Last December some special friends from Moab and Salt Lake City cooked up a plan with us to take the marathon ride to see Angel Arch. My husband and I are generally game to make the journey every year or so, as it is a piece of our backyard that we feel privileged to visit. The privilege is dependent on our physical abilities to make the trek, and on the federal permitting system that still allows horses and mules in the area on a day-use basis.
These friends and I have been to Angel Arch several times in the past but we’d never taken the trip together. Some in our party had never been there at all because it is such a long and arduous hike, generally requiring a night or so to camp. Given the opportunity to ride and thus be able to make the journey in a day, we assembled seven riders – the maximum number of equestrians that are allowed in Salt Creek per day. As we rode we swapped fond memories of when our families could drive the dozen miles up the creek to Angel Arch, prior to 1998 when the road was closed to motorized traffic.
I’d never seen Salt Creek and its side canyons so full of water, but I suspect those are normal conditions for this time of year. We had to be careful of quicksand and staying on the right trail, because even some of the side canyons were streaming with water that will dry up as spring turns into summer. As we slogged through the ankle-deep stream, thrashed through thickets of willow and cottonwood, and plodded through rocks and sand, I was amazed to think that a four-wheel-drive could have ever gotten in there.
But I remember those jeep trips in the early 1970s so clearly. Spring break for our family meant weekends in Needles. It meant sleeping in a tent and hearing the wind make the canvas flap all night. It meant eating meals that made my teeth crunch because of the sand that blew into the food. It meant running and climbing on all the rocks with other friends and relatives who joined us to go camping. And it meant that the Easter Rabbit was a pretty magical guy, because he always seemed to find us when we were down there for the holiday.
In the 15 or so years since vehicles have been blocked from Salt Creek, Mother Nature has done a good job of healing herself. There is a fairly visible footpath that crisscrosses the creek, tamped down by hikers who want to keep their feet dry. The red and white rock art at Peek-a-Boo Arch always gives me chills as I see hand prints from prehistoric times. It has changed little from more than 40 years ago when my dad would let me and my brothers out of the Jeep so that we could hike the short cut through the arch while he drove around the bend to pick us up.
The Anasazi ruins my parents pointed out to me as a child still perch in the crevices of cliffs, and bring back more memories of the many times my family prowled around Canyonlands so many decades ago. Last weekend the vegetation was bursting forth from the desert oasis; cottonwoods were just barely getting a tinge of green and the willows were budded out with fuzzy pussy paws.
Thanks to a couple of wrong turns on our journey up Salt Creek, we reached the famed arch with only enough time to snap a picture then ride like hell to get out before dark. Even though we had only a minute to spend with the angel, it was worth the excursion. Like a sentinel keeping watch over the sacred lands, Angel Arch is a beacon of natural beauty that is the source of fond remembrances and memories in the making. It is a special place, protected by its remoteness and ruggedness. Those factors keep it frozen in time in a manner that has no place for modern conveniences, especially day-planners and cell phones.