Arches National Park in winter is a complete magic trick. The sharp contrast of white snow against glowing red rock is unearthly, spires casting shadows across the snow that turn it periwinkle blue... I cannot even begin to describe the fairyworld wonder of this place.
It was my first time visiting in the middle of winter and I want to make it a tradition. It has been distressing to see how insanely busy my state's 5 national parks have become in recent years--to the point of not being able to get a parking spot if you arrive after 8am and the hikes just being one endless line of people shuffling along. It makes me feel good to see so many people enjoying nature, but the crowds and destruction they often cause definitely need to be addressed. I don't do well with crowds...being a nature lover that grew up having access to these parks (back when they weren't so jam packed) it's hard to reconcile trying to experience the beauty and solitude of these places when faced with loud, spatially-unaware people with selfie sticks. Apparently my answer is to visit in winter when you have the parks to yourself!
By the way--there is a gorgeously written article by Mark Sundeen that deftly addressed this conundrum: Utah Wanted All The Tourists. Then It Got Them. I am especially fascinated with how the mystery of these ancient places is now a commodity. Read it here.
This was just a quick weekender roadtrip and my husband and I were able to hit 3 parks with a 2 night stay in Moab. Beautiful!
Seeing such a familiar desert landscape in the winter was a shock to my senses. I had to keep comparing the desert snow to familiar things in order to comprehend what my eyes were seeing - "it looks like frosted gingerbread!" "it's like a white blanket draped over an orange sofa!" and most frequently, just a long drawn out gasping "woooooooooah."
I've never been in a National Park before that was this quiet. It was marvelous--the only sounds were the wind whistling between rocks and my shoes crunching over the icy snow. Every single view was majestic, I couldn't take it all in and hurt my neck by constantly craning it this way and that to see everything.
At first I kept stopping along the paths, thinking I was seeing shattered glass everywhere. When I tried to pick up some of these shards to dispose of them safely, I realized they were glimmering flecks of ice! The water freezing in the red rock cracks would come raining down on us when the wind blew hard and it felt like being in an icy diamond storm. Beautiful, bizarre, and sharp.
Notes from the visit:
--Long johns under jeans were a marvelous idea
--Bring warmer gloves. The wind cuts right through those mittens.
--Pack a bigger thermos of coffee for the car
--Spare blanket in the car is a smart idea (as is a safety kit--we always have one!)
--Go slowly on the shaded parts of the road - there is ice!
--Pack shoe crampons next time so you can do the Delicate Arch hike (it gets very icy)
--Take advantage of how empty the parks are and stop to reflect on the silence. Allow yourself to take it all in!
--Always make a stop in the Arches Visitor Center. It is the best park visitor center I have ever seen, and it includes a display on my favorite desert feature--ephemeral pools! I was stoked.