would disappear and darkness would fall. I decided to take the primitive trail route on my way back. It wasn’t very long, but it was a bit simpler, and as it got dark, it was probably the wrong decision as I hadn’t brought my headlamp. Thankfully it was an extremely clear evening and despite the darkness, my eyes were able to adjust and get me back without incident. Had I been hiking in a forest or had it been a cloudy night, it could have been a challenge without any source of light.
Lesson #3: If Driving, Keep Keys Safe
Picture this: you have just completed a beautiful hike just before sunset. You get to the parking lot and reach into your pocket for the keys, but no keys. They’re gone. You dropped them on the trail somewhere.
That exact scenario happened to me on the Broken Arch trail in Arches National Park. I hadn’t clipped, zipped or locked my keys in a secure pocket or part of my daypack. I had simply dropped them in my front pocket. A pocket I used to put my camera lens cap while taking photos.
One of those times I was taking photos, the keys escaped from my pocket. I knew there were only a few places this could have happened. The solution? Hike the trail a second time, at double-pace and search those locations. Getting replacement keys, or a locksmith, out here would take time, a lot of time, so I hit the trail again.
I did not find the keys, but thankfully someone else did, and they were waiting for me upon my return. It was a stroke of luck that could have turned out much differently.
These are common sense hiking tips, things that any hiker should know. Things that I did know, but had become lazy about. Now, every time I hit the trail, even for a short hike, I have my emergency supply of food, a fire starter, light source, water and first aid items. I leave my pockets empty, except for things I need on the trail. It adds next to no weight to my pack, but allows me to know I can help someone else out on the trails even I don’t need to use the supplies myself.