We walk where the cryptobiotic soil tells us to

At last, we are out on the Hayduke!

Mike picked us up in the morning at the storage unit where we are stashing our car. After giving him a bottle of Portland Ketchup we were off! Outdoor, conservation-minded enthusiasts of wilderness and public lands we had a fun chat on route to the start. Thanks Mike for the ride, thoughts, stories, and stickers!

These days, I’m reminded that not only do I need to be a good steward of the land and support conservation groups, I need to do more. I also need to pick up a pen or peck at a keyboard and write to elected leaders and let them know how exceptional the landscapes in public ownership are and how it behooves us to protect them. Natonal treasure. Legacy. Future generations measure us by what we protect. Worthy in and of themselves. Etc. May the writings of Ed, Martin Litton, and Harvey Manning help me to articulate such thoughts.

But first, onward to the enjoying our public lands! We started walking around 10:20. A cool morning with views of the Sierra La Sal beyond the Salt Valley and rock formations beckoning on either side.

In honor of DNR and Bubbles, Gabriel thumbs-up the cattle guard as we step into Arches NP via Salt Valley Road.

We opted to detour to Devils Garden to see some of the famous arches. Just as we were about to step off the road and go cross country a Park Service staffer who was out in the field came up to us asking if we needed help.

Turns out, Matt with the Park Service was doing burrowing owl surveys (they live in old prairie dog colonies), and he knows Ryan Choi! They were in grad school together and house mates. Ryan, if you are reading this, Matt says hi! Once again affirming the trail and conservation-ecology world’s have much overlap.


Gabriel and Matt in Salt Valley. Not even two miles into the hike and we are meeting folks who know the Hayduke and some of our fellow Haydukers.

We chatted with Matt, then headed east across the valley up toward Devils Garden. Winding through fun sandstone benches of pinion, juniper, and cryptobiotic soil. Oh the cryotobiotic soil so important to the desert with its colonies of cyanobacteria, lichens, and mosses that keep the soil in its place and facilitate other plants. Important, fragile, old stuff. Stepping on it is BAD! So to negotiate through the landscape on what would be easy travel requires carefully thinking about the route and some funky moves. Much like scrambling or climbing. We did our best and walked where the cryotobiotic soil said we could.

Mukmuk inspects this woodrat midden. Some of these middens have been dated as older than 40,000 years!

The crowds begin in Devils Garden. Such beautiful fins of Entrada sandstone!

Soon enough we were on top of the ridge thst leads into Devils Garden and the collection of Entrada sandstone fins that form the arches. And the arches – they are beautiful! But oh the crowds on the trail – go figure on a sunny Wednesday during spring break. While it’s great to see people enjoying their national park on foot(!), it’s also overwhelming to be in the herd. We enjoyed, but didn’t linger.
At the DG trailhead we topped off our water. While filling my bottle I noticed a family of people wearing CDT and Continental Divide Trail Coalition shirts and hats! (You don’t see that everyday.) So I asked the dad when he hiked the trail. Turns out, he’s Randy with Backcountry Horsemen, and he worked with Teresa (CDTC’s ED) on the strategic plan that just got drafted! We had fun chatting about sections snd shared use. So cool! It’s a small world. Teresa, Randy says hi!

Views south of the Sierra La Sals from the pipeline.

Our first sighting of our friend Daybreaker! DB started just a few days before us.

Staying legit, Gabriel crosses over the barbed wire fence that keeps cattle out of Arches NP. It’s nice that the bottom wire is barb free for easier wildlife passage. 

From the gardens we followed a pipeline to the western boundary of the park. It was so much more peaceful away from the crowds and we enjoyed views of Skyline Arch and the La Sals. We got to the fence by 5:30 (needed to not camp in the park), and had more time so we carefully negotiated cattle paths and avoided cryptobiotic soil until we got to the northwest side of the rock formation with an enticingly named feature: Eye of the Whale (about a mile north of Willow Spring).

Gabriel and the road to the pipeline. Looking northwest in Salt Valley toward the start of the day.

Devils Garden and Skyline Arch from the pipeline road. It looks peaceful from here.

Cowboy camp setup amid juniper. We had dinner on slickrock as the sunset painted pale alpin glow colors on the Sierra La Sal.

Dinner time view of the Sierra La Sal.


First sunset of the trip while enjoying dinner on slickrock.

Fell asleep to the crescent moon rising above juniper. Stars coming into view. A pretty great start to the Hayduke.

Day 1: 14 miles from north end of Arches NP, Salt Valley Road to BLM land west of park about mile north of Willow Spring. 

GPS: used to verify BLM land; people sighted: LOTS!; roads: yes