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Trails I've Hiked: The Windows Section of Arches National Park


Turret Arch and Double Arch are just two of the highlights of the Windows Section in Arches National Park. Kurt Repanshek photos.

You don't need to be a long-distance hiker to tackle what arguably is not just the shortest but also the most impressive hike at Arches National Park. A comfortable pair of shoes, a bottle of water, and perhaps 90 minutes of your time will be enough to explore the Windows Section of the park.

Of course, you could easily spend half-a-day gazing at, wandering around, and even through, the sandstone windows and arches in this section of the Arches that was Ed Abbey's backyard -- and part of his inspiration for Desert Solitaire -- when he was a seasonal ranger back in the 1950s when this national park was a national monument. While most folks are in a hurry to see Delicate Arch or Landscape Arch, the collection of unusual formations in Windows Section make it a mandatory stop if you've traveled all the way to this southeastern Utah park.

While it's less than 10 miles from the park entrance to the Windows, there's a lot to see in those miles. You have Park Avenue with its mile-long stroll through a gash in the red-rock landscape, formations dubbed The Three Gossips, Courthouse Towers, and the Tower of Babel, and then a viewpoint where you can gaze over acres and acres of sand dunes. Petrified sand dunes, that is.

And then you find yourself at Balanced Rock, one of the most impressive free-standing slabs of rock in the world, perched as it is high above where gravity would prefer it be. A short, quarter-mile path winds from the parking lot to the rock, and around it, and then back to your rig. From there it's a short, 2.5-mile drive to the parking area at the Windows Section.

Here you're surrounding on three sides by rock walls of varying size and composition. Some, like the section pierced by the North and South Windows, are moderately sized. The outcrop holding Turret Arch is a relative miniature, while Double Arch is cut into a sandstone cliff that wraps the north side of your surroundings.

Easy trails head out from the parking lot to allow you to not only walk right up to each of these formations, but you can even climb up into them if you're not bothered by heights and handy at that sort of scrambling. In front of the South Window you might notice a path leading off to your right around the window to the east. This is a "primitive" loop that takes you through the high-desert scrub of pinyon and sage and Mormon tea and yuccas and prickly pear cactus and other vegetation to give you a look at the "back" of the two windows. The trail, much less than a mile, skirts around the north end of the North Window and leads you back to the parking lot.

To reach Double Arch, a well-tended trail heads north across the parking lot and to the maw of this unusual formation. Roundtrip is perhaps a half-mile in distance.

There's more to see if in the general area if you're not in a rush and like to explore. Just to the north of Double Arch is Cove of Caves, and a bit northwest of that is Cove Arch itself. Due west of Double Arch is the Parade of Elephants, and Garden of Eden is halfway back to the main road, on the righthand side.

It's all a very unusual and handsome landscape, one that's endured for eons and yet which will slowly collapse in varying stages.

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My wife and I were just there at the beginning of this month. I would recommend it in any month other than June - Aug. It was super hot, and according to the locals only gets hotter.

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