I love birthdays. I look at them as a wonderful opportunity to celebrate life; something not to be missed. We have an entire year to reflect on who we want to be, but birthday to me, is a day to celebrate who we are. And I am always looking for something special to do for my birthday and of those close to me. I love National Parks, outdoors, hiking and fun challenges. So, planning a trip to Arches National Park to hike outdoors in a spectacular landscape seemed like a great way to celebrate my birthday. During my research for this trip, I came across this particular hike which needed a permit and that intrigued me. And then I found out that this hike is really a maze where you have to figure your way out and there is a real possibility of getting lost! Okay, sign me up baby!! What better way to spend a birthday - than getting lost and finding yourself ;)
First, let's talk permits and get that out of the way. From Spring through Fall, rangers offer guided tours to this place. You need to either purchase tickets for that guided tour or apply for a permit for a self-guided tour. In Winter, the only option is to get a permit for a self-guided tour. Permits are available one week in advance at www.recreation.gov. You can buy them online to secure the date you want. But you still need to go to the Visitor Center of Arches National Park (between 9 am and 3 pm), the day before or the day of the hike, watch a mandatory video and pick up the physical permit. Then, you are all set for this hike. Since we visited the Park in November, we bought permits for the only available option - a self-guided tour, which would be my preference anyways - online and then picked up the physical permits the day before the hike at the Visitor Center.
The area, called "Fiery Furnace", is said to be a natural labyrinth of narrow passages between towering sandstone walls. But in reality, it is a lot more! This is one of the most fascinating landscapes I have ever seen and been a part of, and it is super hard for me to put it in words. The rock formations, with all their various shapes and colors, were simply mind blowing. Spires, buttes, needles, mesas, fins, arches - you name it, this place got it! Everything looked different from one minute to the next and it was truly like being in a wonderland. Being able to spend time in such a place and interact closely with the landscape through this adventure is akin to a pilgrimage for me. I would love to go back and spend more time here, just taking in the beauty of the place, but for now there is a challenge ahead of us :)
Needless to say, I was super excited about this hike. While there is no actual trail, there are 20 tiny markers in this huge area that you can carefully follow to get out of the maze. If you follow this route guided by markers, it is about 2 miles and takes around 2 hours. But this is only an option and people can explore the area as they see fit and get lost in the process :). I have seen some pictures of people scrambling up huge rocks, squeezing through narrow passages and having to do some tricky maneuvers to get past the boulders. I also read accounts of people spending hours in here, trying to find their way out and finally tagging along a guided tour to eventually get out. As much as I love adventure and challenge, the planner in me (or is it the "Type A" personality) needs all the back-up necessary to make it out of the maze in a decent amount of time. So, I downloaded an "All Trails" map of this hike in advance, just as an option in case we do get lost. After browsing through several pictures and reading through numerous reviews, the only tip I got was this - Take the path to the right at the Parking Lot.
So, to everyone reading this, take the path to the right from the parking lot and begin your own adventure. I have taken pictures of all the 20 arrows but I would be spoiling the fun if I share them. Most of the fun in this hike for me was trying to locate these arrows. I remember how excited I got whenever we found an arrow and I don't want to rob you of that excitement. But I do want to share a picture of a camouflaged arrow and see if you can spot it. If you can, you are almost ready for this hike :) If you can't, don't worry - though all arrows are of the same size, most of them are set on a pole, clearly visible to everyone who is on track.
|Kudos to my husband for spotting this and more arrows like this...|
If your goal is to get through the maze using the guiding arrows, like it was for us, then you should see an arrow every 5 minutes. If you do not, then you are most certainly off-track. There was a time we went off-track and did not see an arrow for 10+ minutes and when things got a bit dicey, we checked the “All Trails” map and it turned out that we took the wrong turn 10 minutes ago! I am tempted to share that spot, but instead I will just say, download the map in advance!
Apart from admiring the dazzling landscape and spotting the arrows, here are some other things you will be doing during the hike.
Squeezing in like this:
Climbing on rocks like this:
Walking on not-so-flat ground like this:
Supporting yourself against the rock while walking at an angle like this:
And sometimes just going under the rock to see if there is a trail (which there is none by the way): Sometimes the trail surprises you with sophisticated stairs like this (though you can't see them in the pic): And beautiful carvings like this:
While I don't want to reveal too much about the hike, I must tell you about a spot where we were truly stumped. We came across a beautiful open area where I decided to sit and savor my birthday cake. We then saw 4 people who were coming from the opposite direction and they were struggling a bit to climb onto the big boulder, so my husband guided them and they thanked and left. Soon after, we crossed the boulder and entered an area where there was no clear path forward and no arrow as well. There were some narrow openings which we explored, even crawled under a big rock to see if there is a trail but to no avail. But we just saw 4 people who came from that general direction. How can we not see a way forward? We decided to trace our steps back and come to this spot again with a fresh look. Nothing. Hmm. What are we missing? It looked something like this.
This is when my husband said, "Let's just climb on the rocks, we might see something". We did and right around the corner, there it was - a path forward. Just like in life. Sometimes, it is hard to see a path forward from our vantage point. We just have to trust and take a few steps forward and right around the corner, we shall see a path.
'Fiery Furnace' hike has to be the most fun thing we ever did in a National Park! I loved the idea of exploring a place in this unique manner and can’t thank the rangers enough for coming up with this brilliant idea of guiding arrows, which gave us the confidence to attempt this. It took us 2 hours and 15 minutes for the total hike and we spotted all 20 arrows. There is probably a lot more we could have explored in this area, but that's for another time. Now that we know we can find our way out, we will be more relaxed and let ourselves be mesmerized even more by the beauty of this place next time :)
|A happy "me" towards the end of the hike|
While this is not your normal hike and is challenging, we never felt it was too tough or dangerous. If you are reasonably fit, armed with an "All Trails" map and shoes with a good grip, you can make it. Be ready for some rock climbing and keep an eye out for those arrows. So, if you are anything like me, put this on your itinerary for a fun-filled, challenging and a memorable day. You will be glad you did it!
For the rest of our itinerary of Arches National Park, click here.