The Aztec Arches

By Eilene Lyon

It’s been decades since I swore off of Arches National Park, though I drive through Moab regularly. Like Yosemite, Joshua Tree, and Yellowstone, it’s become one of those places being loved to death. Like “I want to go have a special wilderness experience…with 10,000 other people.” NOT.

Fortunately, the West is rich with public lands and scenic wonders not found in the National Parks. About six years ago, I picked up a brochure called “Aztec Arches: Gateway to Over 300 Sandstone Arches…and counting!” Aztec, New Mexico, is the nearest town to my home when driving south.

Last week I read that the Seniors Outdoors! club had someone leading a hike to some of the arches, so I quickly signed up. It does help to go with someone who’s been before. The accesses are via gas-well roads, and the hikes are not marked with any signage.

On Monday, I met the group of nine other hikers–all new to me, but a great bunch–at County Rd 2300 in San Juan County. From there we headed up Cox Canyon to visit several arches on a loop hike. We then drove to nearby Cedar Hill to visit the formations in Ditch Canyon. Here’s a reverse order tour:

Alcove arch in Ditch Canyon. This was one of the smaller arches, as you can tell by looking at Lucy posing nearby.
Cedar Hill Arch in Ditch Canyon. This is the same arch as in the feature image.
Looking at the Octopus from above. It never had more than three legs, but one broke off. I would call that a Duopus!
Viewing the Octopus from below, in Ditch Canyon.
I “discovered” this elephant “arch”. Turns out to be a light rock in the sun in front of a dark rock. Oops.
Pothole Arch in Cox Canyon.

This next image is from Arches National Park. It is the iconic Delicate Arch found on many Utah license plates.

Delicate Arch by Dschwen. (Wikimedia Commons)

Now compare that to Cox Arch:

Cox Arch in Cox Canyon. It is 10 feet wider than Delicate Arch, and 11 feet shorter. And no crowds!
View of Cox Arch from above and surrounding area.
Sun shot of Cox Arch.

Okay, 5 down, 295 to go!

Feature image: Cedar Hill Arch in Ditch Canyon (E. Lyon 2021)

63 thoughts on “The Aztec Arches

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  1. The stone formations out west are just amazing. There is nothing like it on the east coast. My first experience with them was at Kasha Katawe, and it moved me deeply walking among those stone cones. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree a lot of those parks are getting awfully crowded – we try to visit during quieter times. I couldn’t believe the crowd at Yellowstone when we went last year. A zoo! But it was still worth it, such a beautiful place. I love your pictures of the less-visited arches, especially Cox Arch!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I never have figured out when those quieter times might be. I tried Yosemite in November – nope. Well, Yellowstone in winter is quiet, except for the snowmobiles we were driving! Glad you liked our New Mexican version of Arches.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Looks like paradise!! I went to Arches a few years ago but we were there at sunrise every day and out before noon. We didn’t see very many people at all except at Delicate Arch where there were hoardes. However, the line to get in when we left each day was insane.

    I live near the Hocking Hills State Park, another place being loved to death by sightseers. It’s perfectly miserable nearly all the time now and is becoming a place to avoid despite the convenience. I went after work last night and was shocked at how obnoxious and plentiful the people were that close to dusk. Sigh.

    Anyway, thanks for taking us along on this trip! Looks fantastic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I camped at Hocking Hills in 2017. The hike I took from the campground was deserted, but the grotto area was indeed filled with noisy people, making it much less pleasant. Glad you found a way to see Arches without too much distraction.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The more touristy areas in the park are literally just a line of noisy people walking through the woods on most days. The trail I hike for fitness isn’t especially interesting but it’s mostly quiet and I am grateful.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Your pictures are stunning Eilene – up close and I feel like I am there. My boss went to Moab a few years ago and I’d really never heard about it before he took that trip and showed me photos, then seeing the photos in the Gabby Petito matter out West and oohing and aahing over the beauty and now yours … such a beautiful open and natural area where I hope it is never ruined by people. Thank you for sharing these photos and making us feel like we were there with you.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I did like it – I’ve not really been out West, though our family traveled Route 66 back in the mid-60s and we visited some sites when as we drove from Ontario to Oklahoma once and another time to California. I was too young to appreciate the trip at that time.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I meant to ask you – do people try to climb the arches, the stones yes, but the arches too. Would the stone hold up (hopefully) if people did that? I have a huge sandstone rock in my garden and notice that slowly it is disintegrating through the years.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I would hope people wouldn’t try to deface or climb on such beautiful structures — it’s a shame if they have to put up signs and ruin the natural setting (not that it would necessarily help to thwart that happening).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sadly true – it sickens me. Even in the park where I walk every day, graffiti is everywhere, even sprayed on tree branches. And a life these days does not count for much in some people’s eyes and that’s very scary.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I did not know about this place! Maybe someday I will visit. My family reunion is in Aztec, NM every couple of years so maybe I will check it out. I’ve never been to Arches National Park, either, and I would like to go there, too, even if there are a lot of people.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Fascinating. I love your photos and admire your spunk to join a group and go hiking. I didn’t know about Delicate Arch and it’s connection to Utah’s license plates. Now I’ll be on the lookout for an Utah plate… just to verify it in the wild so to speak.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Brilliant photos, Eilene I enjoyed my virtual wander around those sandstone arches. Good on you for heading out with the hiking group. I would’ve done the same given the chance. Though we have nothing like the scale of that here in NZ. In a small town called Oamaru there’s sandstone buildings and tourism is built around that and Steampunk.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Plenty of tramping (hiking) paths here in NZ. The best ones are where the locals go 😁 I haven’t tramped for a few years though will do so next year once Les is much better.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Moab is a favorite with my family, both for the surrounding area and the quirky “semi-wild” aspect of the town (as wild as Utah allows, anyway). Your photos are lovely and bring back some happy memories. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The sandstone is so characteristic of the Southwest. Doesn’t really matter where it is, it’s always like being on a different world. Moab has gotten so crowded anymore, though. Room rates are astronomical and camp sites non-existent.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh wow, Eilene. This is so cool as we went last November there and even joked once we crossed Corona Arch that the Corona virus originated right there. To tell you the truth I thought I was on Mars, instead of Moab 🙂 but happy to visit it.

    Liked by 1 person

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