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Sometimes it’s fun going on a trip some place new and not knowing much about it. I took a good guess and figured on Canyonlands National Park was full of canyons…but I really didn’t think there’d be some cool arches here! I guess that’s just my native east coast blood showing. What do I know about arches and canyons and deserts anyway? Well, since I’ve gotten older now I quite enjoy learning and reading the informative displays all throughout the parks, so I could actually tell you a thing or two! 🙂
Ok, but you’re here to see what the hike is like…
Mesa Arch Trail Hike at Island in the Sky District
- Trail Length: .5 Miles
- Difficulty: Easy. Not paved, but it’s an easy dirt trail with some gradual inclines here and there. This is a trail that anyone who can walk around can do!
- Location: Just off Grand View Point Rd. right before the road split.
- Best time to go: Sunrise! I wasn’t there for it unfortunately, however I have seen photos from others and since this arch is facing east sunrise would be the perfect time to see some extra magic in the landscape!
The parking lot was pretty full when we got there–so keep that in mind if you’re visiting at busier times of the year. We started out mid-morning in October. The weather is great at that time of year-not too hot or cold. The trail is clearly defined, and covered in red sandy dirt or rocks. There’s no getting lost on it, it’s super easy to follow! There are wide man made stairs, or just rocky trails surrounded by Pinyon Pines and Utah Juniper trees.
Biological Soil Crust
If you’ve stopped at the visitor’s center and/or read any of the signage around, you’ll know that they don’t want you going off the trail and stepping on the soil. That’s because it’s covered in a Biological Soil Crust, that’s full of living micro organisms(lichen, moss, cyanobacteria/blue green algae, etc). They do a lot for the environment such as preventing erosion and loose sand from flying around, holding in moisture when it rains and also giving nitrogen to the plant life. So the ecosystem is really dependent on it!
It’s pretty cool too as those microorganisms really only come to life when it rains, otherwise they stay dormant…including something I never thought would be found in a desert-Shrimp! Fairy Shrimp to be exact. Their eggs remain like a seed, intact and still alive, until the rains come and fill up small pools of water found throughout the desert. Then they hatch and come alive for a short time. Crazy right? So just think of the fairy shrimp when you’re out there. You don’t want to step on and kill the little guys accidentally 🙁
At the Arch
After a quarter of a mile on the meandering path you’ll have reached your destination! Mesa Arch is really beautiful in that it frames the landscape so nicely. You may have to wait your turn to get a good clear picture of it(without a lot of people taking selfies in the way), but it’s worth it.
In the distance you can see the La Sal Mountains which unlike the desert here are covered in pines and a lot more vegetation. On the ground below you’ll notice a white rim of sandstone, and below that runs the Colorado River. White Rim Road follows the appropriately named rim, and is an unpaved road that you can go on if you have a good 4 wheel drive vehicle. So you might see cars driving by down there! The road was original built to give access to uranium mines back during the Cold War era, however little was found so they were abandoned.
On your way back to the parking lot, have a look around and you can see some cool windblown formations in some of the larger rock surfaces off the trail…perhaps another arch formation in the making?
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